Dancing in the Desert: Bucks – Suns Preview

What to Watch For: Bucks (12-12)

Milwaukee should be well-rested as it begins a four-game, Western Conference road swing, having played only twice in the last week. After falling to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, the Bucks rebounded against a Clippers team that’s been a thorn in Milwaukee’s side over the past few years, holding on for a 111-106 victory. It was easily the biggest home win of the season to date and was highlighted by Milwaukee’s scrambling defense holding Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to a combined 20 points on 9-of-27 shooting. The Bucks out-rebounded Los Angeles 39-35 and outscored the Clippers in the paint by a 14-point margin.

That interior scoring has been key for a Bucks team that makes only 6.3 three-pointers per game, good for 24th in the NBA. The woes from beyond the arc have been exacerbated by the absence of Ersan Ilyasova (face) and the struggles of O.J. Mayo, who’s down to a woeful 28.4 percent shooting from three. Brandon Knight (40.7% 3Pt, 1.8 3PM/game) has been a pleasant surprise, however, as he’s accounted for more than a quarter of the Bucks’ made threes on the season.

Milwaukee owns the NBA’s fourth-best points in the paint differential and averages the most points in the paint on the road at nearly 49 per game. Maintaining that advantage will be key against an undersized Phoenix front line that allows the third-most points in the paint in the league (47.2). Miles Plumlee and Alex Len aren’t exactly intimidating rim protectors at this point in their careers, and the brothers Morris are more finesse than physical defenders.

What to Watch For: Suns (12-13)

Things have started to unravel in the desert after an encouraging 12-8 start. Phoenix holds quality wins over Dallas and San Antonio, and it’s one of only two teams to beat Golden State, but the Suns enter Monday having dropped five straight, including a loss to the lowly Pistons on Tuesday. I was going to make a joke about losing to Detroit being inexcusable but then remembered the Bucks have contributed to the Pistons’ four wins this season. So nevermind.

More recently, Phoenix fell 112-88 to Oklahoma City on Sunday night, allowing 70 points in the first half. Playing without Goran Dragic, the Suns struggled to find a consistent playmaker and shot only 34.3 percent from the field. If Dragic, who is considered questionable to play, sits out again, Milwaukee can focus its defensive energy on containing Phoenix’s other two starting-caliber point guards: Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas.

Logistics:

Time – 8:00 p.m. CST  TV – FS-Wisconsin  Radio – 620 WTMJ

Injury Report

Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova (nasal fracture; out); John Henson (foot; doubtful); Damien Inglis (post-surgery — right ankle; out)

Suns: Goran Dragic (back; questionable)

Projected Lineups

BucksBrandon KnightO.J. Mayo – Jabari Parker – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Larry Sanders

Suns: Eric Bledsoe – Gerald GreenP.J. TuckerMarkieff Morris – Miles Plumlee

Choose the Form of the Destructor: Gerald Green

Green has had one of the more interesting career arcs of any player in the league, going for prep prodigy, to bust, to D-Leaguer, to dunk specialist, and now, at age 28, to productive role player. He’s scored in double-figures in 13 of his last 14 games and is shooting a scorching 44 percent from three in seven December contests. His 20 made threes in December is more than all but two Bucks players have for the entire season.

Prediction: The Suns have taken 25 of the last 26 from the Bucks in Phoenix. Make that 25 of the last 27. Bucks 103 – Suns 97.

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