What to Watch For: Bucks
Naturally, Bucks fans’ eyes will fixate on the Tobias Harris vs.
J.J. Redick Gustavo Ayon Ish Smith Caron Butler and two protected second-round picks matchup. Actually, they will just fixate on Harris. (Aside: I never know whether there’s still a need to address last year’s trade. It’s important to remember the calamity for accountability reasons, but everything that needed to be said has been said — and then some. It also helped the inadvertent tank this season, so there’s that.) The other story lines? Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was recently selected for the Rising Stars Challenge, always qualifies for one. Antetokounmpo has slowed down a bit over the past five games, but playing through a nagging back injury is a partial culprit. He’s shooting just 39.3 percent from the field over that span. The Bucks (8-37) and Magic (12-35) are also the two worst teams in the NBA, which means this game is sort of a paradox. It’s not at all intriguing, but it’s quite important. Milwaukee currently leads the tank race by three games over Orlando.
Ersan Ilyasova didn’t practice Thursday after getting kicked in the leg in Wednesday night’s game. He traveled to Orlando with the team — unlike O.J. Mayo (illness) and Ekpe Udoh (ankle) — but remains questionable for tonight. If he’s held out, it will be interesting to see whether head coach Larry Drew inserts Larry Sanders back into the starting lineup. If so, the John Henson-Sanders frontcourt could get an extended look. A key question for the team’s future is whether Henson can actually play power forward next to Sanders with any effectiveness. Unless one of the two big men develop a consistent midrange jump shot to spread the floor, their skill sets will probably remain redundant — especially since Henson has developed into a legitimate rim protector this season. For what it’s worth, Henson and Sanders have only played 60 minutes together this season. The duo’s net rating is -11.8. They played 107 minutes together last season with a -5.1 net rating.
Alas, it’s also possible for Drew to swap Butler for Ilyasova in the starting lineup.
What to Watch For: Magic
Last March, Harris returned to the BMO Harris Bradley Center for the first time since being traded. I was covering the game near the Magic’s bench, and it was quite the spectacle. It was supposed to be a mostly irrelevant game. The Bucks were essentially locked into the eighth seed with little realistic upward or downward mobility. The Magic had been well out of the playoff picture for months. The Magic’s bench was treating the game as such — except for Harris. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an individual player get so into a game — especially after fouling out — literally all by himself. While his benchmates — including former Bucks guard Doron Lamb — remained largely subdued, Harris was charged up. He was jumping up and down. He was biting a towel in nervousness. He was clapping incessantly.
Tobias Harris is very much into this game on the bench.
— Preston Schmitt (@pdschmitt1) March 17, 2013
And then, after Monta Ellis hit his fifth three-pointer in less than six minutes (!) to close out the game, Harris looked completely dejected.
“I would have loved to come out of here with a win,” Harris said at the time, “but that’s just not how it happened.”
Less than a month later, he got his revenge: a 10-point overtime upset in Orlando. However, it should have been a single-digit win. With 12.6 seconds remaining in overtime and an eight-point lead, Harris corralled a defensive rebound, sprinted down the court without any opposition, threw down a big one-handed dunk and pounded his chest twice at the faithful crowd. (It was a decision for which he later apologized.)
In short, don’t tell Tobias Harris this is just another game. And if he says it, don’t believe it. Shoulder, meet chip.
Time — 6 p.m. CST
TV — FS Wisconsin
Radio — 620 WTMJ
PG Brandon Knight
SG Giannis Antetokounmpo
SF Khris Middleton
PF Ersan Ilyasova
C John Henson
PG Jameer Nelson
SG Victor Oladipo
SF Arron Afflalo
PF Glen Davis
C Nikola Vucevic
Choose the Form of the Destructor: Tobias Harris
See above. In those two games against Milwaukee, Harris averaged 22.0 points on 60.7 percent shooting and 13.5 rebounds. He missed the previous Bucks-Magic game in November with an ankle sprain.
Harris is on a bit of an uptick, too. He’s averaging 17.4 points and 12.2 rebounds per contest over the past five games. However, he’s still enduring the worst statistical season of his young career.
According to Milwaukee’s media notes, the Bucks are on a 15-game losing streak in Orlando that dates back to 2004 — the same year the Magic drafted Dwight Howard.