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Game Preview: Phoenix Suns at Milwaukee Bucks, try to out-Middleton the Middletons

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Can the Suns redeem their earlier loss to the Bucks at home?

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks

When: Tuesday, January 6th 6 p.m. MST

Where: BMO Harris Center: Milwaukee, WI

Watch: NBATV/FSAZ


Tonight, the Phoenix Suns (20-16) will take on one of the more surprising teams in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks (18-17) who are currently sixth in the standings.

The Suns are coming off a strong win over the reeling Toronto Raptors, and are looking to start a new winning streak after beating the Sixers and the Raptors in the previous 2 games. The Bucks, meanwhile, are still adjusting to the loss of rookie small forward Jabari Parker, who is out with a severe knee injury, and starting center Larry Sanders who, according to the latest reports, has told the Bucks he has no further interest in playing basketball. Despite these setbacks, the Bucks won their last game convincingly against the listless Knicks, 95-82.

These teams met earlier this season in Phoenix. In that game, the Bucks came out the victor, 96-94, behind strong performances from Brandon Knight, who had 20 points, and the bench, who combined had 50 points. The Suns' bench, in contrast, had just 34 points.

The key player for the Bucks this season has arguably been Brandon Knight, who is having a career year, averaging 18 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds per game. Almost equally impressive has been the play of the Greek Freak who, while not putting up the numbers of Knight, has had a similar impact on the ability of the Bucks to win games.

Probable Lineups

Team
Suns
Bucks
PG
Eric Bledsoe
Brandon Knight
SG
Goran Dragic
Giannis Antetokounmpo
SF
P.J. Tucker
Khris Middleton
PF
Markieff Morris
Johnny O'Bryant
C
Alex Len
Zaza Pachulia

Injuries: Bucks: Jabari Parker: Out (knee); Larry Sanders: Out (personal reasons); Ersan Ilyasova: Unlikely (no official word).  Suns: None

What To Watch For

  • Dealing with Giannis - Giannis has developed into something of a monster defensively, and he almost always takes the opposing teams most threatening scorer as his defensive assignment. If Coach Kidd decides that is one of the guards, Giannis' ridiculous length could pose a serious problem. It will be important for guys being guarded by the lesser defenders (Knight, Bayless, Mayo, and Middleton) to step up and score, forcing Giannis to play more help defense and freeing up his primary assignment to do more.
  • Len vs. Zaza- In the last game, Alex Len really struggled, both offensively and defensively, against the Bucks two-headed center rotation of Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia. With Sanders out, the offense should hopefully come easier, as Zaza has never been a great defender. However, more importantly, Len needs to show more defensive chops against Zaza this time. Pachulia is a savvy scorer, and he put up 13 points on 6/9 shooting. He's also been on a bit of a tear since Sanders went out.
  • Creating Clean Scoring Looks - The Bucks have been a great defensive team this season, and it showed in the last matchup, where the Suns shot just 40% from the field. If the Suns want to win this game, they're going to need to create more clean looks, particularly from beyond the arc. They're also going to need to avoid turnovers - the Bucks are the third best team in the league at forcing opponent turnovers.

Prediction:

I know the team had to have been unhappy with that loss earlier in the season, and I have to imagine they're likely to come out hungry for this one. At the same time, this isn't the Bucks team that beat them earlier in the year. Without Jabari Parker and Larry Sanders, and with Ersan Ilyasova likely still out, I just don't know how this team can compete with the Suns. The only chance I see the Bucks having is if Zaza Pachuila continues his strong play and is able to take advantage of Alex Len and put up big numbers. But I think it would take really, really big numbers. I just don't see it happening.

Suns 105, Bucks 90

Assorted Tidbits

  • For those interested, a draft favorite of many BrightSiders this past draft, Damien Inglis, who was drafted by the Bucks, recently underwent season ending knee surgery. The Bucks hope to have him return healthy next year.
  • Ersan Ilyasova, the stretch-4 who has been such a big part of the Bucks organization over recent seasons, is still out after suffering a concussion and a broken facial bone earlier in the season. He has not technically been ruled out for the game, but it seems unlikely he will play.
  • After a pretty stupendous rookie year in which he had many pundits talking about him as a dark horse rookie of the year candidate, combo guard Nate Wolters has piled up an astounding 25 DNP-CDs this season under new coach Jason Kidd. The Bucks played 15 games in the month of December, of which Wolters appeared in just 4.