The Bucks are in the midst of a much publicized difficult stretch of the schedule, so far navigating through with decent results. With wins against Minnesota and OKC before dropping a road contest to Toronto, Milwaukee are importantly holding ground in the Eastern Conference standings.
Central division rivals the Indiana Pacers have been a pleasant surprise so far this season but find themselves in a slump, coinciding with their breakout star being sidelined. A key piece in the Paul George off-season trade, Victor Oladipo has become an All-Star lock, but in a break for the Bucks will miss this one with right knee soreness. Averaging 24.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 33 games so far, this is clearly a major blow to the Pacers hopes of victory.
The Pacers have lost four straight games with Oladipo missing the last three of those. The Pacers offense has come to a grinding halt during the slump, not surprisingly given they are missing their leading scorer. Indiana are only averaging 93.5 points per game, well down on their season average of 107.
Sporting a top ten offense for the most of the season, Indiana now find themselves desperately scrapping to cover the loss of Oladipo. Their second leading scorer, Myles Turner is averaging 14.1 points per contest to head a group of four other Pacers scoring double digits on the season. One area the Pacers will fancy their chances of hurting the Bucks will be from beyond the arc. Indiana rank second in the league for three point percentage knocking down 38.6 percent of their threes to only trail Golden State in that category. Interestingly enough, in a not too dissimilar trend to the Bucks, they rank a lowly 23rd for three point attempts despite the high success rate.
The contest has all the hallmarks of a high scoring, free flowing battle with both teams sitting in the bottom ten in the league for defensive rating, only 0.1 separating the sides. Given the Bucks offense has been able to rack up points of late, delivering an even respectable defensive effort will hold them in good stead.
In losing to Toronto, the Bucks frustratingly wasted a rare solid night from the second unit. Thon Maker led the bench scoring with 16, Brogdon was solid as ever with 15, and Dellavedova chipped in with 6 to go along with 10 assists. Another poor shooting night from Khris Middleton and an unusually quiet (though stat stuffing) Giannis Antetokounmpo left the Bucks wanting in crunch time. It was a tough loss to take.
With many more difficult games coming in the next fortnight or so, Milwaukee will be desperate to capitalize on meeting the short handed Pacers at home in the first of two meetings this week against Indiana.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Lock Down Lance: Since Oladipo has been sidelined, the obvious beneficiary minutes wise has been the diminutive guard Lance Stephenson. An obvious talent, Stephenson has had a rocky few years but has somewhat settled in the familiar setting in Indiana. Lance has taken his opportunities so far in the increased role, finishing with 16 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists against Dallas and backing it up with 18 points and 9 rebounds against Chicago. Those performances haven’t resulted in wins yet, but Milwaukee will want to be on their guard, he has burnt them in the past and will be eager to do the same again Wednesday.
- Khashing In From Deep: After gradually trending his three point percentages in the right direction after a slow start, Middleton has gone ice cold of late. In his last 11 games Khris has made only 23 of 79 attempts, 29 percent. A career 40 percent shooter from deep, he remains languishing at 35 percent on the season. In a season where Middleton is posting career highs in multiple categories, his drop off in this area is proving a thorn in the Bucks side.
- Bench Support: As mentioned above, the Bucks bench finally found some contributors in their last outing as Thon Maker had arguably his best night of the season. With Brogdon a constant force off the bench, he continues to need reliable help with Maker, Dellavedova, Sean Kilpatrick and Jason Terry the leading candidates. If the Bucks can again get 40 points from their bench it seems unlikely they’ll fall short again.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus