Milwaukee escaped yet another slow start, to snare a important victory against the Bulls on Friday night. Falling behind double digits in the first quarter, it was the efforts of some unlikely heroes that sparked the win.
The Bucks 28th ranked bench, only averaging 26.3 points per game coming in, scored 70 points on a night Milwaukee were missing Giannis Antetokounmpo, and suffering through quiet nights for Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker. Shabazz Muhammad scored a season high 21 points, and Tony Snell was perfect from the field in six attempts to pour in 18 points. With scored tied through two quarters, the second unit allowed the Bucks to break away in the second half, as they eventually round out 118-105 winners.
They now welcome the San Antonio Spurs to the Bradley Center for their sole visit this season. A picture of consistency and steadiness for the better part of two decades, the Spurs suddenly find themselves in the middle of a rare controversy. Their multiple time All-Star and MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard has suffered through one of the strangest injury stories in recent memory. A quad injury has kept Leonard out for all but eight games on the season, his last appearance coming on the 5th of January. Reports suggest that Leonard has been cleared to play by the Spurs medical staff, but he simply doesn’t feel comfortable to return just yet.
Despite Leonard’s absence, San Antonio have fought off a tough schedule to win seven of their last ten contests and create three games separation from the 9th seeded Denver Nuggets. The Spurs have won six straight, but the last five have come against playoff teams in New Orleans, Minnesota, Washington, Golden State and Utah.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s status remains unclear, as the two time All-Star continues his recovery from an ankle injury suffered against the Clippers last week. With a four game road trip out west ahead, they may continue to err on the side of caution if their is any doubt. Aside from Leonard, the Spurs are largely injury free, at the most important time of the season nearing playoffs.
These two squads met back in November, in what was Eric Bledsoe’s debut in Milwaukee colours. The Bucks won on the road 94-87, and Bledsoe had 13 points and seven assists. It was thought to be the addition the Bucks needed to take the next step in the Eastern Conference, but four months on, they find themselves languishing in the last playoff seed. With just ten games remaining, they appear safe from falling out of the playoffs altogether, but potentially rising in the standings is still an option. To do so, they will need a sharp reversal in their recent form, matching up with the Spurs will provide a difficult opportunity to begin their launch.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Counter the Aldridge assault: LaMarcus Aldridge’s amazing season appears to have been lost in the bevy of MVP level seasons being had in the NBA. LMA has stepped up big time in the absence of Leonard, to average 23.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest. He comes into Milwaukee on the back of his finest performance yet, a 45 point, nine rebound effort against the Utah Jazz. It was a career high for Aldridge, as he willed his team over the line in overtime. He will be rubbing his hands together at the thought of facing the Bucks big men, and somehow, someway, the Bucks need to play physical, and not allow easy buckets in the paint. Aldridge is an excellent worker in the post, but also has one of the sweetest mid-range extended games of all big men in the NBA. Limit Aldridge, and you give yourself a chance.
- Bench backing it up: As mentioned above the Bucks bench led by Muhammad and Snell were simply amazing. It wasn’t just those two though, as Brandon Jennings pushed the pace and finished with 16 points and five assists, whilst Jason Terry knocked down three triples to end up with ten points. You can’t expect that type of outrageous production, but two or three of these guys will need to continue to contribute tonight and through the rest of the season, to ease the reliance on the Bucks stars. With Giannis possibly missing again, it will be the case even more so tonight.
- Easing in Jabari: On Friday night, Jabari Parker was awarded his first NBA start since he tore his ACL for the second time in February 2017. After an excellent return to the floor so far, Parker struggled to have a major impact on the contest in his return to his hometown Chicago. He finished with just six points in thirty minutes and went largely unnoticed, but tonight he will get another opportunity. Perhaps it was nerves, perhaps it was fatigue, or maybe it was just an off night. Either way, he will be a key player tonight, and an improved output will be necessary for the Bucks to snare an important win.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus