What to Watch For: Bucks
When the Bucks beat the Cavaliers (9-15) in early November, circumstances were a bit different.
Gary Neal and O.J. Mayo combined to score 51 of Milwaukee’s 109 points. Nate Wolters and Zaza Pachulia started. The latter went 10-10 from the free throw line, en route to a near triple-double. Ekpe Udoh grabbed five rebounds in 13 minutes.
And the Bucks improved to 2-2.
Things have changed since then — for the far better or far worse, depending on one’s ideology.
Tonight, Milwaukee will likely start rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, who played a career-high 42 minutes Wednesday. Thanks to a slew of frontcourt injuries (Ersan Ilyasova is now out indefinitely due to unresolved ankle issues), fellow rookie Miroslav Raduljica could easily be the first player off the bench. Sophomore forwards John Henson and Khris Middleton have solidified themselves as the Bucks’ two best players this season. Milwaukee’s youths have far outplayed their seniors: Leading the Bucks in PER are Henson (20.2), Raduljica (18.4), Antetokounmpo (14.0) and Middleton (13.1).
And the Bucks are now 5-20.
Speaking of change, here’s something the Bucks should probably address: three-point shooting.
Milwaukee seems to ignore the three-pointer all too often — on offense and defense. It’s a problem. On any given night, the only real advantage the Bucks might have over their opponent is three-point shooting. Seven of Milwaukee’s players are, at least historically, above-average shooters from beyond the arc: Caron Butler, Luke Ridnour, Brandon Knight, Ilyasova, Mayo, Middleton and Neal (and technically Carlos Delfino, too).
However, the Bucks rank 23rd in three-point attempts per game (19.0), despite sitting in the top half of the league in three-point shooting percentage (36.1 percent). They allow their opponents to shoot 21.8 three-pointers per game, which is tied for the 12th-highest number in the league. (To be fair, Milwaukee is playing at the league’s third-slowest pace, and its defense is allowing opponents to shoot just 34.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is the seventh-lowest percentage in the NBA.)
The three-point shot is really important. It spaces the floor. It’s inciting a revolution. It’s worth 50 percent more than a two-point field goal, according to math.
In short, NBA teams — especially ones built like the Bucks — should embrace it.
As a glaring anecdote, there was a really ugly play in overtime against the Knicks. (Sadly, it was overshadowed by the worst shot ever.) The Bucks were up a point with roughly three minutes left. After handling the ball at the top of the key, J.R. Smith passed to an isolated Carmelo Anthony with 13 seconds left on the shot clock. Middleton did a great job of pushing Anthony far out of position by the time he caught the ball, as shown in the picture below.
Even though Anthony was just a foot or two inside of the three-point line, Bucks head coach Larry Drew motioned Knight over from the complete opposite side of the court, where he was loosely guarding Beno Udrih, to double-team Anthony.
By the time Knight sprinted over, Anthony easily recognized the double-team and threw a dart to a wide-open Udrih, who promptly drilled a look from the corner. Check out the separation between Udrih and the closest Bucks player in the image below.
To Drew’s defense, Udrih is a career 35.6 percent three-point shooter, and the coach probably assumed iso-happy Anthony was going to activate hero ball.
However, Udrih is hitting 52.0 percent of his three-point attempts this season, and the corner is host to the closest, most efficient three-point shot. Furthermore, Middleton held his own against Anthony — who shot just 5 of 22 from within the three-point line — the entire game. It was just an odd decision to send an unnecessary double-team with half of the shot clock remaining, especially when your team is ceding a wide-open corner three to prevent a (likely) contested midrange jump shot.
Rightfully so, Knight did not look pleased with the command on the bench afterward.
What to Watch For: Cavaliers
Cleveland is just a half-game out of a playoff spot. At 15 games under .500, the Bucks are only five — five! — games out of the eighth seed. Breaking news: The Eastern Conference is atrocious.
But the Cavaliers are starting to play some decent basketball, at least relatively. Prior to dropping a couple of close contests to two of the NBA’s best, Portland and Miami, Cleveland had won five out of its last six games. Kyrie Irving, who is shooting a career-worst 41.1 percent from the field this season (50.2 TS%), is starting to get back to form. In his last five games, he’s averaging 26.4 points per game on 47.0 percent shooting. Oft-injured Andrew Bynum is getting healthier, as shown by his increasing minutes — he’s played 20 or more minutes in six of his last eight games. Bynum is averaging 11.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game during that span.
However, Cleveland could be without its two high-scoring guards: Irving and Dion Waiters both missed practice yesterday due to illness and wrist tendinitis, respectively.
What to Watch For: Billboard
Yesterday, the SaveOurBucks.com campaign put up its “Winning Takes Balls” billboard. According to its website, the billboard resides at the intersection of I-43 and W. McKinley Ave. in Milwaukee. Although the billboard’s message screams “tank,” the website calls for a true, top-down rebuild. Surely, one concern is the Bucks will stumble into a top-five pick (same process, different results), and then promptly reassemble the eighth-seed engine. (It’s a prediction carrying some precedent, given the roster moves that shortly followed Milwaukee’s selection of Andrew Bogut with the first pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.)
Time – 6:30 p.m. CST
TV – FOX Sports Wisconsin
Radio – 620 WTMJ
Bucks: Caron Butler (knee; day-to-day), Ersan Ilyasova (ankle; out), Gary Neal (plantar fasciitis; out), Zaza Pachulia (foot; out), Larry Sanders (thumb; out), Carlos Delfino (foot surgery; out)
Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving (illness; day-to-day), Dion Waiters (wrist; day-to-day), Tyler Zeller (ankle; day-to-day)
PG Brandon Knight
SG Giannis Antetokounmpo
SF Khris Middleton
PF Ekpe Udoh
C John Henson
O.J. Mayo is
expected to be (update) available after missing Wednesday’s game for personal reasons, but he will come off the bench.
If Caron Butler doesn’t experience a setback with his knee, he could also see action for the first time since Nov. 27.
PG Kyrie Irving*
SG C.J. Miles
SF Alonzo Gee
PF Tristan Thompson
C Andrew Bynum
Jeremy’s For Recreational Purposes Only Prediction (aka Betsketball)
Line: Cavs -8.5
So close, last game. So close to being two-for-two. If Andy Bargs would have just held onto the ball, I believe I would have hit both the over/under and the spread. But of course, he launched an insane three and sent the game into chaos and the over. WAS HE IN ON IT!? Probably not. But I’m bummed either way.
I’ve always figured this gambling thing was difficult, after years of struggling at it, but I’m glad that I actually have proof that it’s challenging now. I watch the hell out of the Bucks and I have no idea what’s going to happen game after game, as evidenced by my very mediocre record.
Either way, I’ll go Bucks +8.5 and the under.
Record: 17-15 (7-9 ATS and 10-6 over/under)
Choose the Form of the Destructor:
I’ll go with Anthony Bennett, who may or may not play (and not due to an injury). The first pick of the 2013 NBA Draft has been rather underwhelming in his introductory campaign. In 20 games of action, Bennett is shooting 27.7 percent from the field, 17.4 percent from beyond the arc and 37.5 percent at the free throw line. He has yet to score in double digits. His PER is 1.6.
But he did score his first professional basket against the Bucks on Nov. 6. (He finished 1-5. He entered the game 0-15 from the field.)