In danger of slipping back to .500, the Milwaukee Bucks will again be without All-Star starter Giannis Antetokounmpo. The young superstar has been ruled out with lingering knee soreness in an attempt to freshen him up. This will be the fourth game he has missed this season but it will be the first time he has missed back to back games since November 2013. His rookie campaign.
It will be the second and final meeting between Phoenix and Milwaukee this season, once again pitching Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe against their former teams. Unfortunately for Monroe, he has registered a DNP-CD in 10 of the last 12 games. Rumours continue to circulate that the big man may be a buy out candidate in the coming weeks but the Bradley Center crowd would certainly love to give Moose a warm reception if he sees the floor.
Giannis was also out with a knee the last time these two teams met. The Bucks survived that one, but it took an extra period as they eventually prevailed 113-107 in overtime. Both Bledsoe and Monroe were major contributors that night, Bledsoe finished with 30 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, while Monroe had 22 points and 15 rebounds off the bench. In the end Khris Middleton’s 40 points and some suffocating DeAndre Liggins defense on Devin Booker was enough to see Milwaukee escape with a hard fought victory.
Booker struggled to go 8-24 from the field, and the Bucks will know containing the 21 year old to similar numbers will be an extremely difficult task. Though the Suns are struggling as a team, Booker figures to be in All-Star contention when the reserves are named later this week. Averaging 25.3 points, 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds, he is having an incredible individual year. Logging games of 46 and 43 points so far, he remains one of the leagues hardest guards to slow down when he is in the zone.
The Bucks will welcome back reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, after he missed the last game in Philadelphia due to personal reasons. Expected to slot straight back into the starting lineup, he will be a welcome addition to a team that struggled to score the ball and finished with only 94 points against the Sixers. Both Middleton and Bledsoe continued to struggle shooting the ball and will need to snap out of their slump in order for the Bucks to bounce back.
Now languishing in 8th spot in the Eastern Conference standings, the Bucks are well below where they should be for a team with a legitimate MVP candidate at their disposal. Their nightly inconsistencies are wearing thin amongst the fan base and frustration is building. A loss here and the pressure may reach breaking point. At home, against a lower ranked opponent, the Bucks will be desperate to respond.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Utilise The Bench: It seems simple, but we know that coach Jason Kidd’s rotations are an absolute lottery. Going in to this one again undermanned, the Bucks will need contributors right down the roster. But in order to do this, Kidd has to be prepared to actually make some substitutions. Against Philadelphia, Bledsoe, Middleton, Tony Snell and Sterling Brown all played a staggering 38 minutes plus. Given the load that Middleton in particular has already been under, coupled with the fact Giannis is missing games due to soreness, you would assume Kidd would have learnt his lesson. It appears not. With Brogdon back the Bucks will regain some flexibility but they should find a way to get Sean Kilpatrick, Xavier Munford and Jason Terry a few more minutes to try and reduce some fatigue on the starters.
- Middleton’s Three Point Shot: After finding the range in November, Middleton’s usually reliable deep ball continues to go missing. Since the New Year, Khris has only made 14 of 42 attempts from deep, 26 percent. For a career 40 percent shooter, this is incredibly alarming. Posting his first triple double of his career on Saturday night, Middleton finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. Great numbers, but he was still an ugly 1 for 5 from beyond the arc. Not only for tonight, but moving forward, the Bucks desperately need Middleton to start knocking down open shots. Lets hope he can do so against the Suns.
- Hit The Glass: Yep, you guessed it, the Bucks are still the leagues worst rebounding team and the only team to average less then 40 a game. Reeling in a meagre 38.6 per game, Milwaukee are going to come up against the leagues 7th best team in that category. The double pronged big man combo of Tyson Chandler and Alex Len are averaging a combined 18.0 rebounds per game. They’ll come up against John Henson and Thon Maker who are averaging a disappointing 10.3. With no Giannis, the Bucks will need an improved effort on the defensive glass to prevent the Suns from getting second and third chance opportunities. Ranked 5th in the league on the offensive glass, this potentially looms as a danger zone for a Bucks team looking to avoid an upset on their home floor.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus