It’s been a minute since the Milwaukee Bucks have been in Wisconsin, and fortunately they have but one more visit to make on their (taking care of) business trip: the Brooklyn Nets, tonight at 6:30pm (central) on NBA TV.
Like the old song goes, the Bucks just keep rolling along. Winners of three straight by double-digits after exacting revenge on the Washington Wizards, Milwaukee continues to pull away from the rest of the Eastern Conference pack. Seriously, this team’s biggest problems are at backup power forward; Ersan Ilyasova hasn't played well, and Thon Maker hasn’t played since his agent flew too close to the sun on the wings of a trade request. Sterling Brown and D.J. Wilson have each contributed enough to the second-unit that Thon’s services haven’t been necessary, and we’ll see between now and Friday if anything changes. (Editor’s note: don’t expect anything.)
On the health side of things, Eric Bledsoe should be available after missing the Washington game with an Achilles injury. Jason Smith (knee soreness) is questionable, and Donte DiVincenzo (heel) is still out.
Player to Watch: Khris Middleton
Eric Nehm of The Athletic (and formerly of Brew Hoop!) dropped an article focusing on Milwaukee’s well-deserving second All Star, and it encapsulates what makes Middleton work so well with the Bucks. The Athletic is a subscription-only publication, but in my opinion this article is well-worth the price of admission.
The #Bucks' Khris Middleton has sacrificed and adapted for the good of the team under a new coach, and it has resulted in the seven-year #NBA veteran earning his first All-Star selection, writes @eric_nehm. https://t.co/sIv5Lrgs6V #AllStars— The Athletic (@TheAthleticWISC) February 4, 2019
Here’s a snippet of what Dwyane Wade has to say about Middleton:
“You have to understand his game,” Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade said recently about Middleton, “and respect his game. Everyone’s not Giannis. Everyone’s not LeBron James. Everyone’s not James Harden. Khris is a very talented player. What he does and what he brings to the game is different than those guys.”
Middleton has, of course, been the subject of much scrutiny lately, as the offseason approaches and discussion of his upcoming contract heats up. Some say that Middleton is “not worth” a max-level contract, and the idea of him out-earning Giannis is downright offensive. In the meantime, though, Middleton should be playing with confidence and is on the upswing after his lengthy slump that started in December.
Brooklyn might finally be cooling off after a 19-5 stretch (starting in early December) that was on-pace with the Bucks for tops in the league. But now, they’re 1-3 in their last four games and fighting to stay ahead of the Charlotte Hornets for the 6-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Milwaukee may need to focus on attacking the rim in this one; Brooklyn is in the top-5 of threes taken on offense and allowed on defense (they take nearly 6 more shots from deep than they give up), and that either means that Giannis Antetokounmpo ends up putting Jarrett Allen on a poster...or the other way around.
Health-wise, the Nets are in tough shape, especially on the wings. Missing tonight’s game are Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Allen Crabbe, and Jared Dudley, with Joe Harris’ status being up in the air as well.
Player to Watch: D’Angelo Russell
Russell, a former draft bust and newly-minted All Star, has completely turned his career around by embracing the three ball (shooting 41.3% of his attempts from three, and hitting 37.4% compared to 32.4% last year) and continuing to find teammates in positions to score (38.3% assist rate, a career-high by far). Russell’s command of the floor has helped Brooklyn weather the storm of injuries (see above), and while the Bucks’ point guard had a decent case for the All Star bid to replace Victor Oladipo, Russell’s resurgence is a feel-good story on a feel-good team.
Game 52: Against the Nets, 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)