Behind the Buck Pass writers Nick Whalen (@wha1en) and Paul DeBruine (@pdebruine) answer four burning questions leading into Friday’s showdown at the Barclay’s Center.
1. When these two teams met on Dec. 7, Brooklyn prevailed 90-82 behind 32 points from Brook Lopez. He’s no longer a part of the picture this season, so how much of an advantage does Lopez’s absence give Milwaukee?
Paul: Without Lopez, I would contend that Brooklyn is the worst team in the league. Pierce and Garnett both look old, Williams has been consistently hurt, and Johnson is just an above average shooting guard at this point. In the last meeting, Lopez destroyed the Bucks, scoring 32 points on 11-13 shooting. Without him the playing field is even.
Nick: The absence of Lopez is massive, and Brooklyn has already felt it in their first two games without him. They were blown out by Indiana then boo-ed off their home floor – on Christmas Day no less – after being dismantled by the hapless Bulls. Playing without Lopez is difficult in itself, but what makes matters worse for Brooklyn is the two centers behind him. Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans are both fine players, but they don’t offer anywhere near the complete package Lopez does. I haven’t been shy about my love for Evans’ nightly rebounding exhibitions, but posting six-point, 15-rebound lines on a nightly basis won’t replace Lopez’s 20 points per game.
2. After missing 25 games, Larry Sanders is expected to make his return Friday. What do you expect to see from the big man after a nearly two-month absence?
Paul: He was playing poorly before the injury (17 minutes, 2.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2 blocks per game), so there’s no reason to think he’ll come back and be a world beater. He won’t be in basketball shape either, so expect low minutes for him in the next few games. I would say about 10 minutes and maybe a good block, but not much on the offensive end.
Nick: Larry Drew said he’s going to limit Sanders to around 20 minutes, which seems about right for someone who’s been off the court for nearly two months. I’m not expecting Sanders to do a whole lot and, really, whatever happens tonight won’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. That said, I hope to see the aggressive rim-protecting Sanders has proven capable of providing on a nightly basis in the past. The rest will come. On the positive side, Sanders suffered a thumb injury – not something that robbed him of his mobility. I don’t see conditioning being a major issue, which could go a long way in preserving his stamina for Milwaukee’s upcoming slate of five games in eight days.
3. Though Milwaukee continues to lose at an alarming rate, Brandon Knight has been on a tear, of sorts, over the last four games. Do you expect him to continue this across-the-board production against a struggling Nets team?
Paul: Maybe against the Nets, but over the long term, I doubt it. He’s averaging about 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, which are insane numbers. These are inflated due to three overtime games, but still the numbers hes been putting up are not sustainable. Luckily for the Bucks, the Nets are terrible on defense, so I expect him to put up good numbers in this game as well.
Nick: No chance Knight keeps up this fairly ridiculous production over the long-term, especially with a healthy roster. Though he’s developed into the Bucks’ go-to option offensively, he’s simply not consistent enough to be counted on nightly. It will be interesting to observe how Knight handles playing against two bigger matchups in Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston. Neither are lockdown defenders, but Knight has done most of his damage of late against smaller point guads in Pablo Prigioni, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker.
4. Pick it: which team wins and why?
Paul: Both teams are equally terrible, so it should be a good game (good is nice, let’s say close). It’s a complete toss-up, so I’m gonna say the Bucks win 92-88. Of course those of us who have to watch this game will undoubtedly lose.
Nick: Like Paul said, we’re all losers here. But I, too, see Milwaukee coming out on top here. I’ll say Bucks: 89, Nets: 83, Fans: 0.