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Milwaukee Bucks vs. Philadelphia 76ers: National TV Showdown for Playoff Contenders

Today’s game tips off at 7:00pm (central) on ESPN.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On the national stage, the free falling Milwaukee Bucks will face off against the surging Philadelphia 76ers this evening.

Bucks Update

I am choosing to be pretentious and will quote myself from Friday night’s rapid recap to the Bucks’ loss to the Indiana Pacers:

Four. The number of consecutive losses the Bucks have suffered against quality teams, including three of their Eastern Conference counterparts. After a 9-3 stretch preceding the All Star Break, the Bucks are now 1-4 since the extended downtime, and things could not look worse. Whether it’s giving up open threes, or failing to box out opposing big men, or forcing up contested jump shots, or any other sort of suboptimal basketball practice, the Bucks are doing nothing to help themselves in the short- or long-term at the moment.

This stretch should not be a surprise. The aforementioned hot streak, which coincided with the beginning of the (Smokin’) Joe Prunty Era, came against teams that did not present a significant challenge. The Bucks find themselves now in the middle of a stretch of teams that do, and it looks more and more like Milwaukee is simply not up for that challenge. [...]

But there’s a fine, fine line between “contributing factors” and “excuses.” Sooner or later, this Bucks team needs to prove that it can compete against higher-level competition. If they can’t, then our expectations (which were reasonable to begin with) are far too high, which has troubling implications for the franchise for the foreseeable future (which only lasts a few more weeks).

tl;dr – The Bucks got fat on relatively easy wins, and haven’t found success after the schedule toughened up. With Malcolm Brogdon, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tony Snell missing time, but Bucks’ already-tenuous backcourt situation has been put through the ringer, as the only reliable players at these positions are Eric Bledsoe (who is good but gambles a lot), Sterling Brown (a rookie with a penchant for fouling), and Jason Terry (a somehow-still-effective player at 40 years old, but still is a 40-year old guard).

Player to Watch: Jabari Parker

With Giannis Antetokounmpo playing poorly (minutes load and knee issues notwithstanding) and Khris Middleton keeping up as best he can, fans’ eyes turn to Jabari for some glimmer of hope during this run of games against good teams. Parker has been held to the playing time restrictions on his rehab plan, and although he has shown flashes of his previous self, he hasn’t had a game where he’s “back.” Tonight may be that night.

76ers Update

Philly has cooled off slightly since their hot streak leading into the All Star Break, but they’re still a team that has won two straight and nine of their last eleven contests. Much to the delight of general NBA fans (and the dismay of non-Philly fans), Joel Embiid has missed “only” 11 games so far, and has been nothing short of spectacular in most of the 50 games (out of 61) that he has played. Philly won their game against the Bucks that Giannis missed, and lost to Milwaukee in the contest that Embiid missed. Embiid may be limited by a minor back injury, but this will be the first game this season where both teams’ stars are active. Not only that, but fans will enjoy the first return of fan favorite Ersan Ilyasova (in a Sixers jersey), who will get ample playing time with Philly missing Justin Anderson and Furkan Korkmaz.

Player to Watch: Ben Simmons

Embiid is the cornerstone of the Sixers’ process (get it?!?!) and Dario Saric has more than filled his tertiary role, but Ben Simmons has had an astounding rookie season (per-game averages: 16.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.9 blocks), playing point guard and putting up Giannis-lite stat lines. Outside shot notwithstanding, Simmons is a terror on both ends of the court, and will be a significant challenge for whichever Bucks guard (or wing) draws the unlucky assignment.