“Guys in Philly want to talk about the process, I’d rather talk about the results.”
That was the daring comment made by Bucks owner Wes Edens at the introductory press conference for new GM Jon Horst.
Well, here we are, mid way through January, more then halfway through the regular season and the ‘results’ aren’t pretty. The Bucks sit a mere half game ahead of the Sixers in the standings despite the fact All-Star big man Joel Embiid has sat out 9 games already this season. Embiid is yet to play in a back to back as his load is continuing to be managed, only playing 31.4 minutes per game when he does suit up.
On the other side of the fence, Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to carry an enormous load for the Bucks. The NBA’s leader in minutes per game (37.4), has again succumbed to his lingering knee issue, listed as out for tonights contest. Magnifying the pain for Milwaukee heading into the game is the added scratch of Malcolm Brogdon for personal reasons.
Embiid is expected to suit up in this one, as Philadelphia has found form of late, winning 6 of their last 7 games. The recent hot streak has been a massive relief for the Sixers after previously losing 10 of 12. Taking advantage of the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics, Philly produced a sensational defensive effort in beating Boston 89-80 Thursday night. After learning pre match he had just earned his first All-Star game selection, Embiid was unstoppable. An absolute force down low, he finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks. With the Celtics offense lacking their usual play making ability, the leagues 5th ranked defense was able to hold them to 40 percent shooting from the field and 24 percent from the outside.
That 5th ranked defense presents a huge challenge for a Milwaukee team that will be lacking some serious firepower. Not only will the Bucks be missing the leagues second leading scorer in Antetokounmpo’s 28.4 points per game, they will also lose 13.3 points of production from Brogdon,, who for the bulk of the season has held the second unit together. Much of the load is going to fall on the shoulders of Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton who have both been frustratingly hot and cold all season.
This is the first of four meetings between the two teams this season. Last year the season series was split despite Embiid only playing one of those games and sensational rookie Ben Simmons not playing at all. The Bucks are 1-1 in games Giannis has missed so far this season, winning in Phoenix before losing at Charlotte. But this is a different level of opposition. The task appears huge for the Bucks, i’m looking forward to seeing who will step up.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Finding The X-Factor: Who exactly is going to step up in an attempt to replicate the 41.7 points per game the Bucks will be missing on Saturday night? Will it be Tony Snell? Sterling Brown? Sean Kilpatrick? One of the Aussies, Matthew Dellavedova or Thon Maker? It might just be the guy who appears likely to make his season debut, Xavier Munford, who recently signed a two way contract after a simply sensational start the season with the Wisconsin Herd. In 23 games with the Herd, Munford has averaged 23.5 points per game, knocking down 46 percent of his triples at the high volume of 5.2 attempts per game. He’s an explosive scorer and he may well just be called on to provide a spark right away.
- Middleton And Bledsoe: The difference in output between these two in wins and losses is enormous. I tweeted the numbers out yesterday and here they are:
Khris Middleton in wins averages 21.4ppg, 50%FG, 42%3PT, 61%TS whilst in losses it drops to 18.4ppg, 40%FG, 27%3PT, 51%TS.
Eric Bledsoe in wins averages 19.2ppg, 47%FG, 33%3PT, 58%TS as apposed to losses it drops to 15.8ppg, 42%, 30%3PT, 53%TS.
These numbers are largely WITH Giannis in the lineup. Needless to say, both these players need to be at their best if the Bucks are to stand any chance of victory.
- Slowing The Sixers: Philadelphia are young and ready to run. The play at the leagues second fastest pace only behind the Los Angeles Lakers. Whilst they don’t feature in the leagues top 20 for fast break points they will always attempt to push the pace and get into early offensive sets without necessarily scoring in transition. Leading Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons is an absolute weapon in the open court. Possessing elite passing ability, allowing him time and space to survey the floor will spell danger for the Bucks. Simmons and co will look to get Embiid deep catches early in the shot clock and look for easy buckets. The Bucks must try to slow down these opportunities and as always be aware of open shooters on the outside. Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and T.J McConnell will have their feet set beyond the arc ready to fire. The Bucks often out of position defense has the task ahead of them tonight, time will tell if they are able to slow the actually young Sixers down.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus