The Bucks came out of the All-Star Break strong with a demolition of the Knicks on Thursday night. It was their seventh win in eight tries. Tonight, they kick off a two-game series against the Wizards in Washington with the second game coming on Monday. Milwaukee will look to keep pace with both the Sixers and the Nets at the top of the East. Let’s take a look at some things to know and watch for tonight.
FAST FACTS –
The Game: Milwaukee Bucks (23-14) @ Washington Wizards (14-22)
The Place: Washington D.C.
The Time: 6:00 Central
The TV: FSWisconsin
The Likely Starters:
Bucks – Holiday, DiVincenzo, Middleton, G. Antetokounmpo, Lopez
Pelicans – Westbrook, Beal, Matthews, Hachimura, Wagner
Bucks: Jordan Nwora is still listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury, although he likely wouldn’t be playing significant minutes regardless of his health.
Pelicans: Thomas Bryant (ACL) has been out since early February. Ish Smith (quad) is also out, likely for another 2-4 weeks. Bradley Beal (knee) is worth keeping an eye on. He did play last night against the 76ers, but it’s possible he sits out the second half of the back-to-back.
WHAT TO KNOW –
- Bradley Beal can score the rock
Beal is averaging 32.5 points per game, good for first in the league by roughly 2 points. For some reference on how impressive that is, he’s on pace to have only the 29th season in NBA history where a player scores 32 points per game or more. Here’s the list of players who have done that since 2000 – Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and James Harden (twice). That’s decent company. He hasn’t been the epitome of efficiency, sitting outside the top sixty by FG% and inside the bottom fifteen by 3PT% among qualified players, but that almost makes it more impressive that he’s scoring this many points. Washington is feeding him, and everyone knows it. Yet there’s still nothing defenses can do to stop him from eating.
- Will Beal play tonight?
This will all be purely conjecture, as I fall just a bit outside of Washington’s network of sources. But it’s worth looking at whether he’ll be ready to go tonight based on how important he is to everything the Wizards do offensively. One thing to note – Beal scored just 19 points in 29 minutes last night. He took thirteen shots and two threes. That’s the lowest amount of shots and threes he’s taken in a game all year. It was his second-lowest points total and his fourth lowest minutes total. It was a really limited game given his standards. So is the knee bothering him? It’s likely. He was a game-time decision yesterday, and it’s very possible he ends up resting tonight.
- Russ still putting up numbers, but other metrics tell a different story
Westbrook is still producing counting stats at an elite level. He’s averaging 20 points and roughly 9.5 boards and assists each. That makes him one of just fifteen players to be putting up 20, 5, and 5 per game this season, and he ranks fifth in rebounding and second in passing in that group. That’s all well and good.
The issue is that some of his other numbers are terrible, to say the least. He’s a horrendous shooter, making less than 29% of his threes and ranking outside the top 250 in FG%. He’s even collapsed at the line, shooting a career-worst 57.9% on free throws. That’s worse than guys like Rudy Gobert and Andre Drummond. The advanced metrics are very poor as well. His PER of 16.2 is just above league average (15), and it’s his worst mark since his rookie season back in 2009. He’s producing just 0.001 win shares per 48 minutes, good for 180th out of 183 qualifying players. His box plus-minus is -0.1, which puts him right around league average at 96th. He ranks 99th in Value Above Replacement Player.
None of this means that Russ can’t play, or that he isn’t a very good and important player in his best moments. What it does mean is that those moments are slowly becoming less and less common. We’re seeing the end of a Hall of Fame career, and all that remains of his former production is some points, rebounds, and assists.
- Wizards just aren’t very good
Over the full season, Washington is 21st in scoring efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) and 27th in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions). They have been, quite simply, bad. The question – have they been better recently? The record would suggest they have. The Wizards won eight of eleven before the break to bring the playoffs back within their sights, and they’re still on an 8-5 run even after two losses coming out of the break. The underlying numbers do back that improvement up, though it might not be in the way we would expect.
Over their last thirteen games, Washington is still just 20th in the league in scoring efficiency. The progress has come defensively, where they’ve ranked 12th. Now we have to see if they can sustain it. Recent returns wouldn’t provide a whole lot of optimism. Three of their last four opponents have scored at least 125 points in wins, and those teams – the Grizzlies (twice) and Sixers – are just 19th and 14th in scoring efficiency, respectively. The brief run of good form may have ended. The Bucks and their elite offense should be a pretty good test of whether or not it has.
- Wizards get to the line but often fail to take advantage once there
No one takes more free throws per game than the Wizards. Twenty-one teams make a higher percentage of their free throws, however. Washington is still third in the league in free throws made per game, so the poor percentages don’t cancel out the elite foul-drawing ability. It still does have an impact though, especially late in games. Free throws as a whole are just a small part of the game, but the small parts can play a key role in clutch situations. Look for the Wizards to get to the line with frequency if this one is close down the stretch. Beal and Westbrook are the driving forces. They rank 4th and 17th in free throws per game.
- Some notes on other players
Beal and Westbrook are, of course, not the only players that play for Washington, so here are some things to keep an eye on with their other guys –
Rui Hachimura is a very talented second year player. He scores and rebounds relatively well but still has a lot of refining to do.
Davis Bertans is a sharpshooter and not much else. He’s up around 39% from deep on 7 attempts per game after some early struggles, so we will see him putting some in from beyond the arc.
Garrison Matthews is a very good shooter as well and potentially Washington’s best perimeter defender (this is not saying a whole lot).
Moe Wagner isn’t even playing 17 minutes per game since he joined the starting lineup, so don’t expect to see too much of him. He’s a big with floor-stretching ability, though it’s been a bit of a struggle to actually show that since he was drafted out of Michigan, where he was very good. The Wizards have been playing very well when he’s on the court. He’s one of just two players (Ish Smith), to have a positive plus-minus on the year.
Both Alex Len and old friend Robin Lopez, more traditional centers, will also get their share of minutes.
The other player I would watch is Deni Avidija. He’s not there yet as a rookie, but he has a lot of talent and potential offensively. He could make a play or two tonight.
WHAT TO WATCH –
- Beal’s availability
Keep an eye on this as we approach game time. It will be interesting – if he’s out – to see how the game unfolds. Washington is obviously much worse off without him, but this is the NBA. They can still compete. Watching Russ as the sole offensive leader and seeing if Washington can toughen up defensively with Beal out would be intriguing.
- Getting Khris involved early and often
The Bucks didn’t really need Middleton in their win over the Knicks. It was a very impressive and well-rounded offensive display, and he ended up taking only nine shots and two threes. That’s fine every once in a while during the regular season, but Middleton needs more touches. They’ve been a little down for a while now, and we need him operating on all cylinders by the time summer rolls around. Getting him going early should be a key piece of the game plan tonight.
- Can Donte regain rhythm?
Over the last three games, DiVincenzo is shooting 5-23 from the floor and 2-11 from deep. That’s less than ideal, though his rebounding numbers have been very good recently. This is the kind of stretch that you’d really prefer to avoid in the playoffs, and Donte only has a few more months to fully adjust to his role. We saw it last year with the Heat and Lakers – getting consistent production from your role players in the playoffs is absolutely crucial. Donte has shown the ability to play at the necessary level. It’s just a question of whether or not he can play that way consistently when it counts. The jury is still very much out on that one.
- Lopez’s defense
Lopez blocked five shots against the Knicks, his highest total of the season. He’s starting to pick it up a little bit there. Five of his last nine games have been multiblock performances. His defense has taken a step back this season. However, it’s been worth questioning whether that’s because he’s just slowing down overall or because he’s been adjusting to some scheme changes. We might be seeing those adjustments finally hit home if it’s the latter. Keep an eye on Brook over the next few games. His defense – if he can return it to an elite level – is invaluable.
- Giannis v. Moe
This is the first game between the two since Giannis’s headbutt in last year’s seeding games match-up. It’s probably unlikely that we see anything carry over from that incident, but it is possible that some tempers flare here. Keep an eye on these two.
Prediction: Bucks 135, Wizards 119
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