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Portland Trail Blazers at Milwaukee Bucks Preview

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The Blazers look to complete a perfect road trip to start the season...but the Greek Freak awaits.

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NBA: Preseason-Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (2-0) at Milwaukee Bucks (1-1)

Saturday, October 21st - 5:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Noah Vonleh (out)
Bucks injuries: Jabari Parker (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Brew Hoop

After a 2-0 start to the season that saw them demolish the Phoenix Suns and handle the Indiana Pacers with relative ease, the Portland Trail Blazers face their biggest challenge yet when they wrap up their three-game road trip against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Portland lost the season series 0-2 to the Bucks last year with a road loss in December before coughing one up at home in March—their only loss in a 10-game stretch that saw Portland climb back into the playoff picture.

What to watch for

  • Who is going to defend Giannis? The Greek Freak is coming off a 34/8/8 stat line against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers last night. Giannis is easily one of the most difficult matchups in the league, with size, ball handling ability, and incredible explosiveness. Last season, Portland ran a combination of Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu at him, with decent success; Giannis averaged 18.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting against the Blazers.
  • Are Portland’s small guards up to the defensive task? The Blazers’ defense so far this season, while partially a mirage based on the Suns’ ineptitude, has shown improvement over last year. In particular, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have shown active hands and strong communication while pestering opponents. But Milwaukee starts a lineup with two bigger guards in Malcom Brogdan and Tony Snell—not to mention that Khris Middleton often slides over to shooting guard for stretches. As much as Portland’s backcourt has shown improvement so far, they are still undersized and susceptible to being bodied up in the paint.
  • Nurkic might feast if he can stay out of foul trouble. Milwaukee provides matchup problems across the league because they play two large guards, two small forwards—one of which, Giannis, happens to be a 7-footer—and Thon Maker, a power forward, as their only semi-traditional big man. In fact, all of the Bucks’ reserve big men—Greg Monroe, John Henson, and Mirza Teletovic—are power forwards. While Nurkic hasn’t had the greatest offensive start to the season, he has a chance to break out of his mini-slump tonight against the smaller competition. He’s going to need to stay out of foul trouble, however. Maker is quicker than he is, and though Monroe moves like he’s in quicksand, he’s a very crafty offensive player in the paint.

What they’re saying

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN wrote about just how lethal Giannis Antetokounmpo is:

Antetokounmpo has a maturity on the court that matches his physical transformation. He grew 2½ inches during his rookie season, climbing to 6-11, and now weighs 222 pounds, giving him the ability to face the league's interior brutes while also retaining the agility to glide with the slickest perimeter playmakers. He displays a point guard's vision and finesse -- second to LeBron James last season in assist rate among starting small forwards -- and might be the league's most lethal rebound-and-go threat in the open floor. He can create off the dribble -- only a single dribble if he's anywhere inside 25 feet.

Last season he made his first NBA All-Star team and was named the league's Most Improved Player. His output -- 22.9 points on a true shooting percentage of 59.9 percent, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 35.6 minutes per game -- elevated him to eighth in MVP voting. His long-range shot needs improvement, but if he can nudge last season's meager 27.2 percentage from beyond the arc up into the mid-30s, he will qualify indisputably as the NBA's most complete under-25 player since James.

Jimmy Carlton from On Milwaukee is looking for Khris Middleton to step up and be the clear number two scorer:

Antetokounmpo is the clear leader, the main guy, the go-to offensive option for the Bucks. But he needs a No. 2. The last time Middleton played a full season, in 2015-16, he looked like that dude – in fact, at the time, he looked like a potential top scorer, averaging 18.2 points per game. With Parker and his 20 points a night sidelined for the first five months, Milwaukee – and Giannis – need Middleton to step up and into the scoring void. If the complementary Middleton, who scores in a completely different way than Antetokounmpo and provides balance to the offense, can get 20 a game on 3-pointers and midrange jumpers, he'll be a valuable floor spacer.

Brew Hoop’s Mitchell Maurer thinks the Bucks looked like they understood their expectations in beating the Boston Celtics:

The ever-present tension that flowed through this game was palpable. Teams get chippy all the time, but everyone in tonight’s contest seemed that much more willing to scrap, fight, and claw for each and every opportunity to get ahead. These are games that the Bucks are not known for winning, at least not in recent memory. Beating good teams in unfriendly territory is a necessary next step for Milwaukee to take if they have any hope of breaking away from the rest of their Eastern Conference peers.