After splitting games in Denver and Phoenix, the Bucks will travel to Utah with the chance to get their second win of this four-game Western swing before it ends in Oklahoma City on Sunday night. They’ll have to do it without Jrue Holiday, who will be missing his third consecutive game due to covid protocol. Let’s take a quick look at the basics before jumping into some things to watch.
FAST FACTS –
The Game: Milwaukee Bucks (16-9) @ Utah Jazz (20-5)
The Place: Salt Lake City, Utah
The Time: 8:00 Central
The TV: FS Wisconsin
The Likely Starters:
Bucks – Forbes, DiVincenzo, Middleton, G. Antetokounmpo, Lopez
Jazz – Ingles, Mitchell, O’Neale, Bogdanovic, Gobert
Bucks: Jrue Holiday (covid) is out.
Jazz: Mike Conley (hamstring) is day-to-day and would replace Ingles in the starting lineup if he’s a full go. Elijah Hughes (ankle) is also day-to-day.
WHAT TO KNOW –
- Salt Lake City has not been kind to the Bucks
Last season, the Bucks went into Utah, fell behind early, and then came all the way back just to lose on a buzzer-beating three. The final score was 100-103. On its own, that’s just one unfortunate loss in an 82-game season. In the larger context of Bucks games in Utah, it was yet another bump on a never-ending road of losses. Milwaukee hasn’t won in Utah since October 30, 2001. I wasn’t even a year old back then. Eighteen times they have tried. Eighteen times they have failed. Might the nineteenth time be the charm?
- Jazz rolling on both sides of the court
You could probably assume this from the 20-5 record. I could also tell you that the Jazz have won sixteen of seventeen, and you’d get the idea. Still, a deeper look shows impressive consistency on both offense and defense. The Jazz are fourth in scoring efficiency and third in defensive efficiency. No other team is even in the top eight in both. The Lakers and Bucks, coincidentally, both rank first in one and ninth in the other. This is not, so far at least, a team with a glaring weakness on either side of the court.
- Rebounding will be a battle of strengths
Rudy Gobert ranks third in the league with 13.5 rebounds per game, and he leads a Jazz team that is first in the league in both offensive and total rebounding percentage. They’re a disappointing seventh in defensive rebounding percentage. Royce O’Neale and Derrick Favors both average more than 5.5 boards per contest, and the Jazz have eight players that pull down at least 3 rebounds on average. Maintaining that dominance won’t be easy against a Bucks team that ranks 10th in offensive rebounding percentage, 2nd in defensive rebounding percentage, and third in total rebounding percentage. Giannis leads the way with Bobby Portis, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez all joining him above 5 rebounds per game. The ability to control the rebounding area in which they are truly elite – the offensive glass for the Jazz and the defensive glass for the Bucks – could decide this game.
- Perimeter shooting will be the same
Both teams shoot 40.2% from three, with the Bucks edging out the Jazz by decimal points. That puts them in second and third in the league. Both are also in the top five in three-point attempts per game. Utah ranks second. Milwaukee ranks fifth. The battle to watch here will be Utah’s three-point defense against Milwaukee’s shooters. The Jazz are second in three-point attempts allowed per game, and they’re fifth in opponent three-point percentage. They’ll have the clear advantage if they slow the Bucks down beyond the arc.
- Conley enjoying resurgence
Last year, Mike Conley struggled through injuries and never found his footing. It was arguably his worst season since 2010, especially if you don’t count the 2018 season that saw him play just 12 games. He’s been far better this season, averaging roughly 16 points and 6 assists per game while hitting 41% of his threes. The Jazz have been 19.2 points better per 100 possessions with him on the court. Conley is producing a season worthy of at least some All-Star consideration, and it would be a big break for the Bucks if he sits this one out.
- Bucks and Jazz arguably the two best teams in the league
The Bucks are first in net rating, average point differential, and expected record, and they’re second in SRS. The Jazz are first in SRS and second in the other three. This should be a really good game.
WHAT TO WATCH –
- Conley’s availability
I touched on this earlier, so I won’t say much more here. Just keep an eye on whether or not Conley is playing. Based on what I’m seeing, it’s unlikely that he does. That bodes well for the Bucks.
- Bodganovic’s scoring
Bojan Bogdanovic is on an absolute tear, averaging 23.6 points per game over his last seven appearances after he topped 20 points just twice in his first eighteen games of the season. He’s 29-56 from deep in those seven games despite being just 5-15 in the last two. If we do some quick math, that’s 24-41 in a five-game stretch. Which version of Bogdanovic do we see tonight? Keep an eye on his first few shots.
- Connaughton’s shooting
Pat Connaughton is 2-16 from three since a 5-8 night against the Hornets about two weeks ago. He’s still shooting over 39% on the year – a sign of just how efficient he was from beyond the arc to start – but he needs to break out of this slump at some point. Tonight would be a great time for it. The Bucks will need all the help they can get to end the Utah losing streak.
- Forbes’s shooting
Milwaukee’s temporary starting point guard has been lighting it up from deep recently. He’s 37-66 (56%) since January 11. I’m still not sold on Forbes, who provides little beyond his shooting, but there’s no doubting his impact when he’s this hot. He’s made a ridiculous 70% of his triples in the last three games. Can he keep it going tonight?
- Middleton’s passing
Khris Middleton has been a great playmaker and passer all season long, but he’s been especially effective this week with 12 and 11 assists against the Nuggets and Suns, respectively. Only Phoenix allows less assists per game than the Jazz. Can Middleton replicate his elite playmaking performance against another tough defense?
- The Pace
The Bucks are the seventh fastest team in the league. The Jazz are the seventh slowest. Can Milwaukee play this game on their own terms? They’ve struggled to do so in the past against physical teams like the Heat. The good thing is that there won’t be a packed house in Salt Lake City, but it will still be difficult to avoid falling into the trap that is a road game against the Jazz. Coming out and establishing the pace with authority would be a great way to start this one for the Bucks.
Prediction: Bucks 107, Jazz 103
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