The Blazers look to regroup tonight following a disappointing home loss to the Warriors Sunday when they take on the 13-54 Milwaukee Bucks tonight at the Moda Center.
The Bucks -- suffering separate extended losing streaks of 11, five, nine and six games so far this year -- have currently lost four in a row. Since the the calendar turned the page to 2014 three-and-a-half months ago, Milwaukee has won just six games. Those wins came against the Pistons, Knicks, Sixers, Jazz and the Magic (twice). The combined current record of those teams: 108 wins, 227 losses.
Over their last five games, the Bucks have averaged fewer than 98 points, 44.6 percent field-goal shooting, 30.3 percent on three-pointers and 73.2 percent from the free-throw line, all pretty bad numbers.
In short, Milwaukee doesn't put itself in position to win many games. When the Bucks do pick up a victory, it's only against teams that are wildly inconsistent, tanking or both.
Even in a season destined for the NBA's draft lottery this Spring, there are a few bright spots for Milwaukee fans. Since a win over the Magic five games back, the Bucks have passed the ball well, limited turnovers, prevented opponents from getting to the foul line and have been competitive on the glass.
Point guard Brandon Knight leads the team in scoring, though he's not particularly efficient, averaging 43.7 percent from the floor and 24 percent from deep on over 17 shots a game over his last five. Knight attempts about half his shots in the lane, where he's an average finisher. He'll shoot from the mid-range as well, but he's not a great jump-shooter and he puts up five threes a night and makes only a quarter of them. Knight is a decent passer, picking up about five assists a game.
Power forward Ersan Ilyasova sat out a Sunday loss to the Bobcats with an ankle injury but is available for Milwaukee coach Larry Drew tonight. Ilyasova -- whose offense has seemed to regress this year after two solid seasons in a row shooting the ball -- has picked up 15.8 points a game his last five but takes almost that many shots to get there and is shooting below 10 percent from behind the arc. He doesn't finish well at the rim, and Ilyasova's most accurate shot is his 10-15 foot jumper, where he's only about an average shooter this year.
Forward Khris Middleton has picked up extra minutes since Ilyasova hurt his ankle, but has struggled to capitalize on them, making only a third of his shots the last couple weeks. Big man John Henson, on the other hand, has played well lately, connecting on over 54 percent of his shots, almost all of them coming in the paint.
Guards Ramon Sessions and Nate Wolters play about the same amount of minutes, but have different styles of play. Sessions gets up a few more shots but also picks up about five assists a game, an average scorer who takes it to the rim often but requires a high volume of shots for his points. Wolters is less inclined to set up teammates but has hit two-thirds of his shots the last five outings, mostly taking it to the hole but also a willing mid-range shooter.
Bigs Jeff Adrien and Zaza Pachulia see decent minutes, but neither is a huge factor offensively. Even so, Adrien is a reliable scorer with his touches. Guard Giannis Antetokounmpo -- aka "the Greek Freak" -- has been an inconsistent role-player off the bench, but has shown flashes of excitement and athleticism that has Bucks fans optimistic even though he's made less than a quarter of his shots in 24.8 minutes a game over the last five. Guard O.J. Mayo has played just four total minutes the last several games as Drew has found his conditioning unsatisfactory, largely leaving him on the bench in favor of a backcourt rotation consisting of Knight, Wolters and Sessions.
Milwaukee's defense is bad. Since March 10, the Bucks have allowed 105.6 points a game, 51.2 percent field-goal shooting and 42 percent shooting from outside, all numbers among the league's worst in that timespan. They do, however, play decent defense in the paint and get back fairly well to defend in transition. Still, Milwaukee can be scored on in a number of ways, and the Blazers should be able to find plenty of open looks tonight.
In the loss to the Warriors, point guard Damian Lillard went 8-22 from the field and 1-6 from deep but scored 26 points, including 9-of-10 free-throws. He's scored a lot recently -- 25.8 points a night in his last five games -- but Lillard has also found his teammates well, averaging over five assists in the same span.
Forward Nicolas Batum has been looking for his own shot lately, averaging about a dozen shots a game since March 9 and making 44.4 percent of them, including 44.8 percent shooting from deep. Over the same period of time, guard Wesley Matthews has also attempted about 12 shots a game but has struggled and only hit about a third of them, including 29 percent shooting on three-pointers.
Sixth-man Mo Williams surprised many by coming back early from injury on Sunday, and he resumed his role as the main scorer off the bench, going 5-10 from the field and 2-3 from deep for 10 points. Center Robin Lopez, who has been the team's most accurate shooter all season, hit five of his 12 shots a couple nights ago and connected on four out of five free-throws for 14 points. Expect more of the same from Lopez as he's continued to be a reliable fourth or fifth option for Blazers coach Terry Stotts.
Wing Dorell Wright should get the start at power forward with Aldridge out, and he's been reenergized playing the stretch-four position, connecting on 57.1 percent of his shots and a staggering 58.3 percent of his threes the last five games. Though Wright struggles to defend physical posts on the defensive end, he has been able to find wide-open shots and make them on offense due to his relative agility, quick release and confidence shooting the ball when guarded by slower players.
Stotts' bench rotations have been hard to predict, as he seems to alter them depending on the matchups from game-to-game. Center Meyers Leonard and guard C.J. McCollum have both played decent minutes one game and picked up a DNP-CD the next. Same for forward Victor Claver. Big man Thomas Robinson and wing Will Barton have been mainstays at the end of the rotation the last five games, though neither is playing well offensively. The same could be said for the rest of the bench besides Williams, though in Claver's defense, he hasn't necessarily been bad, he just hasn't looked for his own shot in limited minutes.
Portland's defense has given up a ton of shots, a lot of points and 47.4 percent shooting from the field for opponents the last five games. The Blazers have hardly forced turnovers and put teams at the free-throw line often. They're decent at preventing easy ball movement but pretty pedestrian at defending the break. If Portland wants to iron out a few of the defensive kinks it's currently experiencing, one of the best opponents in the NBA to do so against is certainly the Bucks, a team in sole possession of the worst record in the league.
Milwaukee features a decent rebounding frontcourt, though they're just average at the offensive end of the glass and poor on the defensive end. The Blazers are doing well the last handful of games on the defensive boards and mediocre on the offensive end. Robinson is great in limited minutes, while Batum and Barton are excellent at rebounding for their positions. In fact, Batum has led Portland in rebounding four of the last five outings.
No opponent in the NBA should be overlooked -- after all, this is arguably the most competitive basketball league in the world. An unexpected bounce, a hot or cold-shooting night and the randomness of an 82-game schedule can lead to some surprising results at times. Still, this young Bucks team is overmatched tonight in almost every way on paper and it's gone 2-30 against .500+ teams this season, the last road victory over a team with a winning record coming in early December against the Bulls. If the Blazers are serious about finishing the season strong and heading into the postseason with some momentum, they'll come out and jump on Milwaukee early.
The Bucks are now more about developing young talent and stockpiling ping-pong balls in the draft lottery, while Portland is in a dogfight with the Warriors for the No. 5 seed out West. Expect the two teams to show these differing priorities, and as such, the Blazers should be able to handle Milwaukee at home and pick up some confidence against a struggling opponent as the playoff race continues to tighten up in the Western Conference.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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