What to Watch For: Bucks (23-22)
Coming off of a comeback win over the Heat on Tuesday, the Bucks will look to complete the Florida sweep in a place they haven’t won in over 10 years. Milwaukee has dropped 17 straight in Orlando, losing by an average of more than 13 points per game. The Bucks’ last win came back on Dec. 29, 2004, when 15 points and 14 boards from one Dan Gadzuric helped offset 24 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists from Steve Francis(!!) as the Bucks prevailed 111-105.
Coincidentally, Zaza Pachulia started that game for Milwaukee, putting up nine points and 11 rebounds in 37 minutes. Pachulia is questionable to play Thursday due to a calf injury, and while defense may not be his calling card, the Bucks will need all the help they can get against arguably the best offensive center in the East, Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic has scored in double figures in every game he’s played this season and is averaging 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. His 27 double-doubles rank second in the NBA behind only Pau Gasol. By comparison, the Bucks have only 14 double-doubles as a team, and Pachulia has accounted for seven of those.
While Victor Oladipo and rookie Elfrid Payton are an intriguing backcourt combination, containing Vucevic will be the key. Even if Pachulia does play he may be limited, so John Henson could end up seeing quite a bit of time on Vucevic. It will be interesting to see how Kidd handles that situation, given Henson’s propensity to foul, as well as the fact that Henson has played more than 21 minutes only three times this season. In the first meeting between these teams, Henson, Pachulia and Larry Sanders took turns on Vucevic and limited him to 18 points and nine rebounds, a relatively quiet night by his standards.
What to Watch For: Magic (15-33)
Orlando has dropped 12 of its last 14 games, sandwiching back-to-back wins over Chicago and Houston between a pair of six-game losing streaks. Glancing at the roster, it’s clear there is no lack of talent on this team, but coach Jacque Vaughn is yet to find the right combinations to bring it all together. Oladipo and Payton have had their ups and downs, but the real issue is the forward position.
Orlando is stocked with rangy forwards – Channing Frye, Aaron Gordon, Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson, Moe Harkless – almost to the point where Vaughn has too many mouths to feed. As a result, Nicholson and Harkless have virtually dropped out of the rotation at this point, while the talented-but-raw Gordon is still finding his footing. Meanwhile, Frye continues to start at power forward in the midst of one of the worst months of his career (7.5 FGA, 34.7% FG). To his credit, Harris, who always seems to take it up a notch against Milwaukee, is enjoying a solid statistical season, yet it hasn’t translated to wins.
The Magic aren’t a good team right now, but from a talent perspective there really isn’t any reason they should trail Boston or Indiana in the Eastern Conference standings.
Time – 6:00 p.m. CST TV – Fox Sports Wisconsin Radio – 620 WTMJ
Bucks: Larry Sanders (personal reasons; out); Kendall Marshall (ACL tear; out for season); Damien Inglis (post surgery – right ankle; out for season); Jabari Parker (ACL tear; out for season); Ersan Ilyasova (sore groin; out); Zaza Pachulia (calf; questionable)
Magic: No injuries
Magic: Elfrid Payton – Victor Oladipo – Aaron Gordon – Channing Frye – Nikola Vucevic
Choose the Form of the Destructor: Tobias Harris
As noted above, Harris always plays well against Milwaukee, the team that sent him to Orlando in the ill-fated J.J. Redick deal two seasons ago. In six games against the Bucks since the trade, Harris is averaging 19.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, his highest averages in both categories versus any opponent.