(Photo: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE)

Game 45 Preview: Milwaukee Bucks (20-24) @ Portland Trail Blazers (21-24)

Game 2 of the Monta Era goes down tonight.  If the life of Golden State GM Joe Lacob is any indication, the Bucks have themselves a fanatically popular player. Not only is his fiancee giving him the silent treatment, but approximately 20,000 Warriors expressed the same sentiment vocally last night.  Apparently, Monta is popular enough in Oakland to elicit boos for Lacob during a Hall of Famer’s jersey retirement.

(Photo: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE)

Tonight’s opponent is the Portland Trail Blazers, who refashioned their team last week.  They traded away forward Gerald Wallace to New Jersey for a top-3 protected draft pick Shawne Williams, plus Mehmet Okur and his expiring contract.  Portland also sent Marcus Camby to Houston for Hasheem Thabeet, Johnny Flynn, and a second-round pick.  And to make open roster spots for these acquisitions, they cut big men Greg Oden and Chris Johnson.

The Blazers made a change at the top, too, firing Nate McMillan and replacing him with 34-year-old Kaleb Canales, the first Mexican-American coach in NBA history.

While the Bucks are riding a five-game winning streak, Canales has gone 1-1 since taking the helm — on the road against the NBA’s top two teams: Chicago and Oklahoma City.

(In the win over Chicago, Portland center Joel Przybilla — now a starter after the trades — dropped this gem (probably NSFW) in a tussle with Bulls forward Carlos Boozer.

Offensive Efficiency:
Milwaukee: 105.0 (11th)
Portland: 105.2 (9th)

Defensive Efficiency:
Milwaukee: 106.2 (23rd)
Portland: 103.3 (13th)

Milwaukee: 92.6 (7th)
Portland: 91.5 (17th)

Projected Lineups:
Milwaukee: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden
Portland: Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Przybilla

Box Score Advantage, Neutralized:

The Bucks are the league’s best free-throw shooting team, making their free throws at a 79.6% clip.  On most nights, they can count on a decided advantage in accuracy from the charity stripe.  Not tonight.

The Blazers rank third in the league in free-throw accuracy, hitting 78.8% of their shots.

The two teams are led in that department by two of the best free-throw shooting big men in the league.  LaMarcus Aldridge tops in Blazers in free-throw attempts, and he converts at an 80.4% rate.  Drew Gooden is even better at 85.7%, and he does it while getting to the line more often than any other Buck.

Matchup to watch: Monta Ellis vs. Jamal Crawford

A hot shooting night from either one of these guys could swing the game in his team’s favor.  Monta shot 6-15 FG in his first Bucks game, but he fit into the offense without a hitch.  He was curling around picks at the left elbow, and Brandon Jennings was feeding him the ball in good spots.  Look for more of the same tonight.

Bottom Line:  This game is the Bucks’ last before they enter a brutal stretch of five games in six days.  Milwaukee sits a half game behind New York in the race for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  If they are serious about making the playoff run that the recent trade seemed to indicated, then this game — on three days’ rest — becomes more of a must-win proposition.

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Tags: Drew Gooden Free Throws Milwaukee Bucks Monta Ellis Portland Trail Blazers

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