The Milwaukee Bucks are angling to head into the All-Star Break with the finest record in the NBA. I bet you didn’t expect to be hearing that when the season tipped off? Yet here we are, and the Bucks are steamrolling teams left and right. Tonight, they hit a more difficult roadblock in the Indiana Pacers than the roadkill they ran over on Monday.
This team is still humming along on all cylinders. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s return to the lineup Monday sparked an offensive rekindling after the ashes that were the dreadful Orlando Magic game. In the 112-99 win over Chicago, Milwaukee’s 3-point percentage bounced back from “cover your eyes” to “you’re good to peek.” Sure, 31.6% on a night when the Bulls matched you in points in the paint isn’t spectacular, but it’s enough to pull out a victory against a subpar divisional opponent. Indiana should prove a far more formidable foe, particularly after they were able to muck up Milwaukee’s offense the last time out in a 97-113 loss where the Pacers led wire to wire. It looks like Nikola Mirotic has been ruled out for the game as well, so we’ll likely have to wait until the Boston Celtics game on February 21st for him to make his debut.
Player to Watch: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Even if it wasn’t his lowest scoring output of the year, the last Indiana game may have been Giannis’ most passive entry to date. He was crowded by Pacer defenders at every turn, forcing him to distribute to teammates huddling around the arc. He nearly tallied a triple-double in the process, but he also attempted just seven field goal attempts for the night, one less than Ersan Ilyasova. Even if not forcing the issue was the right call, that’s not a recipe for success. Look for him to pummel the Pacers down low tonight.
Nate McMillan deserves a family size bag of Kudos. The fact he’s been able to keep this Pacers team not just afloat, but cruising, given the fact Victor Oladipo will end the year having played just 36 times is impressive. In the immediate aftermath of Oladipo’s grueling injury, the Pacers went on a four-game skid. Since then, they’ve rattled off six straight, including that laughable 42-point victory over the Lakers. It should be noted the Pacers have played the weakest schedule in the league to this point though - duly noted that Milwaukee is at the fourth weakest. Indiana is thriving with the second stingiest defensive rating in the NBA to this point, built around dogged defenders and Myles Turner elevating his performance on that end. They’ve also added Wesley Matthews Jr. to their lineup off the buyout market.
Player to Watch: Myles Turner
Turner’s rewarded the Pacers for his contract extension with a career year, particularly defensively. He’s leading the league in blocks per game (2.8), despite playing the exact same number of minutes per game he did last year, when he averaged a full block less per contest. If that weren’t enough, his 3-point percentage has ticked up to 41.2% on 2.3 attempts, while his effective field goal percentage is at a career high, 55.8%. He’s been a buzzy breakout guy for a few seasons now, it’s nice to see some of that potential come to fruition.
Game 57: Against the Pacers, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)