As was eminently predictable and feared by this observer, the Bucks could not come down from their Miami high in time to summon the requisite energy to win a division road game. Despite a valiant effort from shooting guard Monta Ellis (who again appeared to be the Buck best able to bounce back on the second night of a back-to-back) Milwaukee fell, 96-94, in Detroit. The Bucks will be happy to have two days off before playing again, as three tough contests await. Here’s a breakdown:
Wednesday vs. San Antonio: As good as the Spurs have been for so long, the Bucks have enjoyed some success and match up fairly well against them. The Bucks stayed with the Spurs for three quarters on Dec. 5 before San Antonio’s reserves keyed a decisive run. Milwaukee’s bench will have to produce similarly for the team to win. Milwaukee is capable of such results if it moves the ball and takes good shots as the Spurs do at their best. This also feels like a game to feature Ellis, who posted a triple-double in the first meeting. Brandon Jennings will expend a lot of energy attempting to keep Tony Parker out of the lane, and Ellis should be able to get his share against young guards Danny Green and Gary Neal. Milwaukee’s big men can contain Tim Duncan if they use their fouls wisely.
Friday vs. Houston: The Spurs’ division rivals appear on their way to relevance but short of contention at the moment. They’ve jumped over the re-building Mavericks in the Southwest but probably aren’t good enough to challenge San Antonio or Memphis, which likely leaves them in a battle for the eighth and final playoff spot down the stretch. Much like the Bucks, they’re a team looking to take that next step. Whether they do anytime soon depends on prize acquisition James Harden. Is he really a max player on a title contender? My eyes tell me he isn’t- at least not yet. The Rockets can score and rebound (third and seventh in the league, respectively), they just don’t defend very well (28th in points allowed per game). Still, Harden and point guard Jeremy Lin will get theirs, and the team could be 18-14 entering this game. The battle of the boards could decide things; Larry Sanders will have to out-muscle ex-Bull Omer Asik who grabs nearly 12 rebounds a game, for supremacy.
Saturday at Indiana: The Bucks fell to 2-1 in division road games and 2-6 in second games of back-to-back sets with their loss Sunday; they face both here. As of this writing, the Pacers sit in first despite the knee injury to Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert’s unproductiveness and injured wrist, a thin bench and generally mediocre play. All that said, expect Indiana’s best shot here. They have two defeats to avenge and are at home, which will partially mitigate tired legs from a game at Boston Friday. The Bucks may have Sanders on composure watch as he returns to the scene of his biggest meltdown. They need to control the glass to win; Sanders can not afford to get caught up in shenanigans with Hibbert, perpetual irritant Tyler Hansbrough or others.
This is definitely a week in which a 2-1 record would be considered successful. The finale is the most important of the three games, but the realistic path to a winning record is likely to protect the house.