Game Time: 7:00 p.m. Pacific TV: Comcast
A couple of significant things have happened to the Bucks since they squeaked out a 108-101 overtime win against Portland a month ago. First, they've lost shooter Michael Redd for the season with torn ligaments in his left knee. Redd played 29 minutes in the last meeting between the teams, scoring 11. Aside from a few old-school outings he's been struggling all year. But Milwaukee has usually won when he's performed well. The second significant development is that the Bucks have lost a ton of games. They are 4-9 since their thrilling victory, those wins coming against Indiana and the Nets on the road, Chicago and Oklahoma City at home. That's not exactly Murderer's Row. To be fair they've played a number of tough teams in their losses. But things aren't clicking for them now.
Part of the reason the Bucks are having trouble is you never know what they're going to score on a given night. They've posted multiple games in the 70's and 80's in addition to a few 100+ efforts. They don't have imposing scorers, nor is any player in a major rotation spot shooting a good percentage outside of Luke Ridnour. They do take a bucketful of three pointers every game and have several players proficient from that range. The strategy goes a long way towards explaining why their offensive performance is inconsistent, however. They love to offensive rebound and to generate more shots than the opponent.
Rookie Brandon Jennings and former #1 overall pick Andrew Bogut key the attack for Milwaukee. Jennings takes 5 three-pointers per game and shoots almost 40% on them. He's less successful inside the arc unless he can drive past you to the rim, in which case he can be devastating. Bogut has range and prefers to put up the ball over you rather than bang inside and score at the rim. Beyond that they have a serviceable, if somewhat mundane, talent pool including Ridnour, energy and rebounding forward Ersan Ilyasova, former Memphis post-forward Hakim Warrick, and a bunch of veterans to fill out the roster. Almost every Milwaukee player performs well when they're in their comfort zone. Warrick scores when close to the rim, Ridnour hits the jumper, shooting guard Charlie Bell has deep range, and so on. The problem is that the comfort zones are too small for most and none of them outside of the two best guys has game-changing talent, even on a good night.
Milwaukee doesn't turn over the ball much but they do forced turnovers from you. Their defense is more opportunistic than solid, however. As long as you keep the rock you can exploit many of their individuals even thought their defensive team effort this year is decent. The Bucks do commit a ton of fouls, a major Achilles Heel.
Keys to the Game
1. You have to remember that Milwaukee's offense relies on halfcourt play and jump shots. They're not going to run. They're not going to attack or score in the low post. They want to move the ball to an open man and get a clean look on the "J". This means unless somebody really starts going off on you like they were LeBron you don't need to double or give help. Just stick with your man, harry the passing lanes, and get a hand in the face when someone rises to shoot.
2. Keep them off of the offensive boards. It's a team effort on Portland's part.
3. The Blazers need to go hard against the Bucks backcourt and make them defend. Put pressure on guys like Jennings and Ridnour to stop you. You'll probably be successful and it'll keep their minds off of the offensive game.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge went crazy on the Bucks the last time these two teams met. Wouldn't hurt to see that again...
Somebody asked me yesterday if I thought the Blazers would make the playoffs. I think they still will, though not in a high seed. But in order to do so they have to realize that a bunch of teams are behind them right now who could very well surge later in the season, Utah included. Sitting in 6th place Portland doesn't have much ground to lose. The key to not losing that ground is less spectacular wins and more not losing games you shouldn't. Tonight's game probably qualifies. If you want it, nights like this are when you show it.
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