Winning consecutive games for the first time in nearly a calendar year will be a tough task against the league’s best team.
Paul George and the Pacers spoiled Y2K Night at the BMO Harris Bradley center with a 110-100 victory on Saturday. Five days later, the Bucks have a chance to enact revenge.
Coming off of a dominant 130-110 win over the 76ers on Monday, the Bucks will undoubtedly need another hot shooting night to slow down the league’s best team. Winners of eight of their last 11 games, Indiana (43-13) boasts the league’s stingiest defense (91.0 points allowed), having allowed 100 points on just 13 occasions this season. Milwaukee, by comparison, has seen opponents reach the century mark nearly three times as often (36 times in 56 games).
Thursday’s matchup is the third of four meetings between the two teams, and Indiana can clinch the season series with a victory. On Nov. 15, Indiana defeated Milwaukee 104-77 behind 22 points from Paul George, and George poured in 32 in Saturday’s win, upstaging Brandon Knight’s 30-point, eight-assist performance.
The All-Star has solidified himself as one of the top three or four wings in the league, though he’s struggled, relatively, over the past two months. After putting up 24.1 points and 5.6 rebounds on 46.8 percent shooting in December, George’s numbers dropped to 21.3 points and 41.0 percent shooting in January (though his rebounds jumped to 7.4). Through 12 February games, George’s scoring hasn’t changed, and his field goal percentages has dipped under the Brandon Jennings line (39.6). Regardless, the 23-year-old (you read that correctly) is still shooting at a 44.0 percent clip on the season and has improved his free throw shooting to a career-high 86.4 percent.
While the Bucks certainly don’t have a player anywhere near the quality of George, Brandon Knight has done his share to keep Milwaukee in games of late. He’s riding an 11-game streak of scoring in double-digits and is averaging a season-high 21.6 points and 6.6 assists in the month of February.
O.J. Mayo has also shown some glimpses lately of the player Milwaukee hoped he would be after signing him to a four-year deal this offseason. After missing 10 games with the flu and subsequent conditioning issues, Mayo hit 7-of-9 from three against Philadelphia, giving him 10 three-pointers over the last three games. Sure, it’s a very small sample size – and the bulk of the production came against a team that may have proven to be even worse than Mayo’s own – but the Bucks will take any positive contributions from Mayo given his lackluster play for much of the season.
The Big Questions
1. Can the Bucks win the rebounding battle?
Over the first two matchups combined, Milwaukee holds a +8 rebounding advantage over the league’s third-best rebounding team. Perhaps more impressive is Milwaukee’s +13 advantage on the offensive boards. While neither stat has translated to a victory, containing Roy Hibbert and David West on the glass will be vital for Milwaukee to hang around in this one like it did on Saturday.
2. How much will John Henson play?
When Larry Sanders went down with the orbital fracture before the All-Star break, Henson was in line to be the primary beneficiary – if there was such a thing in this situation – in terms of playing time. Larry Drew has been hesitant to play the two together due to their similar abilities, but with Sanders out of the picture, plenty of minutes figured to open up for Henson. That has not necessarily been the case, as Henson hasn’t played more than 26 minutes over the last three games. Drew has opted for a more balanced rotation, essentially splitting the power forward/center minutes evenly among Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia, Jeff Adrien and Henson. While Ilyasova can be a fine player at times, Henson clearly holds the most upside of the frontcourt quartet. These final, ultimately meaningless, 27 games are an excellent opportunity for the second-year man to prove he’s capable of putting up the wild all-around lines we’ve occasionally seen in the past.
3. What about the new addition?
When these two teams met last weekend, Evan Turner was technically a member of the Pacers’ roster, though he was not in uniform. The former-Sixer played his first game in a yellow jersey Tuesday against the Lakers, scoring 13 points (6-12 FG) and grabbing six rebounds in 26 minutes. While Turner hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency throughout his three-year NBA career, he’s a significant upgrade from Danny Granger, who was shooting under 40 percent from the field. A case could be made that Turner would be Milwaukee’s best player, and he’ll serve as Indiana’s sixth or seventh man this season, barring an injury.
C – Roy Hibbert
PF – David West
SF – Paul George
SG – Lance Stephenson
PG – George Hill
C – Zaza Pachulia
PF – Ersan Ilyasova
SF – Khris Middleton
SG – Nate Wolters
PG – Brandon Knight
Scoring: 19th (99.1)
Scoring defense: 1st (91.0)
Rebounding: 3rd (45.7)
Assists: 24th (20.5)
Scoring: 29th (93.3)
Scoring defense: 23rd (102.1)
Rebounding: 25th (41.4)
Assists: 17th (21.1)
Points: Knight (17.0), George (22.7)
Assists: Knight (5.0), Stephenson (5.1)
Rebounds: Henson (7.9), Hibbert (7.6)
Blocks: Henson (2.1), Hibbert (2.5)
PER: Henson (18.7), George (21.1)
Nov. 15 Highlights
Feb. 22 Highlights