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Milwaukee Bucks vs. Portland Trail Blazers Preview

Damian Lillard’s first-ever game against his former team is here.

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

We never thought we’d be here.

Every season must turn, however, and when the Portland Trail Blazers play the Milwaukee Bucks on a crisp Wisconsin afternoon, Damian Lillard will be wearing a jersey without a hint of red or black.

Leaving aside how we all feel about it, the 4-11 Blazers still need to play basketball, and they’ll be up against an 11-5 Bucks team that has won six of their last seven and are starting to find consistency with their new star guard.

Off the court for Milwaukee will be Khris Middleton (out with Achilles tendonitis) and potentially Giannis Antetokounmpo (listed as probable with non-COVID illness), whereas Portland recently welcomed both Scoot Henderson and Malcolm Brogdon back to the fold.

Voiced by Dame after the Bucks’ squeaker of a 131-128 win against the lowly Washington Wizards was a lack of anticipation for his first matchup against Portland.

Ehh... okay, Dame.

Damian Lillard has never been one to shy from emotions, but it’s inconceivable that he’s feeling NOTHING different for this, his first matchup against the team that drafted him, where he spent his first 11 seasons, became a Top-75 player of all time, and single-handedly dragged the Blazers back into NBA relevance.

Aside from Dame, this is a matchup between two teams in very different places, the Bucks looking to gel in time for a late-season push, and the Blazers trying desperately to get their point guard of the future looking like an effective rotation player, let alone an All-Star.

Maybe the Blazers can find enough in the tank to make this game competitive, but between the talent disparity, the home-court advantage, and the Bucks wanting to cleanse the unconvincing win over the Wizards from their palate, it may not be particularly close.

Every season must turn... and as this season is less about the wins and much more about “the other stuff,” there is no greater “stuff” that is “other” in this moment than the Blazers facing off against Damian Lillard for the first time.

Milwaukee Bucks (11-5) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (4-11) - Sun. Nov. 26 - 12:30 p.m. Pacific

How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass

Trail Blazers injuries: Anfernee Simons, Robert Williams III, Ish Wainright (out); Deandre Ayton (probable)

Bucks injuries: Khris Middleton, Jae Crowder (out); Giannis Antetokounmpo (probable)

SBN Affiliate: Brew Hoop

Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions

As has been Blazer’s Edge tradition for literal weeks, we’re asking you all to toss some questions at us for the game previews! Look for posts just like this one the night before the game, and we’ll plan to pick one or two (or more!) every game and answer them as best we can. With that, we proudly present... some questions!

From BlazersQuestXX55:

“How will they stop Giannis... and stop Dame ... and stop Brook .... anyone... anyone ...”

Simple: They won’t. The Blazers are 19th in defensive rating going up against a Bucks offense that scores the 3rd-most points in the league... and some of that Portland defense was buoyed by Robert Williams III who won’t be suiting up again this year. Obviously, not having Middleton hurts Milwaukee, but it clarifies the offense a bit for a Bucks team that might just want to start spamming Giannis/Dame pick-and-rolls a bit more.

I’m not sure there’s a single individual matchup that advantages the Blazers given the available personnel. If the Blazers do want to win this game, they can try outrunning a Bucks team whose rotation has as many players over 30 as under... but the Blazers are 2nd-to-last in points per possession in transition. All of this is to say: Portland can ask Milwaukee nicely to stop scoring on them, but the Bucks aren’t obliged to listen.

From ralphzillo:

“With the long NBA season and many of the Bucks long in the tooth, will they have enough left to get through a much tougher Eastern conference in the playoffs this year?”

Yes, health permitting. There are a few things working in their favor: first, they’re starting to find success despite Khris Middleton playing a much smaller role than expected. He’s 8th in minutes per game for Milwaukee, whereas he’s been 1st, 3rd, and 6th respectively in their previous three seasons. If Middleton can get healthy, he’d be addition by addition to a team that’s already starting to look spooky.

Second, Giannis and Dame haven’t come close to being fully in sync, and Bucks coach Adrian Griffin hasn’t yet seemed to figure out how to maximize their strengths while playing together. Assuming he can, there will be no deadlier one-two punch in the NBA, and when playoff rotations get short, the phrase “talent wins” becomes even more true.

As a team, are they kind of old? Sure. But that’s less a problem for this year (especially for as well as Brook Lopez continues to play) than it is for their future.

From trutherlizer:

Clearly, Milwaukie has the stronger starting lineup in tomorrow’s game, but does Portland have any advantages in the players coming off the bench?

Milwaukee’s bench has scored nearly 100 more points this season than Portland’s, and digging into the individual matchups doesn’t reveal much to be optimistic about. Pat Connaughton, Cam Payne, and Bobby Portis are all NBA vets who are by no means perfect but are serviceable players on a title-hopeful team for a reason. You could convince me that Scoot Henderson finally having a breakout game (please let it happen today!) would help, but unfortunately it feels like advantage Bucks all the way down the pine.

About the Opponent

Riley Feldmann of Brew Hoop argues the Bucks should take the footage from their game against the Wizards, douse it in kerosene, light it on fire, suck the ashes into a Shop Vac, then empty the canister into the Milwaukee River. Oh, and he had some insight about their rotation without Middleton:

Khris Middleton is probably going to miss a bunch more time after checking out with Achilles tightness. If you thought the team was slow-rolling his return before, trust me when I say we’ve almost assuredly seen nothing yet. With his departure and the long timetable for Jae Crowder’s return, the opportunity gets that much bigger for Andre Jackson Jr. and MarJon Beauchamp to lay legit claim to a rotation spot down the line. AJJ continues to strike me as the far more dynamic player of the two, but MarJon’s relative control will probably allow him to stay in games longer while avoiding foul trouble. Jackson Jr. has already started two games this year, so don’t be surprised if that trend continues.

Jack Maloney of CBS Sports also had some thoughts about Middleton’s absence, including a quote from Dame:

The veteran forward has been off to a slow start this season as he works his way back from off-season knee surgery. He is still not cleared to play in back-to-backs, and has played more than 25 minutes just once. It’s unclear how long he’ll be sidelined with this new ailment, but the silver lining of his return to play plan is that the Bucks know how to play without him. “Any time you lose a big part of your team it’s an adjustment,” Damian Lillard said. “I think because of the way the season has gone early on with him being on a restriction, he’s sat a few games, I think we’re used to it. We’re used to that hole being there and having to navigate those situations.”

Eric Nehm of The Athletic (subscription required) provided an in-depth breakdown of Brook Lopez’s huge game in Milwaukee’s last win, which saw the big man go off for 39 points, 6 rebounds 3 blocks:

With Middleton out, Lopez shouldered more of the scoring load and put up 15 points in the third quarter. By the time the Bucks got to crunchtime, they were fully incorporating Lopez in almost all of their offensive actions. Even when the initial actions were stymied, Lopez was making plays... While tying his career high in scoring in his 16th season would have been a feat in and of itself, Lopez’s night made his night even more impressive by scoring in such a wide variety of ways. After showing off the moves he has developed in the latter portion of his career as a floor-spacing big man, he is still capable of doing the things he did down on the block when he was an All-Star center for the Nets more than a decade ago.