Last night, the Bucks played the Charlotte Bobcats. They were outrebounded 54-38, outscored in the paint 44-26, and shot 33% from the floor. As you might expect, they lost, 92-76. Tonight, they play the Boston Celtics, another team projected to be pretty bad this year. They are also strong at rebounding and scoring in the paint, which will pose another challenge for the Bucks. In an act of what I can only describe as mercy, FS-Wisconsin has elected not to air this game on television. If you still feel the desire to follow the game, tune in to 620-WTMJ or NBA Audio League Pass (it’s free!) to commiserate with voice of the Bucks, Ted Davis.
What to Watch For: Bucks
The team’s interior presence has been nothing short of horrific this season. The Bucks are second-to-last in the league in rebounding and dead last in rebounding percentage at a dismal 46%. It’s a fairly horrid scene no matter what configuration of frontcourt players the team sends out – long, mobile players like John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, and Giannis Antetokounmpo get bullied out of the way of rebounds by opposing forwards, while the more rugged Zaza Pachulia and Miroslav Raduljica seem to slow or out-of-place to corral loose balls either. Those players combined with the absence of Ersan Ilyasova‘s usually reliable rebounding presence mean that the Bucks are routinely getting demolished inside.
Combine THAT with 39% shooting outside of the paint and you’ve got a team that simply cannot score. The key to at least regaining some respectability – if not pulling out some wins – will be to re-establish some of that inside game. Whether it’s finding more minutes for certain players or simply finding the correct combination of length, bulk, and offensive skill, coach Larry Drew is still searching for the answers to his team’s interior woes.
Some relief might come against a Celtics team that is also not great at rebounding – 20th overall. But scoring may also be at a premium against a top-10 defensive team allowing less than 97 points per game. Given the Bucks’ offensive woes, expect a point total well below that.
What to Watch For: Celtics
Many people wrote off the Celtics this season as a team that was blatantly tanking as they wait to get Rajon Rondo back from an ACL tear suffered last season. However, at 7-11 in a terrible Eastern Conference, they’re right in the middle of the chase and have shown signs that they can be a good team despite shipping off Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the offseason.
After fighting through injuries last year, Jared Sullinger has established himself as a viable NBA starter, averaging almost 13 points and 7 rebounds while sporting a team-best 19.3 PER. His interior play combined with the scoring prowess of Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford will have to be an emphasis for the Bucks’ defense. The Celtics aren’t a great offensive team – averaging only 93 points per game – but Green, in particular, has the ability to go off at any time and should be closely watched in this matchup.
Time – 8:00 p.m. CST (SO LATE. DAMN YOU ELMO!)
TV – None
Radio – 620 WTMJ
Bucks: Brandon Knight (hamstring; day-to-day), Ersan Ilyasova (hamstring, day-to-day), Caron Butler (knee, day-to-day) Larry Sanders (thumb; out), Carlos Delfino (foot surgery; out)
Celtics: Courtney Lee (knee, day-to-day), Kelly Olynyk (ankle, day-to-day)
PG Brandon Knight
SG O.J. Mayo
SF Khris Middleton
PF Ersan Ilyasova
C Zaza Pachulia
PG Jordan Crawford
SG Avery Bradley
SF Jeff Green
PF Brandon Bass
C Jared Sullinger
Jeremy’s For Recreational Purposes Only Prediction (aka Betsketball)
Line: Boston -2.5
WHY WOULD I EVER PICK THE BUCKS TO COVER!? This is getting crazy. I keep thinking, this team HAS to win a game eventually. Then they don’t win a game. I’m tempted once again to pick the Bucks to finally get a win, but Boston defends like crazy and plays super hard. The Bucks don’t do either of those things.
So, I’ll stick with logic and tell my gut to go eat another piece of pumpkin pie, tubby. Boston -2.5, under 186.
Record: 8-4 (3-3 ATS and 5-1 over/under)
Choose the Form of the Destructor: Jared Sullinger
I spoke earlier about the Bucks’ interior deficiencies, and one of the keys to maintaining control of the painted area will be to corral Mr. Sullinger here. He’s not exactly a shot-blocking menace (0.6 per game), but he’s been on a roll lately, averaging 14 points and grabbing up 8 rebounds over his last 10 games. He played minimally in the last matchup between these two teams in favor of Vitor Favorani, who finished with 12 points and 18 rebounds of his own. Don’t be surprised if Sullinger picks up the eye-popping rebound total in this matchup.