Nearly one-quarter of the way through the season, the Bucks are ninth in the Eastern Conference standings — a position with which they are all too familiar. They enter tonight’s game after giving up a second-half run that turned a competitive game into a one-sided Spurs win on Wednesday night.
The Charlotte Bobcats were victimized by J.R. Smith’s clutch step-back jumper that sealed a Knicks victory and sent the Bobcats to 7-10 on the season, good for the East’s 10th spot. The statistics are reflective of the slim margin differentiating the two clubs in the standings. Milwaukee averages 0.1 more points per game than Charlotte and rank 23rd in offensive rating to the Bobcats’ 27th.
The differences that do exist, however, are significant. The Bucks force more turnovers and grab a larger percentage of defensive rebounds, creating a better overall defensive rating for themselves. Perhaps more important is that the Deer play at faster pace than the Bobcats, which should magnify the pre-existing offensive advantage.
The battle on the glass will be just as important as anything, though, because in terms of sheer rebounds, Charlotte grabs nearly one rebound more per game. They hit the glass and the Larry Sanders-led front court cannot overlook this fact.
As usual, though, point guard play will be vital if the Bucks intend to win. Brandon Jennings’ outstanding ballhawk skills (he’s second in the league in steals) may be overshadowing the fact that he’s averaging 6.1 assists per game — a modest number, but imperative to the Bucks’ identity as a team averaging enough assists per game to warrant a top-five rating. Jennings’ showdown with Kemba Walker has potential to be the highlight of the evening, as the Bobcats’ sophomore point guard is putting up similar numbers (6.2 assists, 2.1 steals per game) to his Milwaukee counterpart.
The Bucks are currently one game behind the Bulls and Pacers, who are tied atop the Central Division. With both of those teams seeing action tonight (the Pacers host the Nuggets while the Bulls visit the Pistons), the Bucks need to show they are capable of beating opponents who rank below them. If they fail to do that — or continue to, after recently falling to the Pelicans né Hornets — their shot at maintaining a record worthy of a low seed in the playoffs diminishes, and that could be problematic if the teams above them in the Central Division can widen the gap between themselves and the Bucks.