After dropping its first two exhibition contests, Milwaukee welcomes the winless Charlotte Bobcats to the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday.
Milwaukee fell to the Cavaliers 99-87 on Tuesday and dropped Thursday’s contest against the Timberwolves 98-89 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Injuries are quickly piling up for the Bucks already this preseason, as Nate Wolters (wrist), Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) and Gary Neal (foot) all went down against Minnesota. It’s unknown who will be available Saturday, but with Carlos Delfino (foot) and Zaza Pachulia (Achilles) already out, the roster could be stretched thin.
The Bucks also revealed Friday that forward Ekpe Udoh will be sidelined 4-to-6 weeks after recently undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Udoh sat out the team’s first two contests due to soreness and ultimately opted to have the surgery rather than continue his ongoing rehab.
Still searching for an identity in what has been a dismal past few seasons, the 0-2 Bobcats made a splash this summer in signing free agent Al Jefferson to a three-year, $41 million deal. While he’ll become the immediate face of the franchise, Michael Jordan and Co. still have considerable work to do before Charlotte can be considered a legitimate contender – let alone franchise – in the Eastern Conference.
Even after last season’s 21-61 debacle, the roster remains largely intact. Kemba Walker returns at point guard, flanked by shooting guard Gerald Henderson and small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. Jefferson steps in at center, while rookie Cody Zeller projects to start at power forward.
The Bobcats dropped their preseason opener 87-85 to the Hawks despite 12 points from Walker and 17 from veteran Ramon Sessions. They also fell to Miami 86-75 on Friday night.
As the Bucks take the stage in Milwaukee for the first time this season, here are a few items to keep an eye on Saturday night:
Ilyasova’s Injury: Ilyasova injured his ankle in the second quarter of Tuesday’s loss, and the team is yet to release any further information regarding his condition. The injury appeared to be fairly serious – though initial X-Rays revealed no structural damage – and Ilyasova said after the game he was unable to place any weight on the ankle.
Henson’s Minutes: With Ilyasova out of the lineup Thursday, Henson put up 16 points (8-of-12 FG), five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 25 minutes. The Bucks will again be without Ersan – as well as Udoh – on Saturday, so expect Henson to get the start and see similar minutes against an inferior Charlotte front line.
New Look: Saturday will mark the inaugural game played on the newly redesigned BMO Harris Bradley Center floor. The team released the design – inspired by Robert Indiana, designer of the historic MECCA Areana floor in the late 70s – back on September 24, but this will be the first look at the new court in a game setting. The design blends the old with the new, maintaining the contemporary red and white baseline font while incorporating more green and adding contrasting, trapezoidal accents.
Walker vs. Knight: Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the night will be at point guard between Brandon Knight – the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft – and Kemba Walker, the ninth selection. Thus far, Walker has enjoyed a slightly more successful career – at least statistically – but both are looking to prove they are capable floor leaders who can score efficiently. In their final meeting last season, Walker exploded for 28 points, five rebounds and six assists, while Knight chipped in 19 points and seven rebounds in the 20-point Detroit victory.
How Will Giannis Rebound? After an impressive debut versus the Cavaliers, Antetokounmpo followed up with a turnover-filled performance Thursday. It wasn’t all bad (seven rebounds, four blocks), but the rookie committed seven turnovers and five fouls while shooting just 1-of-6 from the field. Antetokounmpo will be evaluated on a game-to-game basis at this point, and it will be interesting to note – if he plays Saturday – how his approach changes given the fact that he’s committed 12 turnovers and 10 fouls through the first two contests.
Can Sanders Stay Out of Foul Trouble? Larry fouled out of just four games last season (he was ejected from five more), but he often found himself on the bench with early foul trouble. That was the case Thursday, as Sanders picked up four personals in just 15 minutes. Granted, he was matched up against a bruiser in Nikola Pekovic, but if Milwaukee has any hope of securing a second straight playoff berth, Sanders staying on the court will be key. Given the Bucks’ current injuries, he could see major minutes Saturday.
Ramon’s Return: Veteran Ramon Sessions is the only former-Buck on the Charlotte roster. The six-year veteran played his first two NBA seasons in Milwaukee, starting 38 games and averaging 12.4 points and 5.7 assists during the 2008-09 campaign. The following offseason, Sessions signed a $16 million offers sheet from the Timberwolves and the Bucks declined to match.
Saturday’s action tips off at 7:30 PM Central. The game will not be televised locally.