It was only 9 days ago these two teams last faced each other, and yet when they meet again in Milwaukee it will be under vastly different circumstances. The Bucks visited the Sixers last Saturday night without Giannis Antetokounmpo or Malcolm Brogdon, and were comprehensively wiped from the floor 94-116. It was turned out to be the straw that broke the camels back, as head coach Jason Kidd was given his marching orders less then 48 hours later.
Bucks owner Wes Eden’s questionably announced the Bucks “would rather talk about the results”, at the Bucks media day. A sharp dig at Philadelphia’s ‘trust the process’ mantra that proved to be an embarrassing take, after Milwaukee was dominated last week and fell behind Philadelphia in the standings. Since firing Kidd and appointing assistant Joe Prunty the interim head coach for the remainder of the season, the Bucks have been mightily impressive in winning three straight contests. The defense has become simplified, less aggressive, and more effective, whilst the offense is suddenly a picture of ball movement and unselfishness.
Both the Bucks and Sixers will be on the second night of a back to back heading into the contest, with Milwaukee handling the Chicago Bulls comfortably, whilst the Philly went down to Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. With only 4 games separating the 3rd seed from the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, every contest begins to take on increased importance between playoff aspirants as the season wares on.
The Sixers were unable to capitalise on excellent performances from Embiid and Ben Simmons last night, as their combined 49 points, on 20-30 from the field went to waste. In giving up 122 points, it was the largest total they had conceded since the 10th of December against New Orleans. In a major development moving forward for Philly, All-Star starter Joel Embiid has been cleared to play in a back to back for the first time in his NBA career, pending his recovery from last nights game. Philadelphia are 2-7 in games Embiid has missed so far this season.
For Milwaukee, it will be a matter of keeping the good vibes rolling as they attempt to reach five games over .500 for the second time this season. A pleasing aspect of the recent winning streak has been Prunty’s ability to distribute minutes in a far more reasonable manor then Kidd had managed to do during his tenure. Giannis and Khris Middleton rank 1st and 2nd in the league for minutes played per game despite carrying significant injury concerns. Giannis has been held to 33 minutes per game under Prunty, allowing his knee more time to rest and recover in an attempt to hopefully keep him on the floor moving forward.
The fact that Embiid has been cleared to play may just be a coincidence. But it does indeed feel like there could be more to the decision, as two of the Eastern Conferences rising teams begin to form a rivalry on and off the court. The first round in this seasons battle was comprehensively won by the Sixers, it’s time to see if the Bucks can bounce back.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Protect The Paint: Absolute destruction is putting it lightly when describing how the battle for points in the paint went down last Saturday night in Philly. The Sixers scored 62 points in the paint compared with the Bucks 32, as they got whatever they wanted down low against the meagre, Giannis-less Milwaukee defense. Joel Embiid predictably played a huge part in this as he finished with 29 points and 9 rebounds. The Bucks will need an improved effort across the board to deny easy entry passes and open cuts to the basket if they are to reverse this outcome.
- Busy Bench: It feels like it could well be a key to every victory, but the Bucks second unit has come to life under Joe Prunty and the consistent set rotation may just be helping with this cause. It was an unlikely but veteran suspect that provided some scoring punch last night, as Jason Terry knocked down 4 triples on route to finishing with 12 points in 18 minutes of play. All up the Bucks second unit scored 37 points and allowed the Bucks to feel confident in giving the starters an extended rest. A similar result tonight will be desired after the bench could only muster 17 points last time out against Philadelphia.
- Giannis: Yes the last game against the Sixers was a disaster. Yes the defense was horrible. Yes the Sixers had it in cruise control for the whole evening. BUT, a key point that remains is the fact the Giannis was not on the court. Since missing two games for the first time since November of his rookie season, the Greek Freak has been at his brilliant best. Averaging 34 points, 11 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals, Antetokounmpo is again putting the league on notice. I don’t care who is coaching the Bucks, if Giannis isn’t playing it’s going to severely diminish your chances of winning. He is back and that might just be enough to tip the scales in Milwaukee’s favour.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus