The Portland Trail Blazers will face one of their greatest tests of the 2022-23 campaign Monday night, as they are set to take on the Milwaukee Bucks. This will kickstart a four-game road trip for the team.
Portland has fallen victim to two close defeats in as many games; first at the hands of a late tip-in by the Brooklyn Nets, and then to the will of Jordan Clarkson and the Utah Jazz. To make matters worse, they will be without their star in Damian Lillard, who will miss extended time with a nagging calf injury.
The Bucks on the other hand, have earned an 11-4 record – good for second overall in the eastern conference. They are 8-1 at home, and are being led by Giannis Antetokounmpo who is a top ten scorer and rebounder in the association.
This will be the first of two meetings on the season for both of these franchises. Portland will look to right the ship after dropping three of their last four, while Milwaukee aims to do the same after a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last Friday.
Blazers at Bucks – Monday, November 21 – 5:00 p.m. PT
How to Watch: Root Sports Plus, Bally Sports WI, NBA League Pass
Blazers Injuries: Damian Lillard (out), Keon Johnson (out), Gary Payton II (out)
Bucks Injuries: Khris Middleton (out), Wesley Matthews (out), Joe Ingles (out)
SB Nation Affiliate: Brew Hoop
- Build That Wall: Without the services of Khris Middleton, Giannis will have added pressure to shoulder the scoring load. While his game has evolved so much that he’s no longer rendered limited by a wall defense, it still is the most effective way to keep him out of the paint. With Nurkic in, the zone – which doesn’t have a name when catered to the Greek Freak – will allow the big Bosnian not to worry when switched in the high screen-and-roll, or when caught lacking out in transition. It also positions him to do what he does well on defense, and that’s to be a muscle on the inside with capable rim-protection abilities. When Drew Eubanks takes the floor, it allows him to be active and hunt for contests, so long as he remains disciplined and goes up straight. Portland has not been shy with zones and alternative defensive plays this season. Expect head coach Chauncey Billups to key in on Giannis from the onset. A full court press and quasi box-and-one on Antetokounmpo might work as well, to limit his ability to accelerate like a Ford F-150.
- Contest, Contest, Contest: Portland’s biggest Achilles heel on defense is their inability to contest shooters beyond the arc. It’s an actual eyesore to see snipers and even average shooters alike take one step beyond the 3 and not have enough pressure on the shot. Especially when running a zone, there should be enough of a security blanket behind the defender to make the shooter feel uncomfortable enough to where they’re enticed to drive, kick or both. This is not pointing the finger at one particular Blazer. This is a full team issue that must be looked at in film. It plagued them in both games against the Miami Heat, and was the lone reason why Malik Beasley of the Utah Jazz looked like Craig Hodges in the 3-point contests of the early nineties last time out. Milwaukee makes you pay from distance too. While there will be no Middleton or Wesley Matthews, players like Pat Connaughton, Jrue Holiday, and Grayson Allen are all gunners who are elite with catching and shooting the rock. If Giannis finds a groove driving and drawing multiple defenders – which let’s be pragmatic, he will throughout the game – Portland will have to put an onus on closing out, or they will get run off the floor.
- Be Circumspect With the Shot Selection: Sometimes Portland can get a little complacent and settle for too many treys. Nothing satiates a great rebounding team like Milwaukee – the league leading team at 50 per game – more than taking 3-pointers even when they’re not falling. Dame didn’t get the message against Utah, albeit battling injury. He was 1-12 on the night and only had one field goal that wasn’t a triple. He’s not the only one though. Anfernee Simons is also prone to get too acquainted with the trifectas. Milwaukee is also tied for second in blocks per game (6.4), so not only will Portland have to go up strong with everything, they’ll also have to box out and try to get second chance opportunities. With no Lillard, it might behoove the Blazers guards to revert to more floaters over the tall trees of the Bucks front court, and more Nurkic post-ups on the low block. Smarter shots will lead to a closer game or larger lead, and Blazers fans won’t need to wish upon a star for another hot third quarter from Simons to miraculously bring them back.
What Others are Saying
FIeld Level Media had this to say via Yahoo Sports, on Giannis and his shooting woes from the charity stripe:
“Antetokounmpo wound up pushing a ladder out of the way — it crashed to the court — to attempt to complete a 10-shot drill and found himself having to explain himself afterward following a run-in with the 76ers’ Montrezl Harrell, who seized the Bucks star’s basketball.
Antetokounmpo got in eight of his 10 shots, then noted it’s not a technical flaw that’s resulted in him going 19-for-44 in his last three games.
“I’m just not making them. Simple as that,” he observed. “I don’t think there’s no issue. The ball is not going in.”
The same could be said of the Bucks’ shooting in general. They have shot just 42.6 percent overall and 34.1 percent on 3-pointers in their last six games, during which they have lost to the Atlanta Hawks twice, San Antonio Spurs and 76ers by an average of 15 points.”
Matthew Dugandzic of Sports Illustrated focused in on youngster Jordan Nwora, his recent surge in 3-point shooting and why the Bucks will need it to continue moving forward:
“In the first 13 games of the season, Nwora has averaged 6.2 PPG and 4.2 RPG on 30% shooting from the field. But with a breakout performance versus the Cavaliers the other night, in which Jordan scored 21 points (6-10 FG, 5-9 3PT), his averages and overall percentages finally took on a positive turn. He followed that up with a quiet but efficient game in Philly (8 points, 3-6 FG, 2-3 3PT). The Bucks will hope this is a sign of Nwora getting out of his slump and giving the team valuable minutes on the wing.”