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Game Preview: Bucks Seek Third Win Over Rondo-less Celtics

Milwaukee and Boston meet for the fourth and final time this season with the Bucks seeking to end their current two-game slide.

Milwaukee has won nine games this season and have only beaten one team twice. That team is the Boston Celtics.

The Bucks (9-41) welcome the Celtics (18-34) to Milwaukee for the second time this season for what will be the teams’ fourth (and final) meeting. The Bucks took the first two matchups, winning 105-98 in Boston on Nov. 1 (“The Zaza Pachulia Game”) and 92-85 at home on Nov. 30. Three days later, back in Boston, the Celtics claimed a 108-100 victory behind 25 points from Jordan Crawford, now a member of the Warriors.

The Bucks enter Monday’s contest coming off of a 101-95 defeat at the hands of the Rockets on Saturday night. Milwaukee, which lost Larry Sanders midway through the first quarter after he took an elbow from James Harden, was unable to contain Dwight Howard, who finished with 27 points and 13 boards. Milwaukee trailed by just three with under a minute remaining but was unable to capitalize on opportunities down the stretch, while Howard went 3-of-4 from the line in the final 10 seconds to put the game away.

The Celtics were one of 16 teams in action Sunday, falling to the Mavericks 102-91 despite 15 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists and a steal from Rajon Rondo. Rondo sat out Friday’s contest as he continues to deal with minor soreness since returning from a torn ACL on Jan. 17. He’ll sit out again Monday, as it’s the second night of a back-to-back.

Prior to Sunday’s loss, the Celtics took advantage of a soft spot in the schedule, winning three straight against Orlando, Philadelphia and Sacramento. While the Celtics are just 4.5 games behind Charlotte for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, the prevailing belief is that the storied franchise is focusing more on the future and would welcome a lottery pick in June’s loaded draft.

The Bucks, meanwhile, find themselves in the midst of yet another losing streak. This one, to be fair, spans just two games at this point, but given how things have gone this season, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it will end. Milwaukee remains the only team yet to win consecutive games and has five separate losing skids of at least three games, including four of at least five games.

After losing Sanders on Saturday, Larry Drew – somewhat uncharacteristically – leaned heavily on his starters, as Khris Middleton, John Henson, Brandon Knight and Nate Wolters each played at least 35 minutes, with Henson seeing a team-high 41. Miroslav Raduljica (19 minutes) and Zaza Pachula (29) split the duty of filling in for Sanders, who left after four minutes.

Both Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova (back), who sat out Saturday, are listed as questionable and will likely be game-time calls. Sanders is dealing with some pain and swelling around his eye but seemed optimistic about his status. If he’s cleared, he’ll likely get the start at center, but it remains uncertain whether Drew will remove Henson or Middleton from the starting five should Ilyasova play. The coaching staff has shown reluctance in starting Sanders and Henson together, so it’s quite possible Henson could return to the bench should that be the case.

Pregame notes:

– With Rondo out, Phil Pressey is expected to step in as the starting point guard. He’s started all three games that Rondo has missed since returning. The former Missouri star is a capable assist-man but struggles against bigger matchups and has scored in double-figures just once this season.

– Both Ekpe Udoh and Luke Ridnour sat out Saturday, and the team is yet to update their respective statuses for Monday’s matchup. Udoh has missed the last eight games with an ankle injury, while Ridnour is nursing a sore back.

– Giannis Antetokounmpo will be the center of attention for Bucks fans this weekend, as he’ll compete in both the Skills Challenge and Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. However, the rookie is just 1-of-12 from the field with five turnovers and one assist over his last two games.

– Boston’s Avery Bradley aggravated his sprained left ankle last Wednesday and, after sitting out Friday’s win over Sacramento, took the court Sunday. He was just 2-of-13 from the field and did not play for most of the second half, prompting the belief that the ankle is still bothering him. He’s expected to play Monday, though he may be limited.

Projected starters:

Boston

PG – Phil Pressey

SG – Avery Bradley

SF – Jeff Green

PF – Brandon Bass

C – Jared Sullinger

Milwaukee

PG – Brandon Knight

SG – Nate Wolters

SF – Khris Middleton

PF – John Henson

C – Larry Sanders

Team rankings

Boston

Scoring: 25th (95.0)

Rebounding: 15th (43.2)

Assists: 26th (20.2)

Points allowed: 8th (98.7)

Milwaukee

Scoring: 29th (92.3)

Rebounding: 25th (41.4)

Assists: 17th (20.9)

Points allowed: 20th (101.8)

Leaders

Points: Knight (16.5), Green (16.3)

Rebounds: Henson (8.1), Sullinger (8.2)

Assists: Knight (4.8), Rondo (7.4)

Blocks: Henson (2.2), Bass (1.0)

PER: Henson (19.2), Humphries (18.0)

Last meeting highlights

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Tags: Avery Bradley Bucks Celtics Bucks Preview Ersan Ilyasova Giannis Jeff Green Larry Sanders Milwaukee Bucks Rajon Rondo Rondo Bucks

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