Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW
The Milwaukee Bucks roll into town semi-proud owners of a 20-24 record, slightly below the 21-24 record of the Portland Trail Blazers. Unlike the Blazers they have won 6 of their last 7 games, including 3 victories on the road: Toronto, New Jersey, Golden State. They've had 3 full days off since their Battle in the Bay so they should be primed and ready for the new-look Blazers.
The newest Buck, playing his second game with the franchise, is super-guard Monta Ellis. He scored 18 against his former teammates on Friday, shooting 6-15 in the process. The 6'3" Ellis plays alongside 6'1" Brandon Jennings, also a scorer with passing ability. They're undersized but as the Clippers will tell you, short is the new tall in the NBA, especially when it comes to backcourts. Their scoring ability (22 and 19 ppg respectively on the season) should strike fear in defenders. Their numbers won't be in question. The only variable is how many shots it'll take them to get there. On this roster they'll have all they need.
Ersan Ilyasova is one of the rising stars in Milwaukee. The sweet-shooting forward is averaging 48% from the field, 42% from the arc on the season. He's averaging 12 ppg but he's been above 30 twice and above 20 two different times in the last two weeks. His rebounding is inconsistent but he's capable of 15-20 board outings and is averaging 9 per game on the year. He's also a good defender. He's been out with illness but is expected to play tonight.
Power forward-center (now that Andrew Bogut is gone) Drew Gooden has been on a tear in February, topping 20 points 5 times, throwing in double-digit rebounds 5 times as well. His 11 assists versus Cleveland two games ago gave him a legit triple-double. Small forward Carlos Delfino has also been giving his team points and rebounds. Even Luc Richard Mbah a Moute busted out with 22 and 17 against the Warriors, leading a reserve corps that includes Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih, and now Ekpe Udoh. They're short on true big men but long on forwards willing to sell themselves out for the cause.
Milwaukee's offensive numbers look pedestrian. They're top-five in assists per possession and they don't turn the ball over. They're bottom-ten in overall field goal percentage, top-ten in offensive rebounding percentage. Beyond that their numbers are all in the middle. But don't let that fool you. They've won their recent games by scoring: 120 against the Warriors, 115 against the Cavaliers, 105 against Toronto and New Jersey, 119 versus the Knicks. They love it when you're distracted by their backcourt. Go ahead and defend them. Sometimes they'll make it, sometimes the Bucks will rebound the errant shots, sometimes they'll whip a pass to a suddenly-unguarded forward. Either way, they win.
Milwaukee's defense trends a little lower than the offense. They allow a good percentage from the floor and from the arc. They give the opponent foul shots. They're poor defensive rebounders. They love to force turnovers, though.
Overall the Bucks are like a hot air balloon with a slow leak. If they can pump enough air in with their offense they can keep afloat and come to a soft landing. If they don't create opportunities by turning you over or offensive rebounding they won't generate enough points and then that defensive rip is going to bring them down hard.
The Blazers no longer have the raw talent to be assured of a win against this team...not that talent assured them of much this season. Even if this is their first game at home in a while, even with the momentum of crowd and emotion, even though they're not going to get hurt by a lack of bigs against the Bucks, Portland still has to play smart. Rebounding and taking care of the ball are items 1 and 2. Close behind is aggressive guard defense, not getting broken down repeatedly by Jennings and Ellis. If Portland's backcourt defenders don't man up those guards will be attacking, hitting leaners, or flipping passes to open shooters all night long. The Bucks might not be dead-eye accurate but if you leave them open enough often enough they'll chalupa you and then some. And speaking of manning up (or not), since the Bucks rely on just a couple guys to hit with range this might be a good time to pull out the occasional zone...again remembering that rebounding is a priority.
Attacking on the other end should be easier. Those guards aren't known for their defense...not that Portland's guards are know for their offense, but still. Do to them what they want to do to you: break them down and dish. Aldridge should be able to get deep against this team too. Unless the Blazers are grossly negligent and fire away indiscriminately from the perimeter they should tally a nice score. That said, this isn't a matter of beating the Bucks as much as not letting the Bucks get ahead of you.
Let's see how Portland's shiny (or not so shiny on the defensive end) new game looks under friendly lights.
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