Milwaukee Bucks (34-35) at Portland Trail Blazers (32-37)
March 21, 2017, 7:00 PST
Watch: CSNNW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Bucks injuries: Michael Beasley (out), Jabari Parker (out)
SBN Affiliate: Brew Hoop
After a successful 4-1 road trip that put them within striking distance of moving into the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race, the Portland Trail Blazers kick off a three-game home stand against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are locked into a playoff battle of their own, currently in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, one game out of sixth place, but only one-and-a-half games ahead of the tenth place Chicago Bulls.
Milwaukee is led by “The Greek Freak,” Antetokounmpo. While this phrase usually refers to a team’s high scorer, Giannis is truly in a league of his own in regard to his teammates, putting up 23 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and nearly two steals and blocks per game, all of which are tops for the Bucks. While he had oozed potential through his first three seasons, Antetokounmpo has exploded as an absolute star this year, able to be the focal point of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense while being absolutely electric in transition.
With fellow 20-point-per-game scorer Jabari Parker out for the year with the second ACL tear of his young career, Milwaukee is fortunate to have talented wing Khris Middleton back in the lineup after missing 50 games of the season with a torn hamstring. Middleton, a career 40 percent 3-point shooter, doesn’t settle for the long ball, but is a capable scorer from all over the court, particularly in the mid-range in his limited time this season.
In the backcourt, Milwaukee starts another pair of shooting guards (in addition to Middleton) in Tony Snell and rookie Malcom Brogdan, who has made a case to earn some votes in this season’s weak Rookie of the Year race. Snell, acquired from the Bulls in exchange for Michael Carter-WIlliams, has seen his shot selection improve drastically under Jason Kidd in Milwaukee, shooting a career high 46 percent from the floor and 40 percent from the 3-point line. Brogdan tends to distribute more than Snell, averaging nearly five assists a night to go along with 10 points on 46 percent shooting from the floor. Brogdan also shoots 40 percent from distance, though he is more opportunistic with his attempts.
Next to Giannis, the Bucks have been starting rookie Thon Maker, a 7-foot-1 project power forward. Maker has shown good range for a big man, shooting 39 percent from the 3-point line, but seldom makes much of an impact on the game on either end, averaging three points and less than two rebounds.
Milwaukee has a solid bench consisting primarily of scoring big man Greg Monroe, shot-blocking big John Henson, and point guard Matthew Dellavadova.
Matching up with the Bucks can be a problem for opponents, considering they start a 7-foot “point forward” in Giannis and the 7-foot-1 Maker, along with their three shooting guards. Brogdan, Snell, and Middleton are 6-foot-5, 6-foot-7, and 6-foot-8, respectively, which can cause defensive difficulties for smaller backcourts such as Portland’s. The key to handling the Bucks is to make Giannis work for his numbers, but force him to beat you by shutting everyone else down.
With size and athleticism, Milwaukee is dangerous in the fast break, though they don’t actually play a particularly fast pace. Instead the Bucks work for efficient shots, and use their size to be able to get good looks over defenders who could otherwise challenge them. Defensively, they aren’t particularly stingy, with a DRtg of 109.6, but they are fourth in the NBA at forcing turnovers—a function of all those long arms.
For Portland, tonight is the first game in what appears to be a significantly easier stretch of the season, with 10 of 13 games at home, many against teams with losing records. The Blazers have been clicking in the month of March and will be looking to show that their recent success is no fluke. Though there will be some difficult match ups at small forward and at the guard spots, specifically, Milwaukee is a young team still in the process of figuring it out. And while they have a talented roster, the loss of Parker significantly hamstrung this team and, unless someone besides Giannis and Middleton shows up on any given night, they are quite beatable.