Time: 1:30 pm (Phoenix time)
TV: NBA TV & Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns (18-40) try for their first win after the All-Star break against the Milwaukee Bucks (25-31).
The Bucks are 5-13 since the middle of January and have slipped two games behind the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot in the East. However, they did win three straight games going into the break before losing to the Utah Jazz on Friday.
The loss of Jabari Parker and his 20 points per game to a torn ACL is a significant blow to the Bucks’ chances this season, but they were sliding well before he went down. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to play at a ridiculous level, leading his team in points (23.5), rebounds (8.7), assists (5.4), steals (1.8), and blocks (1.9). After Antetokounmpo, though, the load is well distributed. Greg Monroe averages 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds off the bench. Khris Middleton, who will be playing in just his sixth game this season after tearing his left hamstring off the bone in September, has averaged 10.2 points since returning. Thon Maker and Michael Beasley have recently made their way into the starting lineup, with Beasley averaging 16.5 points since the move. Matthew Dellavedova reprises his role as pest with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Bucks while rookie Malcolm Brogdon — the only rookie to post a triple-double this season — continues his push to make All-Rookie First Team after being drafted 36th overall.
When looking at Milwaukee as a team, they appear pretty average. In fact, their point differential is effectively zero since they have outscored their opponents cumulatively by exactly one point this season (5,907 to 5,906), yet they sit six games below .500. That’s because they have struggled to close out close games. Twenty of their 56 games have been decided by six points or fewer, with 13 of those ending in losses. The Bucks are a good, young team, ranking in the top 10 for field goal percentage (47.7), 3-point percentage (37.1), assists (24.5), steals (8.4), and blocks (5.5). They just need to learn to close games out.
Points: Giannis Antetokounmpo (23.5)
Rebounds: Giannis Antetokounmpo (8.7)
Assists: Giannis Antetokounmpo (5.4)
The Suns opened the season’s home stretch in familiar fashion, losing to the Chicago Bulls in overtime 128-121 for their 40th loss after surrendering 20 points in the five-minute overtime period.
One thing that was unfamiliar was the rotations. Alex Len started at center over Tyson Chandler, and Alan Williams backed him up, leaving Chandler on the bench for his first DNP-CD of the season. Joining him there was Brandon Knight, who lost his usual bench role to Tyler Ulis. With those two guys out of the rotation, quality time was handed out to Marquese Chriss, Len, Ulis, Williams, and even Derrick Jones Jr. This move seems like a front office directive rather than a coaching decision, but it remains to be seen how long Earl Watson sticks with this rotation.
Points: Eric Bledsoe (21.5)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (11.4)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (6.3)
Dragan Bender (Suns): right ankle surgery (OUT)
Jabari Parker (Bucks): torn left ACL (OUT)
The Bucks destroyed the Suns in the first meeting in Phoenix, a 137-112 win that was more lopsided than the 25-point margin indicates.
Milwaukee is a dangerous offensive team, something the Suns hopefully learned back on Feb. 4. They are also a streaky team and will allow opponents back into games. The key to beating the Bucks is to maintain contact with them. Keeping the game close will expose their deficiencies when the pressure mounts in the 4th quarter. That’s easier said than done with such an unorthodox opponent, but failing to do so will just lead to another blowout.
T.J. Warren vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Warren will most likely receive the assignment of guarding Antetokounmpo, and it will be a good test for him without P.J. Tucker there to back him up. But Warren can’t forget about his own offense and needs to keep the pressure on Milwaukee by doing what he does best — moving without the ball. The more Warren spots up in the corner, the less effective he becomes. Get out of the corner, T.J., and run to the hoop.