How about one more trip out west? The Milwaukee Bucks, fresh off of a Giannis Antetokounmpo-less victory over the Chicago Bulls, find themselves in the Pacific Time Zone once again as they kick off a four-game Western Conference slate against the upstart Sacramento Kings.
“No superstar? No problem”, say the Bucks as they moved to 3-2 on the year when Giannis Antetokounmpo sits out. Finding a balance between needed rest for key players while maintaining a winning rate that will keep Milwaukee’s status as the league’s #1 seed will be one of coach Mike Budenholzer’s greatest challenges, and a run of five road games in seven days will put his man management to the test.
Thankfully he’s been up to the task.
Bud’s Bucks remain top-five offensively and defensively while finding ways to reduce the minute loads for all five normal starters to near or below career averages. It’s a testament to the effectiveness of the Bud System™ regardless of the personnel and to the contributions he’s wrought from his subsitutes. Bud Ball is Winning Ball, and it’ll need to remain so with the Raptors nipping at Milwaukee’s heels.
However, the Bucks are far more dangerous with Antetokounmpo greasing the scheme’s wheels so his probable status for tonight’s game is welcome news. George Hill (adductor) and Sterling Brown (right wrist soreness) are listed as out.
Player to Watch: Pat Connaughton
I can hear your audible “huh?”s from the comfort of my computer screen, but with injuries dinging up Milwaukee’s wing depth we can certainly expect more Connaughton. He’s seen his assignments rise and fall aplenty this year, but played 15:39 and 28:27 minutes in recent games against the Wolves and Bulls respectively. Nikola Mirotic should be soaking up most of the bench shots meaning Pat simply has to play his limited role and do his part to ensure the team minute distribution remains reasonable.
What a story Sacramento has been this season.
Widely touted (understandably) to be the odds-on favorite to again be one of the NBA’s worst teams, the Kings have flaunted all expectations and sit at a respectable 31-29 and only a game out of the West playoffs. The plan for coach Dave Joerger hasn’t changed much since October: Run on offense, run some more on offense, and make sure you’re running when on offense. The result? Basketball’s second quickest team by pace.
That approach has been helped by a defense that generates the fifth-higest percentage of opponent turnovers (14.0%), a team-wide .376 mark from three (tempered by a bottom-third .324 attempt rate), and the ascendence of De’Aaron Fox. The sophomore PG, known for his blinding speed, runs the Sacramento show and has boosted his per 36 numbers to 19.8 points (.456/.374/.723), 8.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and improved his playmaking metrics (gains in assist and reduction in turnover %ages).
They’ve only gone 1-2 since the All-Star break, but don’t get it twisted: One loss was a near-win in Golden State and their victory came on the road over the third-seed Thunder. Sacramento’s 19-11 record at home and a clean bill of health ain’t nothing to overlook, either.
Player to Watch: Buddy Hield
According to the Sacramento Bee, Buddy Hield and Dave Joerger have a bit of a hot-and-cold relationship. Fresh off of a 34 point (12-22 shooting), five rebound, and four assist performance against Oklahoma City, Hield was pulled from the closing phase of their recent loss to the Timberwolves with Joerger pointing to Hield’s turnovers as reason enough. How will Hield, who is in the midst of a career-year and leads the starters in 3PAr, respond to the tough love?
Game 61: Against the Kings the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
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