With the Eastern Conference playoff race heating up, every game gains in importance. You simply can’t afford to let tight games slip, and that’s exactly what Milwaukee did on Sunday afternoon. Jason Terry’s game winning corner three was waved off at the buzzer against New Orleans, the Bucks surrendering an 18 point third quarter lead to drop a heart breaker at the Bradley Center. The shot came a split second late and with that loss Milwaukee now sits 2.0 games back of Cleveland in the third seed.
They now are faced with a vital match-up against a team trying to hold onto home court advantage, the Washington Wizards. It will be the fourth and final time these two teams meet in the regular season, and the Bucks will be looking to lock up the season series having won two of the first three contests.
Washington have won four of five to improve to ten games over .500 and surge into fourth in the East. This run of good form has come despite perennial All-Star John Wall undergoing knee surgery on January 31st. Their latest win came in a 15 point blowout victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr and Kelly Oubre Jr combined for 66 points in the 109-94 win. The Wizards overcame 19 turnovers to blow the Sixers away, shooting 54 percent from the field and 48 percent from deep.
After taking down the Wizards twice in DC, the Bucks will be looking to avenge an 88-99 loss in Milwaukee way back in November. A rare inefficient night from Giannis Antetokounmpo hurt the Bucks, as he finished 8-21 from the field for 23 points, and they were left chasing from behind all night in a lackluster performance.
The Wizards are reporting a clean bill of health bar Wall, while the Bucks are still missing Malcolm Brogdon (quad) and Matthew Dellavedova (ankle). Dellavedova’s progress appears to be coming along nicely, as Bucks beat reporter Matt Velazquez reported he is ramping up his inclusion in Milwaukee practice to prepare for a return to the floor.
After back to back overtime games for the first time since December 2013, the Bucks will be hoping to maintain momentum and touch with the Wizards. A win would move them to within half a game of fourth, whilst a loss drops them two and half games behind. Every game means so much as the NBA regular season reaches it’s climax, it’s time to make a push.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Deep Threat: In both of the Bucks victories against Washington they have been able to come up clutch in the fourth quarter, in particular Giannis and Eric Bledsoe. But, despite the big finishes, their three point shooting has left a lot to be desired. The Wizards hold the leagues third best three point defense, only allowing opponents to shoot 34 percent from deep on the season. The Bucks have fared even worse, only knocking down 25 percent of their tries. Khris Middleton in particular has struggled, going 2/11 (18 percent) over the three meetings.
- Support The KEG: The Bucks reliance on the top end of their roster has been constant all season but against the Wizards it has been alarmingly so. Giannis, Bledsoe and Middleton have accounted for 60 percent of the Bucks total points against Washington. The starters have accounted for 85 percent in total, and the bench is only contributing 15 points per contest. It’s well known that the Bucks will struggle to win without their top three contributing but some added offense from the second unit will go along way to an important victory.
- Slow Down Beal: A first time All-Star selection, Bradley Beal is quickly elevating himself to gain the respect he feels he deserves. Vocal in his disappointment about missing the mid season exhibition last year, Beal has gone to another level. Averaging 23..7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, while knocking down 38 percent of his three point attempts, he is now unequivocally amongst the elite at the guard position. With Wall still sidelined, Tony Snell, Middleton and Sterling Brown have the job in front of them to quell Beal, and in the process put the Bucks in the box seat.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus