It’s nearing the close of this fever dream of a Milwaukee Bucks season. With just seven games left, I still get a little flabbergasted every time I look at the standings and seem them firmly entrenched atop them. As the season winds down, it also means they need to cross off the few Western Conference teams they have yet to play a second time. The Los Angeles Clippers are tonight’s menu item.
The rousing win over the Houston Rockets may not have gone according to script, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Despite Giannis Antetokounmpo not having his “MVP” moment in the spotlight, he had plenty of assistance from across the roster. Everyone recalls the Bledshow going prime time in the third quarter, hammering the Rockets with a rare 3-point barrage and notching 16 points, on his own, in that period. Oh ya, and Giannis was on the bench for much of that. It’s the most I’ve seen Eric Bledsoe locked in on both ends of the floor in quite some time. Even more impressive to me than his shots happening to fall (to be fair, he still ended at a just average 9/19 from the floor) was how he managed as the trailing defender on James Harden. Forcing The Beard into the awaiting arms of Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo worked brilliantly, and if Harden hesitated, Bledsoe could catch up and swat the shot from behind. What a game.
Milwaukee hasn’t gotten a chance to square off with the Clippers since LA’s surprising overtime win back in November, 128-126. Lou Williams made a circus runner in the game’s close to snag that one. The Clips are a pretty different team from then, more on that later, but they also had a 41.2% shooting night from deep in that one, 14/34 overall. The Bucks were 16/46 (34.8%), which isn’t too far off their season average, but they allowed the Clips to match them in the paint at 56 points apiece. Sans the Suns, Milwaukee still hasn’t lost twice to a team this season. You can bet they’re itching to keep that run rolling with a win. Snell is still out with that bum ankle.
Player to Watch: Khris Middleton
Hopefully the Houston game is properly wiped from his brain. That 6-23 performance will be one Khris has no interest in recalling, particularly when the Bucks need him to take advantage of a Clippers team that is a tad bereft of wings his size. Garrett Temple might be his best match, but he shouldn’t have any trouble using his typical repertoire of shimmies and shakes to get shots off. Fingers crossed they fall for him, shooters gotta shoot to get hot.
Mad credit to these guys. In the course of a year and a half, they completely overhauled their team, shipping Blake Griffin to Detroit for some valuable draft capital and more importantly securing cap space for this upcoming summer. Then, they deal Tobias Harris for one dollar on the dollar, a rare transaction of a “star” that nets a really nice haul for the other team. Landry Shamet has been really solid for the Clips – sad for my Philly roomie who continued to lament the loss of Landry for months – and they’ve got additional picks coming their way they could use to add future superstars should Kawhi come calling this summer. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that they’ve secured a playoff spot in the wild West! It’s been a stunning season for Doc Rivers and his motley crew, who’s led them to the sixth spot in the West standings at the moment and winners of 11 of their last 12. They’ve only dropped one game in March, a 125-104 game against Portland. They’re also in the midst of a four game road trip, heading to Milwaukee after besting Minnesota 122-111. As is typical for them, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams were dynamite off the bench, scoring 38 between them to accompany Danilo Gallinari’s 25. Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet are both questionable for the game.
Player to Watch: Montrezl Harrell
An absolute beast in college at Louisville, I, like most people, were skeptical his undersized motor would be powerful enough to maintain relevancy in the NBA. How wrong I was. These last two years he’s been a spark plug for the Clippers. Per-36, he’s averaging 22.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.9 blocks. That’s incredible across the board production for a big man and speaks to his versatility. The block number is particularly impressive given his size too. He’s purely an inside-the-arc scorer, so it should provide an intriguing chess match on both ends of the court. Will the Clippers have enough rim protection with Lopez coaxing Harrell and Zubac out to the perimeter? And how can Brook and company keep Harrell off the boards? Lopez will have to bring plenty of his box out magic tonight.
Game 76: Against the Clippers 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)