The pre-noon Sunday starts always bring a potpourri of surprises to the court full of players used to being nightcrawlers. After a lengthy stint in Milwaukee, the Bucks are headed back on the road, taking on Coach Bud’s former team the Atlanta Hawks.
Milwaukee just keeps on slaying teams that seem like formidable foes. Their latest victim, the Los Angeles Clippers, barely had a chance when the Bucks gashed through their defense to a 20+ point lead in the third. It took a Giannis Antetokounmpo injury and some garbage time minutes to make the 128-118 final contest even seem like there was a worthy back-and-forth between the two. Giannis notched 34 points on 10-18 shooting, while Khris Middleton was en fuego the entire evening, blasting the Clips for 39 on 16-25 from the floor. Think he was frustrated about that 6-23 game against the Rockets? When those two are on their game together, this team is nigh impossible to beat without a stellar shooting performance from the opponent. What was worrisome was the continued poor luck for Giannis’s right ankle, which just can’t seem to stop stepping on dude’s feet. It happened again versus the Clippers, when he fell to the floor after innocently bumping into an opponent on the way to the defensive end of the floor. He’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s contest. If it were me, I’d just say sit him to ensure his health come playoff time.
Player to Watch: Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe schooled Trae Young on the offensive end in their last matchup, with an uber-efficient 9-13 shooting performance en route to 24 points and ten assists. On the defensive end, not quite as much. Young was able to go 11-13 from the line, attacking the bucket repeatedly rather than settling for launching from deep. I’m not sure if Bledsoe think Young warrants the type of defensive energy he allotted Harden, but I have a feeling he wants the rookie of the year candidate to understand his place in the league’s point guard pecking order.
Going 8-10 after the All-Star Break may not sound that impressive, but for an Atlanta Hawks team that was struggling to find consistency on either end of the court, it’s a smashing success. More importantly, they’ve had several young pieces flash the kind of potential and chemistry tanking teams care about as the second half of the season dwindles. Kevin Huerter, Donte’s taller, redheaded brethren who played at Maryland, seems to have developed a cult following among NBA intelligentsia. John Collins continues to forget that gravity exists. Trae Young has finally started to find his groove for this team too, bombing from well beyond the arc and dishing the type of passes that attracted all that hype early last Sooner season. For all their promise, they’ve still got a ways to go, but the presence of quality bench veterans certainly helps their rookies learn the ropes. Elder Vince Carter has had a weird penchant for getting hot against the Bucks, so watch for him to maximize his sparing minutes.
Player to Watch: Trae Young
The point guard matchup is really taking center stage for me in this one. Given the questionable status of Giannis, it bears the most intrigue, particularly if Bledsoe feels like shoving Young’s slender frame to the wolves with repeated paint penetration. That’s what made last time out so puzzling; Young attempts just a quarter of his shots from within 0-3 feet, concerting on a relatively low 55.4% of them. His 13 attempts from the stripe far outstripped his 5.9 attempts per-36. Despite that solid performance, the Hawks don’t have the defensive chops to stop Bud’s bludgeoning offense though. No Giannis would certainly heighten the task in front of this team, but their depth should be enough to overcome even a star performance from Young.
Game 77: Against the Hawks the Bucks will
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