Milwaukee Bucks (Scott Skiles) 11-12
(Likely) Inactives: Roko Ukic, Francisco Elson and Joe Alexander
Cleveland Cavaliers (Mike Brown) 19-7
(Likely) Inactives: Leon Powe, Danny Green and Coby Karl
TV: ESPN, FS Wisconsin
Brandon Jennings vs. Mo Williams
Mo just keeps hitting three’s. He’s up to 44 percent this year, a career high, and it’s easy to assume he’s feasting on kick outs from Lebron James, but that might not be the sole explanation for Mo Money’s success. 68 percent of his three-point shots have come off assists, or the lowest percentage in his last four seasons. Last year, 80 percent of his three’s came off assists. When he gets ready to pull up or catches a pass outside, it’ll be important for Jennings or Ridnour to run Williams off the three-point line, as his shooting percentage takes a sharp turn for the worse between 16 and 23 feet. From 44 percent to 34 percent, the lowest number he’s put up in years. This is another national stage for Jennings to burst back out, but that sort of thing doesn’t really seem to matter to him. He’s more focused on a win for the team than the spotlight for himself. If they both happen, they both happen, but Jennings has shown that wins mean a whole lot more to him. It should be interesting to see how Jennings and Redd mesh over these next few games.
Advantage: Cavs (If only for the cohesiveness)
Carlos Delfino vs. Anthony Parker
Anthony Parker will hit a three or two in this game, make few mistakes and generally go unnoticed. But that good kind of unnoticed, like how you don’t really think about an offensive linemen or fullback, because they don’t have fancy jobs, they just do dirty work. This is the perfect role for a smart veteran shooter like Parker. He’s absolutely perfect for the Cavs, much better than a Wally Sczerbiak type of guy who can shoot, but can’t pass or play defense or anything else for that matter. Parker is nice. Delfino is a roller-coaster. Good games, bad games. Great plays, boneheaded three-point shots. Terrific defense, mental lapses. It’s all there with Delfino. At any rate, his minutes could be on the fast track down now that Redd may be back in basketball shape, especially if Ridnour keeps delivering at the two.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute vs. Lebron James
Luc’s going to give the King everything he’s got. He’ll make him work and did an okay job on him in the Cavs last game against Milwaukee. Of course, Lebron didn’t need to break much of a sweat with Delonte West in full on beast mode. The Bucks would be wise to match LRMAM’s minutes as close to LBJ’s as possible. If only LRMAM could bring ANY offense to the table at all he’d be worlds more valuable than he already is, which is quite valuable.
Ersan Ilyasova vs. J.J. Hickson
Ilyasova has the highest plus/minus of any Milwaukee Buck, and at plus 73, is the only Buck that ranks in the NBA’s top 50 in this category. That says a little about his importance. When he’s really got his stretch four game going, it helps open the floor for Milwaukee and get their offense flowing. The problem is he doesn’t always have it going and as primarily a jump-shooter, he is part of the problem when the Bucks fall into their offensive funks. But Ilyasova’s plucky rebounding effort has been symbolic of the hard work mentality the Bucks have taken on this year.
Andrew Bogut vs. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaq was saddled with some foul trouble early in the Cavs romp over the Bucks earlier this month, but did catch a nice lob or two from Lebron as I recall. He’s still someone to be reckoned with, but seems to cause more problems for the Cavs still at this point than the other team. It’s a work in progress and he’s really there for the playoffs, but so far I still don’t love the Shaq move for Cleveland. Bogut has strung together four straight above average games, some of them coming against tough, lengthy defender, but he’s had Shaq problems in the past. Bucks fans are always hedging on whether or not they should truly rely on Bogut for that nightly near double-double or not, this will be another good test on how far he’s come with regard to reliability.
Advantage: Bucks (if only for importance to team)
Michael Redd, Luke Ridnour, Hakim Warrick, Charlie Bell and Kurt Thomas
Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varajeo and Jamario Moon
West is the wild card here. He torched the Bucks in the aforementioned previous meeting, but it’s unclear if he’ll play and unclear what his current issues are. He’s been dealing with a variety of personal issues and has some mental health problems that we can only help clear up at some point for him. Those things are tough for anyone to deal with, much less a celebrity like West. Even without West the Cavs boast a deep and talented bench, with the shooter Gibson, the skilled big man Ilgauskas and hustlers Varajeo and Moon. Redd was back to form Wednesday getting up shots left and right and occasionally carrying the Bucks offense. It looks like the days of 29-0 droughts are over for Milwaukee if Redd has anything to say about it. If the Bucks can get Redd, Jennings and Bogut all going at once, they’ll be a very interesting team to say the least.
Prediction: Cavs 102 – Bucks 98
Road games are still no walk in the park for the Bucks. It’s great to see them take the Lakers down to the wire at home, and beat the Raptors and Blazers, but the road is still another challenge. I wouldn’t bet against them figuring it out a little better in the coming weeks than they did earlier in the season, but they still have yet to beat anyone important on the road. If Milwaukee’s able to rely more heavily on the veterans Redd and Bogut they’ll be much better served in road games, as Jennings seems more hesitant outside of Milwaukee without a crowd behind him.
All that being said, if we saw a repeat of the early December shellacking that took place in Milwaukee, I’d be astonished. Milwaukee’s confidence has risen considerably after it was near an all-time low when these team’s last met. Milwaukee will be up for this one, but simply don’t have the talent at this point to pull it out.