The re-energized Milwaukee Bucks will travel to Philadelphia tonight to take on the 76ers without archnemesis MVP candidate Joel Embiid.
It feels like we’ve played these guys this year... No?
Sitting atop the conference, the Sixers are the last team in the East the Bucks haven’t played in 2020-21. Much has been said about how the Sixers have taken a step forward and the Bucks backward, but we still don’t know how the two new squads really match up. Realistically, we probably won’t know much after tonight either.
Where We’re At
The Bucks, especially Giannis Antetokounmpo, have come out of the All-Star break firing on all cylinders. After what felt like a slow start to the season, Milwaukee is sitting 2.5 games out of the one seed and are at full strength while Philly and Brooklyn deal with the injury bug. The team is 9-1 in its last 10 and potentially two to three wins away from reclaiming the Eastern Conference.
Giannis has recorded three straight triple-doubles and call me crazy, but it seems like those mess around All-Star game jumpers boosted his confidence a little bit. He’s 4-7 (57.1%) from three and 20-21 (95.2%) from the free throw line since then. Everyone else seems to be stepping up in the right moments as well; Brook Lopez recaptured his paint dominance Monday with four blocks and 22 points without hitting a three. Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes have continued to lead the bench mob, scoring a combined 59% of all Milwaukee’s bench points since the break.
But the schedule’s about to get a lot tougher, and that starts tonight against the 28-12 Sixers. They’ve won five straight – the last two without Embiid and two without Ben Simmons – and have gotten consistent production deep into their bench all season. Furkan Korkmaz has given them 15.4 points per game on 55% from deep over their win streak, and Matisse Thybulle is thriving in an expanded role. He’s averaging 10.3 points and 3.7 steals in the recent games without Simmons/Embiid.
The Bucks should consider this a must-win, both because they gain a “free” game on an Embiid-less Sixers and because of what’s to come. Next, we’ve got the Spurs, Pacers, Celtics twice and Knicks before an even harder Western Conference road trip begins.
Player to Watch
With Embiid out, we’ll likely see Simmons attack the rim even more than usual and look to kick out to shooters. Whether or not those guys hit their shots will determine the game's flow, which is why Seth Curry is the man to watch tonight.
Curry’s shooting is one of the main reasons the Sixers have seemingly taken the step from pretender to contender after being traded for Josh Richardson in November. His 43.6% clip from deep on 4.5 attempts per game and his sneaky ability to finish at the rim (kind of like his brother) has been exactly what Philadelphia lacked next to Simmons in the past.
Oh and also, he’s 4-0 in his career against the Bucks.
Game #40: Against Philadelphia, the Bucks will…
This poll is closed
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)
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