November 29, 2016, the 13-2 defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers visited the Bradley Center looking for their fifth straight victory. What they received was a comprehensive trouncing by the Giannis led Bucks, 101-118. Giannis finished the night with 34 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks in a dominant performance that clearly caught the attention of the Cavs players. This one bothered them, perhaps it was LeBron feeling that Giannis was trying to take the first steps to pose a threat to his status at the very top of the game. Perhaps it was the raucous Milwaukee crowd raining down cheers on the Cavs starters as they headed the bench early, Lebron unlacing his sneakers with minutes still left on the clock.
Perhaps that Cavs team just didn’t appreciate being shown up, either way, it definitely woke them up. Cleveland has beaten the Bucks in four straight contests since that night, the latest a 19 point drubbing in Milwaukee, in a highly anticipated showdown on National TV. We weren’t going to catch them off guard again in front of the whole country.
Since that first meeting in Milwaukee, both teams have gone through a tough stretch, Cleveland in particular having lost six of their last eight and three straight at home to below .500 teams. Milwaukee will aim to extend that streak and in turn, break a three game losing run of their own.
Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose were two big name signings in Cleveland during the off season, I say big name, because thats all they have been to this point. The 36 year old Wade is averaging career lows in minutes (22.2), points (9.0), and rebounds (3.0) amongst other stats and already has been relegated to the bench, supposedly his own doing. Rose is starting in the absence of the injured Isaiah Thomas and the Cavs have been simply disastrous with him on the floor posting a 122.2 defensive rating thus far.
LeBron for years now has cruised through the regular season knowing full well he is best to save himself and his body for the business end of the season. It hasn’t been an issue because his teams in both Cleveland and Miami were good enough to get home court with LeBron in third gear, still unbelievably good mind you. Questions have to be asked in the early going whether this is the case this year. LeBron lit up Washington for 57/11/7 in a 8 point victory in Washington Friday night. Despite this, James was required for 42 minutes and Cleveland still gave up 122 points.
Milwaukee on the other hand gave their most insipid effort of the season Friday night in Detroit, dysfunctional at both ends as the Pistons executed as if it was a training run. The free throw disparity was again astonishing as the Pistons attempted 28 to the Bucks 9, Andre Drummond, career 39% free throw shooter, ridiculously made 14 of 16. That in the end was to much for the Bucks to overcome, not that they deserved to win.
Much excitement was invoked amongst Bucks fans when the National TV schedule came out with Milwaukee becoming a regular fixture for the first time in as long as anyone can remember. So far the Bucks are 0-3 in these games and with tomorrow night (NBA TV) and Friday night in San Antonio (ESPN) featuring across the nation its time the Bucks stood up.
Giannis v LeBron has become must watch television. The Greek Freak has produced some scintillating performances in these match-ups but we all know he dearly wants the win. The Bucks are 5-12 against the Cavs since Giannis came into the league, tomorrow night is the perfect opportunity to chip away at that deficit.
Both teams are down, both superstars are frustrated with the way things have started, its Part II in this brooding rivalry that again will be played out in front of the world. Bring it on.
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