Now third in the East after taking out the Heat and jumping ahead of the Bulls in the Eastern Conference pecking order, the Milwaukee Bucks’ gauntlet continues with the squad they vanquished to win the 2021 NBA Championship for a Sunday matinee: the Phoenix Suns. Just a few weeks ago, these two teams faced off with pretty different personnel and the Valley Hoopers rode a big third quarter (sound familiar?) to defeat the Valley Oopers, 131-107. However, the Suns then had both members of their all-world backcourt healthy, and neither will play in this one. As such, the Bucks have a nice opportunity here to snatch another victory away from an elite opponent, and they’re seven-point favorites at home against the owners of the NBA’s best record.
Where We’re At
Some Bucks fans were wringing their hands this time last week after Giannis and co. dropped a very winnable contest to the Durant-less Nets due to—you guessed it—an awful third quarter. Since then, Milwaukee blew out a Charlotte team that always gives them trouble, used some late-game defensive heroics to steal one from Miami, and handled Chicago on the road. The latter two featured some very impressive fourth-quarter performances by Jrue Holiday, who all of the sudden is one of the league’s most lethal closers, burying jumper after jumper and racking up scores of offensive rebounds on Friday night. As per usual, the Bucks will lack the injured Pat Connaughton, Brook Lopez, and George Hill, though the latter two are nearing returns. They also will be without defensive stalwart Wesley Matthews, who will sit with left hamstring soreness.
In the season’s early months, Phoenix duked it out with Golden State at the top of the standings, but since surged while the latter scuffled. They dropped two games last week, but otherwise have won a sensational 21 of their last 24 contests. In fact, they’ve only lost 4 times in 2022. On pace for over 60 wins, they just picked up number 50 last week, before eking by the Knicks (come on guys, I know your best two players are hurt, but it’s the Knicks!) on Friday night. That was all thanks to an epic buzzer-beater-banker by sweet-shooting forward Cam Johnson, whose 21-point fourth quarter of his game-high 38 (including 9 threes) sealed the W:
CAM TIME ⌚— ESPN (@espn) March 5, 2022
CAM JOHNSON WITH THE GAME-WINNING THREE‼️ pic.twitter.com/KUXjTAajSf
As unbeatable as the Suns have been lately, the Bucks are fortunate to catch them at a pretty vulnerable point due to injuries. Chris Paul fractured his thumb two and a half weeks ago and is projected to miss another three more weeks at least, while his guard companion Devin Booker entered the health & safety protocols (remember those?) on Wednesday. Furthermore, recent hero Johnson will miss Sunday’s game with a right quad contusion, plus they’ll be even thinner in the frontcourt without both Wisconsin Badger legend Frank Kaminsky (right knee stress reaction) and Dario Saric (still recovering from the ACL tear he sustained in Game 1 of last year’s NBA Finals). Expect to see a lot of Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton carrying the scoring load, who surely must be glad to be avoiding Brook Lopez once again.
Player To Watch
When these teams last faced, Giannis had a muted 18 points on 5/14 shooting, while also missing 6 of his 14 free throws as Phoenix fans started counting him down at the line again (I guess they didn’t get the memo about his new routine). He took just one shot in the restricted area in that loss, flummoxed by Ayton’s rim protection plus the defensive efforts of Jae Crowder and Bridges. After attacking a Miami defense that’s given him so much trouble over the years so effectively in the fourth on Wednesday, look for him to recapture some of that Game 6 magic this afternoon. Maybe we should call ahead into Chick-Fil-A.
Game 65: Against Phoenix, 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)
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