What a week it’s been in Milwaukee.
News filtered through Monday afternoon that the Bucks had fired head coach Jason Kidd, just hours before they were due to play the Phoenix Suns at home. Impressively the Bucks were able to put aside an understandably slow start (and no Giannis), to grind out an important home win. In a welcome relief, the Bucks followed up that victory with three nights off, a rarity in the busy NBA regular season schedule.
Milwaukee announced Assistant Joe Prunty as the interim coach for the remainder of the season. This came as no real surprise given Prunty took the reigns for 17 games in 2015, when Kidd went in for hip surgery. Impressing in the role, he led the then 10-18 Bucks, to a 8-9 record under his control, a bright stretch in a very poor 33 win season overall.
The response from the players has been one of solidarity, the extended break allowing the team to hold a full practice on Wednesday afternoon.
Malcolm Brogdon noted “a very positive vibe”, Khris Middleton acknowledged the “positive energy”, while John Henson said “it’s been a productive couple of days”.
Any doubt that the Bucks players would struggle in the wake of their coaches demise appears to have well and truly evaporated as they move on with a very familiar voice leading the way. Prunty has been sure to be respectful of Kidd, whilst acknowledging the job that lies ahead of the talented Bucks team languishing in 8th position in the Eastern Conference standings.
Tonight however, the Bucks have a game to play, as they host the Brooklyn Nets in the two teams first meeting this season. The Nets come in with an 18-30 record but have proven to be more then a handful for higher ranked teams through the season. Since the start of December, the Nets have beaten OKC, Washington twice, Miami twice, Minnesota and Detroit. Milwaukee holds an 8 game winning steak against Brooklyn dating back to March 20, 2015, when the Bucks lost a 3OT classic, 127-129.
The Bucks will be hoping Giannis Antetokounmpo is fit to play in this one, both he and Eric Bledsoe (ankle) are listed as probable this morning.
Despite the Nets holding a bottom 5 offense in the league, they do have 8 players averaging double digit scoring on the season. The recently returned D’Angelo Russell leads the way averaging 17.5 points per game, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Spencer Dinwiddie next in line.
Despite the Bucks struggles of late, they now have an opportunity for a fresh start. While they remain in 8th position in the Eastern Conference standings, they are still only 3.0 games behind the slumping Cleveland Cavaliers. This game is certainly no gimme, but for a team with aspirations of a home playoff series, this is simply a must win.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Defend The Three: It may surprise you, but the Brooklyn Nets take the second most threes per game in the league. They take 4.2 more threes then the Golden State Warriors, seriously. Now, having said that, they rank 26th in the league for three point percentage at 35.0. This is dangerous for a Bucks team that in the past has given up open threes in abundance. Russell, Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas and Allen Crabbe will fire at will, if the Bucks aren’t closing out adequately, the Nets could get hot. Either way, they are going to try.
- Unleash The Three Headed Monster: This game presents itself as a perfect opportunity for the Bucks brand new three headed monster to seize control of the game from the outset. Yes, that’s right, i’m talking about John Henson, Thon Maker and Marshall Plumlee. The Nets two leading rebounders are Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll. None of those two are taller then 6’8″. The Nets will throw Tyler Zeller and talented rookie Jarrett Allen at the Bucks, but this looms as a rare opportunity for the big men to take a win. If Milwaukee can win the center battle convincingly tonight, it will provide a rare boost that the Bucks very sparsely receive. It will go a long way towards ensuring a victory.
- Fresh Freak: Giannis has had a full week off leading into tonight. It’s just the first time since November of his rookie season that he has missed back to back contests. Admitting that the Kidd firing hit him hard, Giannis will be as motivated as ever to come back and play at his usual superstar levels. Antetokounnmpo has averaged 27.5 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 assists in his two return games this year, proving that shaking off the rust is no issue. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, the Bucks lost both of those games though in Utah and Charlotte. A fresh and motivated Greek Freak will be terrifying for Brooklyn and equally as delightful for Milwaukee fans.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus