Milwaukee returns home Friday night looking to get back on track after three straight losses. In doing so, they will be hoping to avoid tying a season high four game losing steak. After two brutally close losses, the Bucks completely fell apart in Detroit, a demoralising 23 point loss sending them down to the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Left with plenty to think about heading into tonights massive game.
The Indiana Pacers currently hold down the 5th spot in the Eastern standings with a record of 34-27. This is despite them dropping two contests in a row against poor opposition. In the midst of one of the leagues biggest tanking frenzies, the Pacers have dropped two straight to teams that have no real incentive to win at this point. Single digit road losses to the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are two opportunities they may live to rue as the regular season reaches it’s climax. Eight of the next nine game for the Pacers come against teams with winning records.
For Milwaukee, coming up agonisingly short against New Orleans and Washington proved costly, as they ran out of gas on the second night of a back to back against the Pistons. Outside of a nice patch in the middle of the first quarter, the Bucks were absolutely obliterated, falling behind by 30 points midway through the fourth quarter. The Bucks gave up a league tying season high 22 offensive rebounds, and lost the overall rebounding battle 35-57. Giannis Antetokounmpo had season lows in points (11), and rebounds (3), and for good measure received two accidental whacks to his face to put an exclamation point on a night to forget.
This will be game three in the a season series that has been topsy turvy so far. The Bucks won the first contest at home by 21 points, before going down by 13 points on the road less then a week later. With the Bucks failing to capitalise on opportunities to clinch the season series against Washington and Detroit in the last two games, tonight is another crucial game with playoff implications.
On the injury front the Bucks will be crossing their fingers on the availability of Antetokounmpo, who reported some blurred vision after the game in Detroit. He expected to be fine after some rest, but at the time of writing this preview, he is still marked as day-to-day. The Pacers have a clean bill of health with no injuries to report. Both teams have, however, made roster moves in the last 24 hours with the Bucks waiving Sean Kilpatrick to sign Shabazz Muhammad from Minnesota, while the Pacers are looking to make room for Trevor Booker from Philadelphia. The availability of each player is unclear at this time, though it would seem unlikely they will suit up.
Both teams will be ruing missed opportunities in the last week and will arrive at the Bradley Center determined to snap their respective losing streaks. Another night, another huge matchup. Can the Bucks respond?
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Veto Victor: When looking at the two previous contests between the Bucks and Pacers this season, there is one obvious thing that stands out. Victor Oladipo was not on the floor when the Pacers were beat down in Milwaukee, he was when they blew out the Bucks in Indiana. When Paul George was traded in the offseason it was seen to be a horrible trade for Indiana. Oladipo has quickly proven those early reactions wrong. In becoming a first time All-Star last month, Oladipo is in the box seat to claim the leagues most improved award. Averaging 24 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game, he has been the shining light for a surprisingly good Pacers outfit. Indiana blew the Bucks out so effortlessly in game two, he was hardly needed. But make no mistake, stopping Victor is a major key to success for the Bucks.
- New Month, New Giannis: We mentioned earlier the rough night that Antetokounmpo endured in Detroit last game. But overall, he may be the happiest guy on the Bucks roster that the calendar has turned over to a new month. Either side of his second All-Star game appearance, Giannis produced his worst month of the 2017-18 season. His points, rebounds, usage rate and shooting percentages were at season lows (though still very good). We’ve quickly set the bar at almost impossible levels for the Greek Freak, but it was easy to see that he looked a little fatigued in what was a jam packed month. Heading into the most important period of the season so far, a rejuvenated Giannis is exactly what the Bucks need. A bounce back performance tonight would be huge.
- Share The Ball, Knock Down Shots: Pretty self explanatory right? Well, it’s been the absolute difference between winning and losing for Milwaukee in this series so far. In game one the Bucks made 52 percent of their threes with 33 total assists. They won the game by 21 points. In game two they only made 26 percent of their triples and finished with 18 assists. They lost that game by 13 points. Basketball gets analysed to the nth degree as it should, but sometimes it’s more simple then that. And for Milwaukee it has been so far against the Pacers. Move the ball, find open looks and more importantly, knock them down. That will go along way to this being the bounce back performance Milwaukee so badly need.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus