Fresh after a rare two-day break, the Milwaukee Bucks are back home to face another of the NBA’s premier teams during this season’s first half: Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors. Many around the league see this as a potential Finals preview and it’s not hard to see why. Now that the Dubs are back among the elite and the Warriors fatigue of 2016–19 is gone (all it took was two years off them missing the playoffs, I guess?), beating Golden State is again a litmus test for any title contender.
Where We’re At
Six days ago, the shorthanded Bucks took down a largely-healthy Nets team who is seen as their biggest threat in the East. On either side of that came back-to-back losses to lesser teams, most recently to a quick Charlotte squad who essentially outran Milwaukee twice. That means they’ve lost four of their last five and the schedule is now toughening in a major way. Fortunately, now that the latest COVID-19 outbreak worked its way through nearly the entire roster and at least one ankle is healed, the Bucks are slowly returning to their full strength one by one. As of last night, only George Hill remains in the health and safety protocols. That means Grayson Allen should make his return to the floor, but Jrue Holiday probably won’t, still listed as doubtful with continued ankle soreness. In that case, Wesley Matthews seems likely to take the primary assignment on Curry.
Golden State is on the second leg of a challenging Midwest road trip (and what a time of year to visit!) after getting Ja-ed in Memphis on Tuesday night. While they’ve been largely untouched by the recent COVID outbreak (must be nice) which caused teams like the Bucks to lose games they otherwise wouldn’t, the Warriors are amid their own rough patch due to injury and underperformance. Losers of three of their last four, they’ll be without the irreplaceable Draymond Green, who went down with a calf injury last week and is not currently traveling with the Dubs. Green is again a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and missed the last three games but as you’ll see in the graphic below, their team defense hasn’t suffered recently while their offense has (more on that below). Aside from Green, only center James Wiseman is out for the Warriors, still yet to make his season debut.
On top of Green’s injury, the whole team is mired in an uncharacteristic three-point shooting funk: the Dubs shot under 25% from deep in three of those last four contests. Nowhere has that been more obvious than at the top of the roster: Curry is hitting just 20.5% of his triples since New Year’s Day. His recent slump—Miami and Dallas held him to just 9 and 14 points last week, respectively—caused his MVP candidacy to take a hit, making room for Giannis Antetokounmpo. Will the typical volume of three-point attempts Milwaukee concedes to opponents help the Warriors and their star get off the schneid? Or are they missing Green’s passing that leads so often to clean looks?
It’s not all bad lately, though. Golden State welcomed Klay Thompson back after nearly 1,000 days since his last appearance in an NBA game. He looks somewhat like the exciting player of back then, so spirits are still generally high around this team. This is the first night of a gnarly back-to-back between the defending champs and the East-leading Bulls tomorrow evening, so Steve Kerr will likely be judicious with minutes to key vets like Andre Iguodala and Thompson. They’re each likely to sit one of these two out (Iggy has not played a back-to-back this year) but Kerr may stagger them given how tough the matchups are.
Player To Watch
Without Green, Golden State has some questionable choices to deal with Giannis and Khris Middleton. The likes of Iguodala (if he plays), Thompson (an excellent perimeter defender prior to his major leg injuries), Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, and Otto Porter Jr. will have their hands full with Milwaukee’s stars. None of those players is taller than 6’ 9”. Do you know who is? Bobby Portis! Famous for going small, the Warriors are sometimes susceptible to offensive-minded big men (remember Greg Monroe in 2015’s legendary 24-1 game?) so while Giannis and Middleton should get theirs, a bounceback night (he had just 5 points on Monday) from Portis could go a long way towards a W. Milwaukee’s size advantage inside (and on the glass) might be the decisive factor; Golden State’s forwards will likely help off Portis onto Giannis, providing the former some nice looks.
Game 44: Against Golden State, 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)