The San Antonio Spurs have 16 wins. The Milwaukee Bucks have 16 losses.
The two teams have been on complete opposite sides of the NBA spectrum for the better part of the past 15 years. This year is no exception, as the Spurs (16-4) appear poised to contend for the Western Conference title yet again, while Milwaukee (5-16) sits in last place in the lowly East.
Fresh off an ugly 78-74 victory over Chicago on Tuesday, the Bucks welcome San Antonio to Milwaukee for the first and only time this season. The two teams will meet again in San Antonio on January 19.
The Spurs enter Wednesday having beaten Toronto 116-103 on Tuesday. San Antonio reeled off 11 straight victories after falling to Memphis on opening night but has alternated wins and losses in the six games since.
The core of Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan has been effective, per usual, despite down statistical seasons from the latter two. While Ginobili is putting up similar numbers to his 2012-13 stats, Duncan’s averages have declined across the board. He’s averaging the fewest points and rebounds of his career, while shooting a career-low 43.7 percent from the field. Gregg Popovich monitoring Duncan’s minutes more strictly than ever is partially to blame, but his current average of 27.8 (a career-low) isn’t far from the 28.2 minutes he averaged two seasons ago.
Even if the 37-year-old is finally showing signs of mortality, he’ll be a handful for the Bucks’ relatively inexperienced front line. Duncan has played six more NBA seasons than John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Ersan Ilyasova and Miroslav Raduljica combined, and has a full arsenal of interior moves to compensate for his declining athleticism. The responsibility of containing Duncan will be placed squarely on the shoulders of Udoh and Henson. Depending on the lineup Popovich selects, Duncan figures to match up with the more physical Udoh. His mid-range shooting ability draws defenders away from the hoop; an area Milwaukee prefers Henson patrol.
San Antonio starts Danny Green in the backcourt alongside Parker, while Duncan and Leonard occupy the forward spots. The starting center position has been a revolving door this season, however. Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and the forward formerly known as Jeff Pendergraph (now Ayres) have all started at least one game this season, as Popovich essentially chooses his starter on a matchup basis. Ayres started Tuesday against Toronto (Splitter sat out with a calf injury), while Splitter started the previous game versus Indiana. Popovich typically does not announce a starter until shortly before game time.
Larry Drew has exhibited plenty of flexibility in his lineups this season given Milwaukee’s abundance of injuries. The team was without Caron Butler, Zaza Pachulia and Gary Neal on Tuesday, and it’s likely all three will sit out again Wednesday. Both Pachulia and Butler have already been ruled out, and there’s only a slight chance Neal, who’s dealing with plantar fasciitis, will play against his former team. And, of course, Larry Sanders and Carlos Delfino remain out.
Splitter is the lone injury for San Antonio. He did not travel with the team to Toronto, and his status for Wednesday is up in the air.
Assuming Drew sticks with the same starting lineup from the past two games, Milwaukee will roll out Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Khris Middleton, Udoh and Henson. Drew has been bringing Ersan Ilyasova off the bench of late, and that trend will likely continue, as he doesn’t match up particularly well with the Spurs’ starting forwards.
*Click to enlarge
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
Points: Parker (17.7), Mayo (14.9)
Rebounds: Duncan (7.9), Henson (7.3)
Assists: Parker (6.1), Wolters (4.1)
Blocks: Duncan (1.7), Henson (2.2)
Steals: Leonard (1.9), Ilyasova (1.1)
Action tips off at 7:00 PM CDT at the BMO Harris Bradley Center with local coverage on Fox Sports Wisconsin.