Monday night marked the return of an old friend. Brandon Jennings made a spectacular return to the NBA ranks, and boy were the Bucks thankful he did. Milwaukee notched up their second win in a row, as they topped the Memphis Grizzlies 121-103. After an extremely sluggish start, it was Jennings that snapped the Bucks into action. Finishing the night with 16 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds in just 23 minutes, Jennings brought life to a Milwaukee team that looked in danger of slipping up.
After navigating their way through Memphis, the Bucks road trip hits Florida. The Bucks will meet a Magic team that is in the middle of the tanking war. Orlando have lost 12 of their last 14 games, their latest loss, a 26 point obliteration at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. According to tankathon, if the NBA season was to end right now, the Magic would have the third best odds at landing the number one overall pick in the NBA draft. They are just 1.5 games ahead of the Grizzlies as the regular season heads to a close.
It will be the third time the two teams have met this season, with the Bucks taking both of the first two match ups. In the latest one, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton proved too much for the Magic to handle. Antetokounmpo had 32 points, while Middleton dropped 21, to go with 9 rebounds and 7 assists in the 111-104 victory.
Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon remain on the sidelines for Milwaukee, Dellavedova inching closer to a return from his serious ankle sprain suffered in early February. While for the Magic, Aaron Gordon (concussion), Evan Fournier (knee) and Terrence Ross (knee) will be assessed before tip off, but remain questionable.
With 14 regular season games left, the Bucks find themselves 3 games behind Cleveland for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Every game from here on out is a must win, but especially so against opponents with little incentive to win. A positive for Milwaukee in their win against the Grizzlies was key players getting valuable rest. Giannis (27 minutes), and Bledsoe (24), both were limited with foul trouble and finished well down on their usual mid 30’s minute count. After shouldering a heavy load through the season, nights like that have been few and far between. Take care of business tonight, and they may be afforded a similar luxury.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Shake early game slumber: Milwaukee have been extremely poor in the opening minutes of games lately. Coming up against the Grizzlies, losers of 17 straight still wasn’t enough to shake the trend. The Bucks faced an early 8 point deficit, as sluggish play on both ends resulted in Memphis gaining an early edge. Against opponents with nothing to lose, this is a dangerous avenue to go down. Thankfully for the Bucks, they awakened after Joe Prunty called time, and they cruised for the most part after that. They were able to get away with it Monday night, but it won’t always be the case. This team needs to quit giving up early leads, as playing catch up all the time won’t work when it really matters. A fast start tonight would be a pleasant change.
- Silence Super Mario: Mario Hezonja has had a disappointing start to his NBA career. The best illustration of that would be the Magic declining his fourth year option on his rookie contract. For a former 5th overall pick, this is a damning statement of how his development has been viewed. Despite this, he has picked up his play of late, and has certainly caused issues for the Bucks. Averaging 18 points and 3.5 rebounds over the first two match-ups against the Bucks, Hezonja has constantly a way to penetrate the paint and score at the rim. Mario is looking to prove a point before seasons end, the Bucks will need to be careful he doesn’t get off the chain yet again.
- Cookin’ Snelly: After an extended dry spell of form, Tony Snell broke lose to knock down four three-pointers against the Grizzlies. After shooting just 29 percent from the outside in February, he has slowly started to regain confidence, and Monday nights outburst was a welcome sight. When Tony Snell is feeling confident, his quick release can draw the defense out and create space for Giannis and Bledsoe to go to work. His return to form came at a great time for the Bucks, and they will be hoping he continues to cook, as the playoffs draw near.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus