The Bucks are rolling after five straight wins and ten wins in their last eleven games, and they pulled out a very impressive comeback win in Philadelphia last time out despite managing the fourth-lowest first half scoring total of any NBA team this season. To keep the momentum going tonight, they’ll need to take down the San Antonio Spurs, who have returned to their normal spot in the playoff bracket after a bit of a down year in 2020. Let’s get ready for the game.
The Game: San Antonio Spurs (22-16) @ Milwaukee Bucks (26-14)
The Place: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Time: 8:00 Central
Telecast: Fox SportsWisconsin
The Likely Starters:
Bucks – Holiday, DiVincenzo, Middleton, G. Antetokounmpo, Lopez
Spurs – Murray, White, DeRozan, Johnson, Poeltl
Bucks: Rodions Kurucs (abdominal injury) is questionable.
Spurs: Keita Bates-Diop (hamstring) was out last night. LaMarcus Aldridge (seeking consensual trade) is also out.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THE SPURS
They’re decent but not great
San Antonio is 22-16, and while they’ve been relatively consistent all year, they’re playing their best basketball lately. They started 5-5 and 11-9. That means a 11-7 run since, and they’ve won their last three on a tour of the Midwest – @Detroit, @Chicago, @Cleveland. This is a team that, depending on the source, ranks 12th or 13th overall in net rating, which is a measure of how many more (or less) points a team scores than gives up per 100 possessions. They rank 13th in expected record. Those are the marks of an above-average, low-seed playoff team, which is exactly what San Antonio is. The issue for them is their schedule, which is going to get much harder after being roughly average by difficulty over the first half. Here’s a graphic from FiveThirtyEight detailing which teams are facing a tougher post-ASG schedule –
Note the Spurs near the top. Only the Magic are expected to have a harder closing run. That’s dangerous, especially for a team that hasn’t necessarily played their schedule very well so far. The Spurs rank 20th in SRS, which combines schedule strength and margin of victory. In other words, how impressive are your scoring margins given the opponents you’re playing? For the Spurs, not very. They’re relatively prone to blowout losses, with more than half (nine) of their sixteen total losses coming by double digits. Five of those came by 20+. The Spurs are not a bad team by any means, and they can absolutely give the Bucks a game or even beat them here. Just don’t be surprised if they find themselves down big.
DeRozan is shining
DeRozan is averaging roughly 20 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds per game on the season. Only nine other players are also averaging at least 20 points and 7 assists. He’s doing it with very little impact from beyond the arc too, shooting just 32% on 1.7 threes per game. Both marks are well outside of the top 100 across the league. Expect to see him do plenty of work in the mid-range, as he ranks in the top 20 in field goal attempts from 10-19 feet. DeRozan leads the Spurs in scoring, assists, and pretty much every advanced stat, and he’s been their undisputed leader as they aim to get back to the playoffs after missing out last season. He deserves his respect, and he’s the player to watch tonight.
Aldridge on the way out
Aldridge has led San Antonio alongside DeRozan for the last few years, but it has felt like both were seeing their time with the Spurs coming to an end given where this team has been headed. A rebuild seemed to make sense as their title window finally closed. The title window is still undoubtedly closed, but DeRozan has held that rebuild off with his play this season. Aldridge has not escaped that inevitable fate. He’s been limited by injuries, and he’s just fifth on the team in minutes, fourth in scoring, and sixth in rebounding. That’s far from an insignificant contribution, but it’s small enough of a role for the Spurs to wonder why they’re playing Aldridge in it when they could use those minutes and opportunities for some of their younger players.
That’s likely what led to their decision to put him on the trade block, and he surely wouldn’t mind a bigger role elsewhere or the chance to chase a title with a contender. We’ll see where he ends up, but the relevant part for tonight is that he won’t be out there in his Spurs uniform.
San Antonio has a lot of young pieces
Dejounte Murray is a long athlete, and he’s versatile on both sides of the floor. He’s second on the team in scoring, passing, and rebounding. Keldon Johnson is third on the team in scoring and rebounding at just 6’5”. He put up 20 points and 20 boards against the Cavs last night. Derrick White has really struggled with injury this season, but he’s a very good offensive guard when healthy. Lonnie Walker has electric athletic potential. Jakob Poeltl is a very efficient big man who is highly impactful defensively. Devin Vassell, a rookie, is a sharpshooter with some great 3-and-D potential, and Trey Lyles can also hit the three-ball. All of these guys are 25 or younger. There isn’t a future star in this group, but the Spurs are building up a very solid foundation.
Mills and Gay still contributing as the old guys
Only in professional sports would 32 and 34 year olds be considered the grizzled veterans, but that’s what Mills and Gay are for the Spurs. Both contribute offensively more than anything else. Mills, like always, is stroking it from deep, and he’s fifth on the team in scoring. Gay is also shooting very well and averaging more than 10 points per game, and he gets his own shot as often as anyone but DeRozan and Murray. Don’t forget about these two.
Spurs don’t turn the ball over
San Antonio leads the league in both assist:turnover ratio and turnover percentage. They simply do not turn it over. That could be an issue for Giannis and the Bucks, who thrive on fastbreak opportunities. We do often seem to struggle offensively against the Spurs. Solving that halfcourt offensive puzzle will be a key tonight.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Can Bucks take advantage of Spurs playing last night?
Back-to-backs aren’t fatal in the NBA, but it does have to be difficult to play one night and then go out and run with the Bucks the next. Look for the Bucks to push the pace early and often in an attempt to get the Spurs on their heels.
Getting Khris involved early and often
I’ve had this as a note in pretty much every game preview, and it’s still an issue. Middleton has struggled to find consistency in both his volume and efficiency as a scorer ever since his unbelievably hot start to the season. In six March games, these are his numbers – 18.3 points, 4.2 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 40.9 FG%. and 29.6 3PT%. That won’t cut it. Khris needs to be better, and the Bucks need to force the issue by giving him as many touches as he can handle.
Can Donte find consistency?
Consistency is the name of the game for non-stars, and DiVincenzo has had a hard time in finding it so far. The last six games have perfectly encapsulated those issues. Over the last three games, he’s scoring 14 per game, shooting 7-16 from three, and averaging 9.3 boards and 4.7 assists. In the three games prior, he shot 5-23 from the floor and 2-11 from deep. That’s a complete flip. Like I said last week, getting consistent production from your role players in the playoffs is absolutely crucial. While Donte has shown the ability to play at the necessary level, he has yet to do it for the fifteen-twenty games that would represent a playoff run. Can he find that consistency before the summer?
PJ Tucker is expected to take the court tonight after the mid-week trade that took place right before the Sixers game. I love Tucker. He’s the quintessential 3-and-D player. On offense, he really just shoots, especially from the corner. On defense, he’s a highly versatile defender capable of guarding pretty much any type of player. It’s fair to question how much he has left in the tank at 35, but the trade to a contender should revitalize him. Over the next few weeks, keep an eye on how Milwaukee’s defense looks with Jrue, Giannis, and Tucker on the court. That’s a scary sight for any opposing offense, and it might just put the Bucks where they need to be to go the distance.
Forbes against old team
“Role player takes on former team after leaving for a different conference in free agency” isn’t exactly headline-level material, but this will be the first time Forbes takes on the team he had played his entire career with before this season. I don’t have to say beyond pointing that out, but watch Forbes to see if this game sparks a little extra energy in him.
Prediction: Bucks 120, Spurs 111
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