Two Eastern conference playoff teams from last year, Milwaukee and Washington meet up for the first time this season Monday night at the Bradley Center. Washington will be arriving late into Milwaukee, on the second game of a back to back, losing in Toronto last night, 91-100. The Bucks seemingly will have the fresh legs coming into this one having had last night off. Seemingly.
Milwaukee faced the same scenario in Dallas Saturday night, fresh after a couple nights off and Dallas on a back to back. What transpired was the most insipid performance of the season, a 32 point beat down from the then league worst, 2-14 Mavericks.
The Bucks settled far to often for jump shots early, failing to put any pressure on the Dallas defense while blowing assignments on the other end. A sluggish start and a 9 point deficit after one was sadly only a sign of things to come. Dallas stretched the lead throughout, every time the Bucks even slightly threatened, Rick Carlisle would call a timeout and run a perfectly executed play to spark the Dallas offense again. Despite their record, he remains an elite coach in this league. A familiar thorn in the Bucks side was a major contributor to the Bucks demise, opposition three point makes. Dallas scorched the Bucks, knocking down 19 triples to the Bucks 6, 50% shooting as apposed to Milwaukee’s 24%. That’s a steep hill to climb on any given night.
Eric Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo, at times competent outside shooters were way off in this one and failed to get the memo. The duo combined to go 1-12 on shots outside the paint, repeatedly settling for outside jumpers that didn’t even come close. It was just one of those nights. Coming in to the game Milwaukee had won four in a row, played terrific defense and at times ran beautiful offense. This one was a disaster all round. I could continue to pick the performance apart but i digress, it’s time to look forward.
Washington after starting 9-5 have now lost two in a row and will be desperate to stop the skid against the Bucks. The well balanced attack the Wizards possess has been shut down in the last two, only mustering 89.5 points a game. John Wall playing poorly contributed to the first loss against Miami in which he only managed 8 points on 3-12 shooting in 35 minutes. That may have been a result of playing on a ‘sore knee’, as Wall was absent from last nights game in Toronto. Wizards coach Scott Brooks said postgame that it’s nothing serious and Wall is a “great chance” to take the floor against the Bucks tonight.
The Wizards, when healthy possess one of the leagues most lethal guard duos. Wall teaming up with Bradley Beal to combine for 44.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 12.6 assists a game. If indeed Wall takes the floor then Bledsoe will again be called upon to attempt to slow down the multiple time all star Wall.
Battling knee soreness of his own, Bledsoe continues to play through, providing solid to great defense despite a sputtering offensive game yet to find it’s mark. When in attack mode Bledsoe has already proven to be an absolute force, blowing by the defense, penetrating the paint and either dishing for an easy deuce or attacking the rim himself. It does make you wonder whether the knee issue is an explanation for why his shot is not only way off but why he is settling for it so often.
Despite all the negatives to come out of Saturday nights game, one man continues his resurgence for the Bucks, swingman Khris Middleton. After a typically horrific start shooting the ball, Middleton has been sparked into form by the addition of Bledsoe. Before the trade, he was shooting 40% from the field and a disastrous 23% from three. Post trade, in five games, Khris is shooting 48% from the field and a stellar 50% from deep. Middleton is a crucial part of the Bucks roster, a borderline all-star talent in my opinion, getting him going was a key factor to the Bucks winning games and he is starting to find a rhythm, great news for Bucks fans.
It feels silly to talk about home court advantage in the playoffs after watching our last outing but it remains the goal. These matches could prove crucial later in the season when the battle for playoff seedings heats up. Last year the Bucks went 1-3 against the Wizards and will be desperate to improve on that this season starting at home tonight. Giannis, Bledsoe and Middleton will be looking to fully click on offense for the first time since the trade. After the disaster in Dallas, Jason Kidd and the whole roster from top to bottom will be on notice to bounce back against strong opposition. Performances like that one are simply not acceptable anymore. Im excited to see how they respond.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus