With Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined with a knee injury and various other players nursing short-term ailments, the Bucks have found themselves in a bit of a rut. They’ve lost three in a row, a streak that started with a game they blew late in Golden State, continued on to a loss to the Mavs after a 17-36 fourth quarter, and finished with a defeat to the Hornets that saw the Bucks down 19 after three quarters. Giannis likely won’t play tonight either, but Milwaukee should have most of the remaining roster available for the trip down to Orlando, where a struggling Magic team lacking in starting-level talent awaits. Let’s take a look at the game.
FAST FACTS –
The Game: Milwaukee Bucks (32-20) @ Orlando Magic (17-35)
The Place: Orlando, Florida
The Time: 6:00 Central
The TV: Bally Sports Wisconsin
The Likely Starters:
Bucks – Holiday, DiVincenzo, Middleton, Portis, Lopez
Kings – Carter-Williams, Bacon, Ennis, Okeke, Carter
Bucks: Giannis (knee) is doubtful. PJ Tucker (calf) is out. DiVincenzo (hip), Middleton (knee), Holiday (knee), and Lopez (back) are all probable. Jim Paschke (rest) will be returning to the booth.
Kings: Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac are both out for the year with ACL injuries. Otto Porter (foot) is day-to-day. Karim Mane (hamstring) is also day-to-day. Mo Bamba (hip) and Chuma Okeke (hip) are both questionable.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THE MAGIC –
They’re not good
The 17-35 record tells the quick story, but let’s take a slightly longer route. Orlando is 27th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency. They’re 28th in net rating, which is how many more (or less) points a team scores vs. gives up per 100 possessions. They’re also 28th in SRS, which takes both margin of victory, where they rank 27th, and strength of schedule into account. Now add into all of that the fact that they just traded Nikola Vucevic (an All-Star), Aaron Gordon (a current starter in Denver), and Evan Fournier (playing 28.8 minutes per game in Boston). Since those trades, the Magic are 2-6. They’ve been relatively competive outside of a 46-point murder at the hands of the Jazz, but this simply is not a good basketball team. This is a great opportunity for the Bucks to bounce back.
Given all of those trades, the most helpful games to look at for the Magic will be their last eight. Here are some things that have stood out –
They’re not scoring
Orlando has topped 105 just three times in regulation in those eight games. They’ve topped 110 just once. For comparison, the Bucks have topped 105 forty-four times in fifty-two games. It’s going to be very difficult for the Magic to keep up here, though Giannis’s absence will be of some help.
Don’t forget about Terrence Ross
Ross somehow survived the Orlando purge a few weeks ago, but he’s still a high-level NBA scorer, averaging more than 16 points per game off the bench this season. In his six appearances since the trade deadline, he’s averaging 18.8 points per game. He’s dropped 24 twice and has yet to score less than 12. No matter how this game goes, expect to see some buckets from Ross.
Bamba and Carter Jr are doing some things
There’s a reason that Bamba has struggled to find playing time and that Carter Jr was just traded by a very young team, but these two centers of 43 combined years of age have shown some signs of life these past few weeks. With Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch gone, these two are the center rotation. Bamba is averaging 11.4 points and 5.5 boards per game, and he’s had three multi-block games in just eight tries. This stretch – with a best game of 19 points, 8 boards, and 2 blocks – isn’t exactly catching the world by storm, but it’s a promising sign for a big who has struggled to leave a consistent impact at this level.
Carter has plenty of problems of his own, defensively and otherwise, but he’s averaging roughly 14 and 9 in Orlando. His three-point shooting is still horrendous, but he’s scored 15 or more four times and grabbed nine or more boards five times in just seven games. That’s a solid start.
Okeke and Bacon both capable of a big game
Bacon is scoring more than 10 points per game for the first time in his four-year career. He’s scored in double digits four times since the trades, including games of 17 and 26. I wouldn’t anticipate the Bucks getting fried by him tonight, but it is very possible that he scores some points.
Okeke, meanwhile, is playing a delayed rookie season after he tore his ACL in the NCAA Tournament and sat out last year. He’s produced games of 22, 14, 16, 18, and 19 points over the last few weeks, and he’s a decent shooter. Keep an eye on him if he’s out there tonight.
Gary Harris and RJ Hampton are here
Both came over from Denver in the Aaron Gordon trade. Harris just debuted in the last game, and he scored 8 points on 2-10 shooting. Hampton, who is still just 19 years old, is averaging about 10 points and 4 boards per game in seven appearances. I wouldn’t expect to see a massive impact from either tonight.
Cole Anthony is back
In two games since his return from injury, the rookie is averaging 10.5 points and 6 assists. He is, just as he was at UNC, a dynamic scorer and playmaker. It’s likely not a coincidence that two of Orlando’s three best scoring outputs from this stretch have come with Anthony back in the fold. He’s scored 20 points just once all year, so don’t expect a world-beating performance, but he can certainly give a boost to a lethargic offense.
WHAT TO WATCH –
Middleton, in the loss to Dallas, produced just the 56th game in NBA history of at least 27 field goal attempts and no more than 6 makes from the field. It’s only happened nine times since the turn of the century, and six of those games belong to notorious chuckers – Iverson (three times), Kobe, Jamal Crawford, and Antonie Walker. The silver lining is that Khris was 2-4 from three, and he’s been very good from deep in fairly limited volume recently. Of course, the issue with that silver lining is that it means he also became the first player since 2010 to shoot 4-23 or worse on two-pointers.
It was an unbelievable performance from one of the most efficient offensive stars in the league, and it comes at the end of a fairly disappointing run of issues with consistency, efficiency, and volume. While the hot takes from fans are more than a little overboard, we do need more from Middleton. Hopefully that starts with a good showing tonight.
The availability of Okeke and Bamba
I’ll take it as a given that everyone but Giannis and Tucker will be returning for the Bucks. This would be a very different game if they don’t. But Okeke is a key guy to watch here. The Magic only have so many weapons, and the chances of one or two going off will decrease by a fairly significant amount each time you remove one more. Without Okeke, the Magic would be much more limited. Without Bamba, depth becomes a huge issue. It would be time to feed the post.
Winning without Giannis
Despite how the last few games have gone, the Bucks are 3-4 without the MVP this season. Two of those wins came against the Kings and Cavs, so take it as you will. The Magic are certainly no better than those teams though, and this is a prime opportunity for the Bucks to get back on track.
Who’s stepping up? Can Jrue deliver like he did against the Kings and Warriors? Can Khris get himself going again? Will Brook keep hitting the threes like he has over his last few games? The top of the East is slowly slipping away from us, and there’s only so much time left. A loss against a terrible Orlando team would be hard to shake. Let’s take care of business.
Prediction: Bucks 117, Magic 106
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