In a gutsy, but far from pretty performance Wednesday night, the severely undermanned Bucks climbed back above .500, with an important road win in Phoenix, 113-107. Thon Maker played his best game of the season by far with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks, crucially in the last quarter knocking down three mid range jump shots to keep Milwaukee afloat. In overtime it was the DeAndre Liggins show, suffocating defense on Devin Booker that will give him nightmares for weeks to come and one shot clock beating jumper ensured the Bucks snuck home. Greg Monroe posted 22 points and 15 rebounds off the bench for Phoenix in his first game against Milwaukee, it was a sad sight to see the Moose in Suns colours.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was an early scratch from this one, knee soreness that kept him out of the Greek national team over the summer worryingly flaring up again on the back of a questionable work load early in the season. John Henson (eye), Mirza Teletovic (knee), Matthew Dellavedova (Knee) and obviously Jabari Parker (knee) were already out causing Milwaukee’s already ordinary bench depth to be tested further. Add to this Gary Payton II going down with an ankle injury in the first half and it was last man standing type of stuff for the Bucks.
This prompted one of the more bazaar starting line-ups in recent Bucks history to be rolled out. Payton II, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton and Thon Maker were the select five, a three guard lineup that was obviously going to be intent on running the ball. By the end of the night this was evident as the Bucks posted a pace (estimation of possessions per 48) of 102.86 compared to the season average of 95.9. The game was sloppy, wild and at times tough to watch but the Bucks continued to hound the Suns who by the end of the night (including overtime) had committed an absurd 29 turnovers.
Does October 30, 2001 mean anything to you Bucks fans?
Probably not, but it is a significant date to remember before this game in Utah tips off, incredibly it was the last time Milwaukee won a game in Salt Lake City. The Jazz destroyed Milwaukee in Utah last season, the final margin of 16 points not really giving justice to how one sided the game was. However, this time there will be no Rudy Gobert or Gordon Hayward as the former is out with a knee injury and the latter is now in Boston, though also sidelined.
Both Giannis and Henson joined the team for practice in Arizona Friday, working off their team thanksgiving dinner in a positive sign. No word on either player has been made yet and both figure to be game time decisions. If both can return it will be a huge boost for a Bucks team desperate to win back to back road games against a slumping Jazz.
After starting the season 5-3, Utah have now lost 8 of their last 11 contests, but despite the slump, remain a tough proposition at home with a 7-4 record at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz hold a rare combination of a top 5 defense matched with a bottom 5 offense. Defensively they will look to contain the star of the Bucks win in Phoenix. Khris Middleton, who joined James Harden and Giannis as the only players in the NBA to post multiple 40 point games so far this season, finished with 40 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals as he stuffed the stat sheet and for the majority of the night carried the scoring load for a team that desperately needed him to.
After an awful start to the season shooting, Khris is now averaging 25.2 points per game in November and crucially knocking down 40% of his three point attempts. Though his shot selection at times can still be frustrating he has bounced back with a vengeance and is hopefully only going to get better. Eric Bledsoe also contributed greatly despite still struggling from the field, topping 20 points for the first time as a Buck and finishing with 30 in his return to Phoenix.
With Gobert’s injury, this presents a rare occasion where Milwaukee shouldn’t feel overawed by the oppositions big men. Derrick Favors, former Buck Ekpe Udoh and Jonas Jerebko form a big man platoon that shouldn’t put the fear into any opposition. If Henson doesn’t come up, excpect two way player and former Utah player Joel Bolomboy to see the floor again after a very impressive effort backing up Maker against the Suns. Bolomboy failed to register a point but grabbed five boards and two steals in 20 minutes, regularly getting in the right spots defensively and putting his body on the line for the team, certainly earning further playing time in the future.
With stops in Sacramento and Portland still to come on the road trip, Milwaukee would love to avoid a losing winning trip with a win here. If videos on Bucks social media of Giannis changing direction and dunking at practice are any indication, the Greek Freak is a good chance of returning Saturday night, which would significantly boost our chances.
One thing is for certain however, it wont be easy, because as mentioned earlier history tells us that Milwaukee does not like playing in Utah and Quin Snyder’s team will bring their stellar defensive pressure on the bottom ten offense of the Bucks. If Khris Middleton can stay hot and find a couple of able helpers, perhaps Brogdon, Bledsoe or again Maker, then the Bucks will be in good stead. The Bucks ability to score against the Jazz is the biggest key for mine, 100 points will likely be enough.
Knock down shots, fight on defense, get the win and move on to California, that’s the goal.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus.