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Game 20 Preview: Bucks at Blazers

The Bucks are not a bad team.  They hold an 8-10 record coming into tonight's game.  Star guard Michael Redd is playing out of his head so far this season.  He's averaging 23.4 ppg on 47.2% shooting from the field, 37.5% shooting from the three-point arc, and 88.6% free throw shooting on 7.8 foul shots a game.  Those are some gaudy numbers from a guy known primarily for his jump shot.  Redd dropped 41 on Seattle in the Bucks' last game and that wasn't a fluke.  If you leave him daylight you will pay.  We've been talking about Martell Webster and James Jones and how much they could help the Blazers.  He's both of them added together times four.  They also have a semi-exciting supporting cast, at least in terms of names.  Mo Williams gets 7 assists per game as their point guard and is their second leading scorer.  Former #1 overall pick Andrew Bogut has started to find his place in this league and is shooting 53% with 9 rebounds and over 2 blocks per game.  Rookie Yi Jianlian isn't playing awful for a rookie and you'd recognize the names of many of their other key players:  Charlie Villanueva, Bobby Simmons, Desmond Mason.  This team has a lot of talent and can bite you if you're not careful. They will use their perimeter shooting to try and open up the lane for Bogut and company.  You'll see more posting and shooting than driving on most nights.  They try and get you in a halfcourt contest where their individual offensive skills and rebounding superiority can tell the tale.

On the other hand the Bucks are not a good team.  Many of those talented names are having downright ugly seasons so far.  The gap between Redd's offensive production and the rest of the team is roughly the same as the gap between Jessica Alba and the Romanian women's shot-put team.  Only two other Bucks score in double figures:  Williams at 13.6 and Bogut at 12.4.  For all of their potential firepower Milwaukee is only averaging 94.8 points per game.  They want to top 100 for the best chance of winning and most nights lately they're not doing it.  Their interior defense is a little better than it looks on paper but their perimeter defense is woeful with a capital WOE.  They are giving up an average of 21 points on 46% shooting from beyond the arc.  They either can't, won't, or don't know how to rotate or compensate when things break down.  It doesn't matter what kind of defense they throw either...a state of affairs which should seem familiar to Blazer fans.  Milwaukee also runs a deficit at the free throw line.  That combination (free throw and three-pointers) usually spells trouble.  If Redd isn't completely on they have no chance of winning.  Sometimes even when he is on it doesn't make a difference.  They are searching for cohesion and a way to get the most out of the talent they field and so far they haven't found it.   Once in a while everything clicks for them and they make it look easy.  Most nights enough wheels are falling off to make the bus hit the ditch.

What I'd Like To See

  1.  I want the Bucks' supporting cast to prove to me it can win this game.  I key on Redd all night, sending different, fresh defenders to him constantly with instructions to never leave him to help anybody.  If he scores less than 20 the rest of the Portland defense has to have a major breakdown for us to lose this game.
  2.  Those guards won't be all that invested in getting back in transition.  It will be hard to set up a true running game because Milwaukee rebounds decently at their offensive end.  Nevertheless if we get the chance to run out we should take it because we'll be all but unopposed.
  3.  Even if we don't run outright one way to beat the Bucks is to get up significantly more shots than they do.  If we're fighting the clock against this team something is seriously wrong.
  4.  This is a mirror image of the Miami game on offense for different reasons.  Then we were dealing with an old, immobile Shaq.  Here we're dealing with younger guys who don't always make the commitment to moving their feet and don't always know where to move them.  Your first move is past your man into the heart of the defense.  They will almost certainly collapse on you.  The second move is a quick pass and a wide open shot.  If you hit a couple of those the lane is yours.  Do not make it easy on them by shooting jumpers without penetrating though.  A good drive and 1-2 passes will pick apart this defense any way you choose.  Take advantage.
  5.  Martell Webster needs to take this night as a challenge.  He's had a few off games but I don't believe we can rely on James Jones for 100% of our needs, perimeter or otherwise.  Webster needs to step up, score some points, and rip apart the floor with his hustle.  In many ways he could be a larger version of Michael Redd.  Let's see him go out there and prove it.
  6.  It will be very interesting to see who we play at center.  I don't see Joel as a great matchup against Bogut.  Could we see somebody who is more of an offensive threat like Raef, Frye, or even Lamarcus playing at the 5?
  7.  The only way I can see this game going really, irretrievably wrong is if we are slow on rotations ourselves and allow their perimeter shooters to have a field day.  (In other words them doing to us what we're trying to do to them.)  If Redd, Yi, and company start getting streaky hot this game could get away from us.  The keys are staying in front of your man to begin with so we don't have to collapse off of them and also contesting shots and passes.  Their wins come almost exclusively from shooting near 50% and ripping off huge quarters.  You have to be letting them free for them to accomplish that.
This is by no means a guaranteed win or even a likely one, but it's certainly a possible one.  Guard one guy, score a lot.  Do you think we can manage that?

--Dave (