A new era kicked off last night for Milwaukee basketball in winning fashion as the Bucks impressively toppled the Spurs on the road, 94-87. The win snapped a four game losing streak and gave the Bucks the opportunity to climb back to .500 on the season tonight, at home, against the Lakers.
Eric Bledsoe made his Bucks debut, instantly bringing energy on both ends of the floor as the defense finally clicked and the offense picked up the pace. Bledsoe was clearly rusty with his dribble at times, and unfamiliar with his teammates, notably John Henson, which is to be expected given he hadn’t played for three weeks and only joined the team 24 hours earlier.
Pre-game coach Jason Kidd had hinted that he’d like to keep Bledsoe to around 20 minutes for the night, but as the contest unfolded and the game was on the line it was inevitable that the minute restriction wouldn’t hold. In the end, he played 29 minutes, posting 13 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists, a nice looking line despite his shot not quite falling.
The National TV audience watching on ESPN only had to wait until the 2:24 mark of the second quarter to see one of the highlight plays of the young NBA season. Giannis received a lead pass around half court off a John Henson block and quickly fired the ball up court to Bledsoe, who was as always running in transition. Bledsoe took one dribble, peaked over his shoulder, and left a lob over his head for the trailing Giannis to receive, and viciously throw down (pictured above) to the delight of everyone in the arena – Bucks and Spurs fans. It was at that exact moment I got lost in my own thoughts for a few minutes, realising that this could be a definitive moment in the transformation of the modern day Bucks, the insertion of one player could dramatically change the course of this team going forward, it’s extremely exciting.
But, reality is, the Bucks have won tough games before, they have shown the aptitude to fulfil the requirements of the defensive scheme, they have looked irresistible in transition, a team ready to take the next step, then they falter. Saturday night is a danger game at home, one most Bucks fans expect to win, and rightly so.
The Lakers have quietly impressed this season, the teams performances well and truly being over shadowed by the sideshow that is the Ball family, namely Lonzo’s father. Wins against Memphis (7-4), Detroit (9-3) and Washington (6-5) show that on any given night this team can match it with quality opposition. Head coach Luke Walton through necessity with no real star scorer on the roster has leaned on a variety of guys to start the season, a balanced attack that has an impressive seven players averaging double digit scoring. Off-season addition, veteran Brooke Lopez, long time Brooklyn Net, is pacing the Lakers at 15.8 points per game.
The highest profile Laker, rookie Lonzo Ball is not one of those players that is averaging double digit scoring, suffering through a historically bad start shooting the ball. Lonzo has dazzled at times distributing to fellow Lakers, displaying his well publicised play-making ability to average 6.9 assists thus far. Unfortunately the 22% three-point and 29% field goal percentages are marring what positives there are to take from his play in the early going.
An interesting wrinkle in tonights storyline and a matchup to watch will be Ball taking on Bledsoe. Despite Ball’s tough start, by far the best game of his career came against Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns on the 24th of October. That night Ball flirted with a triple double tallying 29 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. Bledsoe, when engaged is widely regarded as an elite defender at the point guard position, its questionable at that point how much effort Bledsoe was exerting with his situation in Phoenix about to boil over. You should expect he will be doing his absolute best to ensure the young LA rookie doesn’t have a repeat performance tonight.
With a major trade during the season like the one just completed, an integration process is required, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon on the surface appear to be the two that will need to make the biggest adjustments with the Bledsoe acquisition. Brogdon, after a sensational start to the season now finds himself relegated to the second unit, potentially a tough pill to swallow for the second year, reigning rookie of the year. He started off slow, going scoreless in the first half before finishing with 9 points and a couple of key buckets. It must be noted that despite coming off the bench, Brogdon still played 34 minutes and shouldn’t see much of a dip from his regular court time.
Middleton had yet another tough shooting night, going 6-14 and missing some shots in the past you’d expect him to make. Through necessity Khris has often been required to handle the ball more then you’d probably like, but now with the Bledsoe addition he should be able to revert to more suitable pick-and-roll, off-screen and catch and shoot role. Bucks fans are growing increasingly impatient with Middleton as he suffers through a typically frigid November, but rest assured he will bounce back. Jason Kidd has to take the responsibly of setting Khris up to succeed on offense, freeing him up and getting him open looks. It won’t happen overnight but look for these two key pieces to continue to figure it out on Saturday night.
It’s an exciting time to be a Milwaukee fan, it is by far the most talented top end of the roster the Bucks have had since the 2001 squad that went to the conference finals. But, as mentioned earlier, it’s these types of games that have proven a difficult hurdle, the ones you expect to win. The Bradley Center is sold out for Eric Bledsoe’s home debut and they will come ready to get loud, let’s hope the Bucks can provide them with plenty of opportunities to do so.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus