Bucks vs. Kings Game Preview: Time for Bucks to Build Good Habits

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The Milwaukee Bucks are set to take on the Sacramento Kings on the fourth game of their Western Conference road trip. Milwaukee handily took the first match of the season series, 128-115, back in February.

For all their ups and downs so far, the Bucks have been humming lately. They’re one of only three teams to be top ten in both ends of the floor. They’re 6th in offense (116.5 ORtg) and 8th in defense (110.4 DRtG) for a 4th-best +6.1 net rating. They pass the eye test quite cleanly, too. Players seem sold on their roles, and good things generally happen when they play in the flow of the offense.

As the Bucks try to ignite another win streak, here’s a quick preview of what to expect. 

Bucks vs. Kings 

Sacramento, on the other hand, has not been the King of much of anything this season, really. In the past ten games, they’ve been 12th in net rating and an abysmal 25th in defensive rating. 

In feed

They are still, however, a competent scoring team, as evidenced by their 7th-ranked offensive rating (116.8) within that period. Their De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield backcourt duo already in itself presents a challenge to defenders. Besides the two, though, they also have five other players averaging double-digit points per game. They’re also on a five-game winning streak after taking 7 of their last 10. Though not an excellent team by any means, they’re very balance all-around, at least on paper. 

It’s worth mentioning the Bucks may still be finding their footing after inopportune injuries to their starters. This was punctuated by the starting lineup against New York, which included Sam Merrill, Alex Toupane, Jordan Nwora. Though the Bucks have gotten back to their winning ways with victories against the Lakers and Blazers, things may not be as cohesive as they were when the Bucks won eight in a row. 

Giannis is still rising 

While the Greek Freak’s ascent to stardom is meteoric in its own right, the two-time MVP continues to grow before our very eyes, albeit in much subtler ways. It’s a story-line that’s going relatively under the radar this season: Giannis is better than he’s ever been. He’s looking much more controlled; he’s patient on offense and lets the game come to him. The past few wins have seen him scanning the floor before looking to score whenever he takes the ball into post, where his playmaking shines the most.

Giannis’ 47 points against Portland proved he belongs in the MVP conversation regardless of voter fatigue. This sudden burst of controlled confidence has also resulted in his free-throw shots falling with much more regularity. He’s shot over 80% from the line in five of his last eight games and is averaging 25.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.8 assists since the All-Star break. The game also saw him drain a couple of mid-range jumpers, dispelling notions that the MVP candidate can only run and dunk.

The first time the two teams meet, it was Giannis and Khris Middleton who carried the Bucks with 38 and 32 points, respectively. The Kings’ frontcourt will rely heavily on Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes to stop the Greek Freak from barrelling into the paint. This much more evolved version of Giannis may be too much for them to handle. 

Matchups to watch

Jrue Holiday is a borderline All-NBA defender, and watching him put star guards in jail has become a constant highlight in Bucks games. When the two teams last faced, D.J. Augustin took on the starting point duties while Holiday dealt with coronavirus protocols. It will be interesting to see how he deals with De’Aaron Fox, who is arguably one of the fastest and most dynamic guards in the league. Fox’s 24.7 points and 7.2 assists per game lead the Kings who continue to search for an identity in a stacked Western Conference. 

On the brighter side, Milwaukee now has the services of Jeff Teague after having to sequester DJ Augustin on the defensive end for much of the season. Teague is a dependable point guard capable of stroking it from deep and playing competent defense. He’s everything the Bucks want playing that role, though there is room for doubt after his brief tenure in Boston showed signs of the 32-year-old’s aging.

Against the Blazers, Teague played his role sufficiently but looked taciturn and non-descript. This was obviously not unexpected for his first game as a Buck, but fans should be looking out for how he performs this time around.

Time to build good habits for the Bucks 

A mid-season game on the second night of a back-to-back against the 11th seed in the West is certainly no litmus test of any sort for the surging Bucks. It’s hardly a must-win scenario.  

However, wins against Western Conference teams are always nice to have. A win against the Kings would do well for the Bucks’ confidence after dropping three straight against the Celtics, Knicks, and Clippers. The Bucks have proven they’re more than capable of dispatching teams they should be beating. Taking this one could put them in prime position to go on another hot streak. 

From here on out in the season, it’s all about building good habits in time for the playoffs. The time to experiment is now, but so is the time to work on consistency. Regardless of the outcome in this one, this writer says that Mike Budenholzer has proven that he deserved to stay in his role after all. This is going to be a good one.

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