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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Milwaukee Bucks preview

Dame returns to Portland.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard returns to face the Portland Trail Blazers tonight as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks for the first time. The man who spent 11 years as a Blazer is coming back home as a Buck - back to the team where he has explicitly said he may return one day and has nothing but love for - And that’s the story: the team around him firing their coach mid-season, and even the home-town Blazers being on a bit of a tear lately, are but foggy afterthoughts in a smoky haze of Dame.

What am I most looking forward to in this game? The crowd. As one of the people lucky enough to be in the stands tomorrow, I will be cheering - LOUDLY - every time he touches the ball. I won’t have a voice when I go to work on Thursday, I can guarantee you that. And I really hope everyone else does the same.

Portland Trail Blazers (14-33) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (32-15) - Wed. Jan. 17 - 7:00pm Pacific

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

Trail Blazers injuries: Shaedon Sharpe, Robert Williams III, Moses Brown (out)

Bucks injuries: None!

Bucks SBN affiliate: Brew Hoop

Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions

As has been Blazer’s Edge tradition since Damian Lillard wore a suspiciously Blazers-themed suit to his own draft night, 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.

As a caveat: we all know this is a special game because of Dame. That’s why I wrote the following in the post soliciting questions:

Obviously this is a huge game as Dame makes his return to Portland tomorrow at 7 p.m., and we will have a post asking how you feel about that specifically. For this post: what questions do you have about the matchup between Portland and Milwaukee, ASIDE from Dame?

Let’s see what we got!

From Max Contract:

Over\Under 40 pts from Dame?

Oh, well, maybe one person didn’t catch the caveat. All good! I’m going with the over. He’s been honest: this is a big game for him, and he’s probably gonna want to put on a show for a crowd that darn well better be going nuts for him.

From Cbizzness88:

What’s softer? Charmin or Damians defense? Or is that too mean and be reported?

I’m reporting you for not following the instructions, if anything.

From blazerlove7:

Will Ant or Dame give up more buckets to whoever they defend?

That’s THREE Dame questions! I’ll go with Dame though.

From blazergod:

It’s Dame Time. I can’t wait to be able to show him all the love he deserves tomorrow night.

...I’ll allow it, because that is the correct take.

From GMan83202:

Are Dame’s comparative struggles this year due to his age or due to his lack of comfort in a new system? Dame is still a very good player, but he’s putting up his worst scoring numbers in 8 years, his worst assist numbers in 6 years, his worst 3pt shooting in 9 years, and his worst league-adjusted scoring efficiency in 8 years.

AW, HECK! I give up. Ask whatever you want! To be fair, this is in the context of the game even if the focus is on Dame, but it’s really more about how the Bucks have (and have not) been utilizing the All-NBA talent they traded for.

I have a few passing thoughts: first, he got plopped on the best team he’s ever played on by a VERY large margin. He’s playing with the best single player he’s ever played with by an even LARGER margin. And that team fired their longtime coach, hired a coach with no NBA head coaching experience and who alienated Terry Stotts so quickly that he bounced before the season started, only to fire that coach midway through the season.

That is hard for any player to deal with, let alone a player that is used to being the alpha and the omega for his team’s offense. It’s completely natural that he’s struggled, but that’s the scary part: the Bucks are 32-15 under bad coaching and an All-NBA player still adjusting to his role. I’m not the biggest Doc Rivers fan, but I do think he raises the floor of this team significantly, if not their ceiling, only because Doc has put together much-better-than-average regular season teams many times before.

Short answer: give it time, and Dame will be fine.

From TheZink1:

How low do you think prices will drop on the Gametime app less than an hour before tip off? I want to go down and see Dame live, but I’m not made of money, either....

Great question, and I wish I could tell you, but there is still plenty of supply, so I think the play is to wait and keep watching. At last check they’re at about $60 a pop, but if supply remains high, that should drop.

About the Opponent

Eric Nehm of The Athletic (subscription required) writes about how the Bucks are adjusting to life under Doc Rivers in his first game as head coach, a loss to the Denver Nuggets:

While the Bucks weren’t able to score enough to win, their defense made a couple of clutch stops in crunchtime, including this possession in which the Bucks executed multiple switches and ultimately got a stop when Lillard successfully contested an alley-oop to Peyton Watson. The Bucks did some switching under Griffin, but rarely did they stack together multiple switches in a single possession quite like this.

Dalton Sell of Behind the Buck Passs also wrote about Rivers’ coaching debut, and again singled out their defense:

The Bucks did a quality job against the reigning Finals MVP Nikola Jokic, holding him to 25 points on 25 shot attempts. On the flip side, they allowed Jamal Murray to score 35 points and take over late in the game, with the wing defenders providing very little resistance. The defense wasn’t perfect, but this team did show fight on that side of things. There were still plenty of lapses, one in particular being a breakdown that led to a wide-open Michael Porter Jr. dunk in the fourth quarter, but the Bucks showed effort on that end that hasn’t always been there this season.

Van Fayaz of Brew Hoop did a Q&A with fellow SB Nation affiliate Liberty Ballers who cover the 76ers and was the last stop before the Bucks for... you guessed it... COACH DOC RIVERS!

Q: Is he any sort of offensive or defensive genius? He’s always had star players on his teams which can skew if someone runs actual plays or just lets his guys play. I’d like to see someone ignite the Dame/Giannis pairing to a level I think most fans expected to start the year. A: So, I would expect the Giannis-Dame pairing to take off under Doc. Clearly, the Bucks’ offense hasn’t really been the issue this year, but I can understand fans wanting more out of their superstar pairing. Rivers will likely find the best way to utilize both players together. Credit where it’s due, Rivers was the one who started utilizing Embiid at the elbows/nail as a way for his star center to avoid double teams and see the floor better. There was a story I’d heard that Rivers one day asked Tobias Harris which way he was more comfortable driving to get into his shot. Harris said he could do either, but Rivers got out of him that he felt more comfortable going left. That was ahead of Harris’ best season as a Sixer.