Another game, another victory for the Milwaukee Bucks after toppling the Los Angeles Lakers. They didn’t have much time to celebrate (sorry, LA nightclub budgets) as less than 24 hours later the Bucks are in Salt Lake City for the second game in a back-to-back against the Utah Jazz.
It nearly doesn’t matter the opponent, the location, the injury situation, or the way entire first halves of basketball go: The Milwaukee Bucks will find a way to get one over on you. That means 10 straight road wins, a 9-1 record in the last 10 against Western Conference teams, and a guaranteed playoff berth on March 2nd.
Beyond the on-court action the Bucks have been involved in plenty of transaction drama over the past 24 hours. GM Jon Horst began his Friday by sealing a commitment to bring Pau Gasol to Milwaukee after agreeing to a buyout with the San Antonio Spurs. Horst closed the business day finalizing a four-year, $70 million contract extension for Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe responded to his newly-secure future by stringing together a team-high 31 points, nine rebounds, and five assists to carry the day against LA. His ability to pace Milwaukee on both ends of the court when co-stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are off punctuates his current and probable future value to a team that will need to wring every drop of production from non-Giannises.
On the injury front it appears George Hill (adductor), Sterling Brown (wrist), and Donte DiVincenzo (heel) are likely to remain out.
Player to Watch: Isaiah Canaan
A little gallows humor-esque, yes, but still valid with this being Canaan’s probable last game before he’s cut to make room for Pau Gasol on Sunday. With the guard rotation still a bit thin due to injury we may see an extended farewell appearance from Isaiah to help soak up the minute load on the starters. Hopefully he’ll go out with a bang and add to his appearance against the Bulls to remember him by:
Winners of six of their last nine, a defensive force to be reckoned with, and seemingly always one offensive weapon away from being a nightmare: Your Utah Jazz, ladies and gentlemen!
There’s a lot to like (read: be wary of) when evaluating the Jazz’s profile. Their top-five defensive rating nabs headlines, but it gets more interesting beneath the surface. You’ve got a top-two DReb% mark (80.3, just behind Milwaukee’s 80.6), the fifth-lowest opponent eFG% (.511), a marked focus on preventing opposing takes and makes from three (10.0 3PM & 28.1 3PA v. Milwaukee’s 12.6 3PM & 35.3 3PA), and the ability to staunch opponent fast-break scoring (11.1 FBPts allowed). Grinding through the high-flying West on defensive laurels doesn’t make for easy going, but the Jazz have maintained playoff position as a six seed and sit three games behind the third seeded Thunder.
On the downside for Utah they’re dealing with injuries that have forced coach Quinn Snyder to get creative with lineups. Guard Ricky Rubio is probable after dealing with hamstring tightness, but Raul Neto (also hamstring), Dante Exum (ankle sprain), and Tony Bradley (knee) are all out.
Player to Watch: Rudy Gobert
Donovan Mitchell draws attention thanks to his standout rookie season and an embattled second year, but the spotlight will be on Giannis Antetokounmpo v. Rudy Gobert when these teams meet. Gobert continues to impress with career-highs in scoring (15.5 PPG), rebounding (12.8 TRB), and assists (2.2 APG) even with his lowest minute average in four years. In four games since All-Star weekend he’s gone above and beyond with 19.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks. That won’t stop Giannis from trying to repeat this, though:
Game 63: Against the Jazz the Bucks will...
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