It's hard to believe that after this game is complete the season will be half over. Where does time go?
A Look at the Bucks
Milwaukee comes into this game sporting a 20-23 record. They actually have a positive point differential and their record may not be as bad as it seems considering they've played 7 more road games than home games thus far. Their wins have mostly come against average or lower teams but they do have a couple quality wins against the West in their portfolio--two against the Spurs and one against the Jazz to be exact.
The Bucks are a classic case of Jack of All Trades, master of none. Sporting a veteran lineup and playing a legitimate 10 deep evens out the otherwise rough spots in the lineup. Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson are the star players, averaging 21.7 and 17.4 per game respectively. But Redd is a hot-and-lukewarm gunner who gives you 40 one night and 20 the next. Neither of those is bad, which is why he's a bona fide star, but you still don't know what you're going to get from him night to night. Jefferson is steadier but his shooting percentage has taken a precipitous drop since the move to Milwaukee (off 39 points from last season), a reflection of a move towards the perimeter and the lack of running opportunities in the Milwaukee system. However the Bucks field a rogues gallery of forwards and centers, including Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, Dan Gadzuric, and the delightfully-named Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Between them they handle the rebounding and dirty work so the scorers can produce without worry. Bogut is out for the road trip, however, leaving a fairly sizable hold in the Milwaukee interior both for rebounding and scoring.
In the backcourt the Bucks employ a tag team of Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions alongside Redd. Both are good passers and decent shooters (though not from range for Sessions) but the defense is suspect.
You wouldn't know any of the Bucks had suspect defense, however, by looking at their overall defensive upswing this year. Coach Scott Skiles has got them playing gritty and hard on the defensive end. They've proven themselves more than capable of covering for that spotty backcourt for most of the season. Their last few games, however, indicate that they may be getting tired of putting in the effort or the league may have figured out how to exploit them. After a host of 80-point games allowed in late December all of a sudden 7 of their last 9 games have resulted in 100+ points for the opponents. The Bucks are also starting to get beat on the boards. They don't have enough offense to cope with that combination. That's why you see losses to the Timberwolves, Clippers, and Bobcats on their résumé this month. The story lately has been Michael Redd scoring 30+ to generate wins or him falling south of that total and the Bucks losing. That's not how their game plan is mapped out.
The Bucks excel at offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers. They're decent on the defensive boards. Their basic goal is to limit your possessions, harass you into mistakes, and then get up more shots than you do without opening the game wide up and losing containment in the process. Rush them, crack their façade, or deny them control of the ball and they're in trouble.
Keys to the Game
1. This wouldn't have been my first mention three weeks ago but right now it seems like solving Michael Redd solves the Bucks. You don't even have to hold him in the teens. Just keep him around 20-22 and make everybody else beat you.
2. That said, you do have to make sure you score with the Bucks. To that end our guards need to be quite aggressive. Exploit, exploit, exploit.
3. I am putting out the call right now, shining the Bat Signal, setting off the alarm at the Hall of Justice. Please, please, PLEASE Greg Oden, be there tonight! Without Bogut the Bucks might as well write you a personalized invitation to dominate the boards, score in the low post, and roam on defense. Just keep your hands to yourself if you're beat, stay out of foul trouble, and have yourself a merry old time working out the pent-up frustration from all of those other games. Forget exploit, exploit, exploit. Exterminate, exterminate, exterminate!
4. Rebounding is always a key, but I promise it will really extra-specially hamper the Bucks if you take away their preferred rebounding advantage tonight.
5. One of the important things tonight is executing the offense properly when the first or second option doesn't work. The Bucks have a way of frazzling you into stupidity. We're a little vulnerable to that without the regular point guard rotation intact. If we get a decent shot most of the time even when it's not in Roy's hands we should win this game. If we hold the ball and barf up bad shots then this could be a long and harrowing night.
We play 5 of the next 6 games at home (and the 6th against the Clippers) before embarking on a tough little three-game road trip. An excellent showing in this stretch would ease the pressure later. Beating Milwaukee would definitely improve the chances for that excellent showing. Losing tonight would put a lot of pressure on that Wednesday game versus the Cavaliers. (I have this weird feeling we're going to win Wednesday, but I'd rather not have to.)
Check out the Bucks' point of view at the cleverly-named BrewHoop.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.