Milwaukee Bucks (Scott Skiles) 13-18
(Probable) Inactives: Joe Alexander and Dan Gadzuric
New Jersey Nets (Kiki Vanderwegh) 3-30
(Probable) Inactives: Eduardo Najera, Tony Battie and Sean Williams
Time: 6:00 (CST)
TV: Nah, not today
Brandon Jennings vs. Devin Harris
Like most of these match-ups, this one won’t be quite as easy as the last time these teams met. In the first game it was Rafer Alston manning the point for the 0-12 Nets. Jennings burned Alston for 19 points, eight assists and his lone dunk of the season. That was a different Nets team led by a different man though. While Devin Harris hasn’t exactly righted the ship since his return from an early season ankle injury, he (along with the many other Nets who have returned from injuries since they last met the Bucks) at least helps make the Nets a competitive team. Harris has not matched the lofty standard he set for himself last year though. Shooting under 40 percent and averaging less than 20 points and dishing out fewer assists was probably not what Harris had in mind as a follow up to his all-star season last year. If Harris can begin to get himself on track, the Nets become more than a team desperate for all the wins they can get. Physically, Harris is still quick and strong and will be a load for Jennings on both sides of the court.
Michael Redd vs. Courtney Lee
Can Michael Redd string together two stellar performances in a row? Consistency has not been common this season for the Bucks, whether it’s been the ups and downs for the rookie point guard Jennings or the life of a finesse big man in Andrew Bogut, the Bucks key players have had problems performing night in and night out. We’ve seen Redd be able to bring consistent scoring before, but whether or not that can still be apart of his game remains to be seen. Courtney Lee is a solid defender, but not a player for Redd to lose sleep over. Redd should be able to use his crafty moves to get a few good looks at the rim and hopefully some free-throws. However he’s going to do it, now is a great opportunity for Redd to get going. After a strong game against Oklahoma City, Redd has games against New Jersey and Chicago, two weaker teams, as opportunities to boost his confidence and find his rhythm before a long road trip out west.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute vs. Chris Douglas-Roberts
CDR got loose for 31 points in the last Bucks-Nets game, doing most of his damage at the free-throw line (12-14). Don’t hold your breath on him having that kind of impact again, as LRMAM was absent that game. Do expect CDR to make some trips to the free throw line and do his best to keep getting to the rim. CDR attacked the rim repeatedly in that game and has been doing that all year long, averaging roughly seven attempts at the rim per game … or more than anyone on the Bucks. LRMAM is still figuring out this whole offense thing and might get a few post looks against the smaller CDR.
Advantage: Bucks (LRMAM fits so well!)
Ersan Ilyasova vs. Yi Jianlian
One of the great fears many Bucks fans have is that Easy Yi will one day go on to live up to the vast potential he has, scarring us for life and making us forever rue the day he was given up for what practically amounted to one season of Richard Jefferson. In his last five games, Yi has averaged 20 points and seven rebounds while shooting just a shade under 50 percent. When he was drafted it was expected those types of performances would be common place for Yi, but he did so little in his one year with Milwaukee that he hardly seemed a better prospect than Charlie Villanueva. Regardless, he’s looked good lately and that has everyone on watch in Milwaukee, even if it probably wouldn’t have happened here.
Andrew Bogut vs. Brook Lopez
Bogut had the upper hand earlier this year, with 21/11 to Lopez’s 11/4, but that could change with ease in this one. Lopez has a much better supporting cast around him now and Bogut has yet to show much real consistency this year. Bogut is coming off a very strong game against the Thunder after a string of four straight mediocre to bad games. Lopez is one of the league’s best shot-blockers and could give Bogut some problems. It’ll be important for Milwaukee to stick with the Aussie all night and try and ride him in this one. Redd and Jennings haven’t been very good on the road and the path to road victories is typically lined with Andrew Bogut touches down low.
Charlie Bell, Kurt Thomas, Hakim Warrick and Luke Ridnour
Keyon Dooling, Trenton Hassell, Josh Boone and Terrance Williams
Not a stellar group for the Nets. Dooling has been known to get hot, Hassell and Boone provide defense in theory if not in practice and since Vanderwegh has taken over, Williams minutes have been as erratic as his personality. Not the way to get success out of rookies. Ridnour was crucial for the Bucks against the Thunder and Hakim Warrick actually earned himself some crunch time minutes with his activity around the hoop. Now if only he was a little better about scoring when he’s by the rim: 57 percent shooting at the rim on the year is a career low.
Prediction: Bucks 98 – Nets 88
I was all set to predict the Bucks would lose this game. Even had the score: 94-91 Nets. But the more I thought about it, the more confidence I had in Scott Skiles and the Bucks. They haven’t really lost many games to teams they’ve been better than. The Bucks have typically played at or above their talent level all season long and I don’t see why that would change now. The rough December was largely the product of a more difficult schedule. To this point, the Bucks have beat all the teams you’d expect them to beat (save for Sacramento) and I don’t see why that would change now.
Milwaukee looked much better defensively for parts of the Charlotte and Orlando game and for all of the Oklahoma City game. If they were able to put it together for pieces of two of those and a full game in one of those, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to against an inferior New Jersey team. Sure, the Nets are much better than they were in November and have some more talent now, but the Bucks remain the more talented squad and that has generally led to wins for Milwaukee this year.