In a matchup of the NBA’s two worst teams, the Bucks proved just how wide the gap is between them and the rest of the league. Milwaukee (8-38) fell to Orlando (13-35) 113-102 at the Amway Center on Friday night.
It was the fifth straight loss for Milwaukee, the fourth time this season the Bucks have had a losing skid of at least five games. All five losses have come by at least nine points. Orlando snapped its three-game losing streak and notched just its third win of the new year. Sitting at 10-21 on Dec. 31, the Magic have lost 14 of 17.
Though Orlando pulled out an 11-point victory, at no point was the game as close as the final score would indicate. Orlando jumped out to an early first quarter lead and never really looked back. After winning the opening period 35-20, the Magic outscored Milwaukee 32-26 in the second quarter, holding a 67-46 halftime lead. The margin grew to 24 points entering the fourth quarter, and a late surge by Milwaukee trimmed the final margin to a respectable 11 points.
Orlando was led by 21 points from Arron Afflalo, one of six players in double-figures. When these two teams squared off on Nov. 13, Afflalo went for 36 points with eight three-pointers. Rookie Victor Oladipo chipped in 15 points for the Magic, while Nikola Vucevic added 12 and six boards. Former-Buck Tobias Harris added 18 points and six rebounds (7-18 FG) off the bench in 30 minutes.
Playing without John Henson (wrist), Ekpe Udoh (ankle) and O.J. Mayo (illness), Milwaukee employed a balanced attack, as seven players reached double-figures. Caron Butler led the way with 20 points and four rebounds off the bench, and Gary Neal – playing for the first time since Jan. 19 – scored 13 points in 24 minutes. Starters Ersan Ilyasova, Khris Middleton, Larry Sanders and Brandon Knight each contributed 10 points. Sanders had perhaps his best all-around game of the season, adding nine rebounds, two assists, four steals and four blocks.
Coming off the bench for the first time since Dec. 18, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 29 minutes. The rookie hadn’t scored in double-figures in the previous three contests. Moving Antetokounmpo to the bench is viewed as a temporary move, but given Larry Drew’s penchant for tinkering with the starting lineup, and the success it brought both Giannis and starter Nate Wolters on Friday, he may continue bringing Antetokounmpo off the bench in the short-term.
- Nate Wolters got the unexpected start at shooting guard in place of Antetokounmpo and turned in a solid all-around performance, putting up eight points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a game-high 41 minutes. Drew has not yet announced his lineup for Saturday’s game in Memphis, but it seems possible, if not likely, Wolters could start again.
- Gary Neal’s 24 minutes were the most he’s played since Dec. 4 against Detroit. Since clashing with Larry Sanders in a post-game locker room incident, Neal has been in the doghouse, of sorts, seeing action in only four January games. The general belief is that Milwaukee is looking to move the 29-year-old before the Feb. 20 deadline.
- Both Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb had strong games, combining for 26 points off the bench. Harris has developed into a very capable all-around scorer, while Lamb shoots 37.0 percent from deep in his career. Of course, both players came over from Milwaukee as part of the infamous J.J. Redick deadline swap last season.
- Facing the Magic not only allows the Bucks to square off against former running mates, it’s also a chance to play against arguably (and by arguably I mean for sure) the second-best beard in the league. Clearly, Houston’s James Harden is the king of kings in this department, but Orlando’s Kyle O’Quinn has some fine facial hair of his own. Check this bad boy out.
- O.J. Mayo did not join the team on this two-game road swing, and he remains back in Milwaukee recuperating from an illness that’s affected him for nearly two weeks. His status for Monday’s showdown with the Knicks in Milwaukee is up in the air.
- The Bucks travel to Memphis on Saturday for a date with Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies. Action tips off at 7:00pm Central.
Scoring: Afflalo (21), Butler (20)
Assists: Oladipo (7), Wolters (9)
Rebounds: O’Quinn (7), Sanders (9)
Blocks: Harris (2), Sanders (4)