What to Watch For: Bucks (14-13)
Despite an emotional blow in the form of a season-ending injury to Jabari Parker and an increasingly thin frontcourt, the Bucks have continued to compete through a seven-game stretch of Western Conference opponents. Going into the last of those games, the team sits at 3-3, which includes victories against the Clippers, Suns, and Kings. That continued success has been driven by impressive performance by many of the team’s young players – Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Giannis Antetokounpo. The continued development of those youngsters, as well as timely contributions by veterans Zaza Pachulia, O.J. Mayo, and Jared Dudley, have buoyed the team past the loss of one of its promising young stars.
This game in particular will likely highlight the team’s biggest flaw – rebounding. In the first matchup, DeAndre Jordan led all players with 15 rebounds, including 5 offensive, even though the Bucks outrebounded the Clippers overall 39-35. The possible return of John Henson from a foot injury may help bolster the efforts of a team that currently ranks 27th in the league in rebounds at 40 per game.
Finally, Jason Kidd‘s matchup choices will be interesting to note throughout the game. Parker had done an exceptional job on defense against Blake Griffin in the first matchup, so it remains to be seen if Kidd will line up Antetokounmpo at the power forward position or turn to rookie Johnny O’Bryant to start at the 4 again. It seems unlikely that we’ll see too much of the Bucks’ recent small-ball lineups featuring Antetokounmpo as the nominal center while Jordan remains in the game, but any foul trouble or ineffectiveness on the part of Larry Sanders or Pachulia many force his hand.
What to Watch For: Clippers (18-8)
While they were frustrated by the Bucks just a week ago, the Clippers have been on an offensive tear in the month of December, particularly at home. They’ve averaged over 116 points in six December home games, thanks in part to hot performances by Blake Griffin (24.2 ppg) and J.J. Redick (17 ppg, 48% from three-point range). While Griffin and Chris Paul were limited to 10 points each in the first matchup, both have played at an All-Star level for the remainder of the month and will almost certainly be the focus of the Bucks’ defensive effort.
A matchup with the Clippers also means another encounter with the antagonistic Matt Barnes, who seems to take pleasure in getting under his opponents’ skin. Barnes managed to draw a technical foul out of the normally good-spirited Antetokounmpo after a hard foul in Milwaukee and spent a fair amount of time mean-mugging the Bucks bench on his way to a game-high 26 points. If a scuffle breaks out at some point during tonight’s game, you can expect that he’ll be involved somehow.
Time – 9:30 p.m. CST TV – FS-Wisconsin Radio – 620 WTMJ
Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova (nasal fracture; out); John Henson (foot; questionable); Damien Inglis (post-surgery — right ankle; out)
Clippers: Spencer Hawes (bone bruise; out)
Bucks: Brandon Knight – O.J. Mayo – Jared Dudley – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Larry Sanders
Clippers: Chris Paul – J.J. Redick – Matt Barnes – Blake Griffin – DeAndre Jordan
Choose the Form of the Destructor: Chris Paul
Don’t be fooled by his 10-point, 6-turnover performance in the teams’ previous matchup. Paul still reigns as one of the premier point guards in the league and he’ll have plenty of motivation to flip the script on the team that cramped his style. The Clippers have done well to surround him with a bevy of three-point shooters, and having Griffin as a go-to scorer certainly doesn’t hurt. I’ll be pretty darn surprised if Paul doesn’t end up with double-digit assists in this game with Redick as one of the biggest beneficiaries.