The Milwaukee Bucks are angling to shake off the close loss against the Phoenix Suns as they prepare for the Utah Jazz team that rocked them just a few weeks ago. The Jazz have only kept playing the high notes, as they’ve planted themselves atop the Western Conference standings. Milwaukee has not won in Utah since 2001.
Where We’re At
Given they were without their stud point guard, (Jrue Holiday remains out due to the league’s health and safety protocols) Mike Budenholzer and company have to feel relatively encouraged by their performance in Phoenix during a 125-124 loss that came down to the wire. Giannis Antetokounmpo missed a last second pull-up jumper, but dominated the 47.92 minutes of the game before that. He finished with 47 points but an even more exciting 17-21 from the free throw line. They needed each and every one of those to stay in the game. The Bucks are still 5-1 in their last six, but this Utah game likely carries a little extra weight for them after losing 118-131 on January 8th.
The Jazz haven’t slowed up since that dominating victory a month ago. They’re 16-1 in their last 17, with the lone loss coming against the Denver Nuggets. On Tuesday, February 9, they took down the Boston Celtics 122-108 with Donovan Mitchell tossing in 36 and Joe Ingles adding 24. Even without Ingles last time out, we all know how the Jazz beat up on the Bucks: a three-point buffet. They went 25-54 from deep, punishing them constantly on pick-and-pops as the Bucks went to switching too late, and looked woefully inadequate when they did switch. Defense will be the story of this game, and a fitting test for how far this Bucks team has come in the past month, even without Jrue Holiday around. Utah thrives on taking away the three ball from their opponent, while shooting a higher percentage of their shots from deep (45.2%) than any other team in the league. Bud’s squad will need to disrupt those looks more frequently than last time, when the Jazz had open looks at their pleasure.
Both teams will be without their primary point guard, as Mike Conley will miss his third straight game for the Jazz with right hamstring tightness.
Player to Watch
Jordan Clarkson has made a stunning turnaround in his career since heading to the Utah Jazz, and the Bucks saw that up close during his 26-point performance earlier this season. With Milwaukee’s backcourt missing its defensive stopper, the thought of Clarkson working against Bryn Forbes, Donte DiVincenzo and D.J. Augustin gives me the shivers. Let’s hope Bud has a plan in place to press [Stop/Reset] on the microwave scorer before he pops off.
Game 26: Against the Jazz, the Bucks will...
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