What to Watch For: Bucks (21-20)
The Bucks haven’t lost two straight games in a month – Dec. 20 (Clippers) and 23rd (Hornets) – and they’ll look to avoid doing so against the Jazz team that’s dropped two straight and five of its last six. Milwaukee played fairly well against Toronto on Monday but a rough second quarter and 16 team turnovers were ultimately too much to overcome. The Raptors are a good team, and at times a very good team, but it still didn’t feel like a “good” loss, if there even is such a thing. Milwaukee had its opportunities to take control down the stretch and simply didn’t execute, and turnovers were a major problem.
Thirteen of the Bucks’ 16 turnovers came in the second half, including six in the fourth quarter. O.J. Mayo committed two in the final two-and-a-half minutes. One led to a Patrick Patterson dunk on the other end, and the second came in the final seconds as Mayo grabbed a rebound and attempted to weave through heavy traffic in search of a clean look with the Bucks down three. Of course, games aren’t won or lost on one single turnover, but when an inferior team commits 13 in a 24-minute span, that team usually doesn’t win the game.
Turnovers weren’t just an issue against Toronto, they have been an issue dating back to the start of the New Year. Over the last seven games, the Bucks have posted 16, 15, 11, 22, 24, 17 and 18 turnovers. That’s 17.8 per game. As a result, Milwaukee has ascended to third in the league in turnovers per game (16.2), trailing only the 76ers (17.7) and Rockets (16.8), who both rank among the top six in Pace Factor.
The silver lining is the Bucks are forcing opponents into more than 16 turnovers per game, good for second in the league behind Philly. And an even silver-er lining, in the short-term at least, is the fact that Utah forces the fewest turnovers of any team in the NBA (11.8 per game) while ranking among the top third in turnovers committed.
What to Watch For: Jazz (14-28)
This team is not very good. They have a few surprising, quality wins – Chicago by 20, San Antonio, Memphis, Phoenix – but on the whole, they’re easily a bottom six or seven team in the league, despite having considerable young talent. Losing Alec Burks for the season due to a shoulder injury was a major blow after he made noticeable strides last season, and the frontcourt situation continues to be a mess. There’s no question Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are talented, but playing the two together simply hasn’t produced wins. Even so, it sounds as though second-year coach Quin Snyder will keep trying, as he gave Kanter a ringing endorsement prior to Wednesday’s game.
Containing leading scorer Gordon Hayward will be Milwaukee’s primary focus – Giannis will probably spend plenty of time on him – but controlling the frontcourt is what could ultimately determine the outcome. On Wednesday, in a 14-point win, Cleveland gave up 24 points and 17 boards to Kanter but held Favors to 12 points and just one rebound. So allowing one to go off while limiting the other can work. The question now is whether the (expected) staring duo of Zaza Pachulia and Ersan Ilyasova – not exactly world-beaters on the defensive end – can work together to keep the Jazz out of the deep paint and off the glass.
Favors (personal reasons) has been ruled out, which is nice, but that means human Gumby/Rudy Gobert will probably get the start. He’s not as talented of an offensive player, but he’s three or four inches taller and might be the best shot-blocker in the league.
Time – 7:00 p.m. CST TV – FSWI Radio – 620 WTMJ
Jazz: Alec Burks (shoulder; out for season); Rodney Hood (foot; out); Derrick Favors (personal; out)
Choose the Form of the Destructor: Rudy Gobert
Once no more than a mysterious summer league myth, Gobert made a name for himsefl earlier this month when Kanter missed four games. Starting in Kanter’s place over that span, Gobert put up a pair of double-doubles and recorded 21 blocks. TWENTY ONE. IN FOUR GAMES.
Imagine setting up a wacky waving inflatable tube man in the middle of the paint. That’s Rudy Gobert.
Granted, Gobert has come back to Earth a little bit since Kanter’s been back, but he still put up 16 and 11 off the bench last week against the Warriors and hung 13 points, 18 boards and four blocks on the Spurs on Sunday. He’s easily the longest player in the league and in all likelihood will give Pachulia major fits on the glass.