It’s been two back-to-back beatdowns for the Milwaukee Bucks, who seem hellbent on routing teams to the point that its star players barely cross the 25-minute threshold. Standing in their way of that are the Orlando Magic, who after skirting by on a near-.500 mark for the start of the year, are starting to dip a bit in the standings.
I’m not sure if you knew this, but the Bucks are one damn. fine. team. Alex Boeder, ever the stat-monger, is always adept at illustrating that with such simplicity:
Bucks are top four in both offensive and defensive efficiency.— Alex Boeder (@alexboeder) January 17, 2019
No other team in the league is even in the top eight in both.
(They also have the best record in basketball.)
There’s not even much to complain about on the fringes at this point. D.J. Wilson and Eric Bledsoe just took apart the Memphis Grizzlies in a single quarter from close- and long-range. Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to be a shoo-in on people’s All-Star ballots and a leader in the MVP clubhouse. The bench is bringing it seemingly every night, and Sterling Brown’s confidence is growing as a key cog in the squad. Bud’s greased the wheels and this team is cruising along. They have another shot to keep the fine vibes rolling against a struggling Orlando Magic squad, whom they beat 113-91 back in late October.
Player to Watch: Khris Middleton
I suppose we could quibble with Khris Middleton still trying to find his way this season, but when you’re playing nearly five minutes less than the season prior, your counting stats are due to decline. FWIW, his per-36 points, assists and rebounds are all better than last season. It’s really just his 2-point shooting that’s taken a hit, again not too surprising given his hellishly-hot year from the midrange last season. He went for 18 on just nine shots against Orlando last time, with his second highest free throw total on the season, eight. We’ll see if he can recapture some of that against Orlando’s parade of guards.
Oh John Hammond, he who continues to stockpile the longest men in existence to try and stack his basketball team. Once more, he’s found himself in a situation where a team would be elated with merely an eighth place finish. The East does not pose much of a challenge in that regard, but the weight of Orlando’s mediocrity in the Post-Dwight era might. Steve Clifford has come in and turned them into a team that loves shooting, just not from within the paint. One would think with their army of rangy dudes, the paint may provide a proper landing zone. Alas, they take the 3rd least percentage of their shots at the rim, while the 6th highest percentage from midrange and the 10th highest from three. On defense, they are middle of the pack across the board in opponent shooting locations. Their offense is just 25th in the league, per Cleaning The Glass, and absent of their turnover percentage being decent (a Clifford Special), they have not shown the type of cohesion Magic fans hope may settle in. Working in odd pieces like Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba, provide an interesting puzzle, one that Clifford is clearly still trying to fit together. They’re coming off a gut-wrenching home loss on Friday, 117-115, where D’Angelo Russell cruelly found the ice that’s long been dormant from his veins. The only guys on the injury report are Timofey Mozgov, who’s out, and Aaron Gordon, who was listed as questionable for the Nets game but still played, so I’d expect to see him tonight too.
UPDATE: Okay, who knows with Gordon, we will have to see...
Aaron Gordon said his back locked up on him when he changed direction in pursuit of a loose ball. He said his back is very tight now. It's unclear if he will be able to play Saturday against the Bucks in Orlando.— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) January 19, 2019
Player to Watch: Nikola Vucevic
The linchpin of their offense, Vuc is putting up career-best numbers on a scintillating 56.2% effective field goal percentage, per Basketball Reference. That includes 38.3% from deep on 3.1 attempts per game, a significant improvement on his 31.4% last season. While he’s improved from outside, he’s also cut down on his long midrange attempts. More than 50% of his shot attempts come from within 0-10 feet from the basket, so still look for Lopez to corral him around the rim.
Game 45: Against the Magic, the Bucks will...
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