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Meandering road trip continues as Phoenix Suns face off with Milwaukee Bucks

No Antetokounmpo, but Bledsoe awaits

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns at Milwaukee Bucks

Time: 6 pm (Phoenix time)

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


The Phoenix Suns are back in action and so are Holidays with Deadpoolio! Today is, apparently, Dance of the Seven Veils Day. Even though there is scant documentation on this holiday in general, the Internet mentioned it once or twice, so that’s good enough for me. I, personally, cannot wait to spend all day celebrating this particular holiday and to do so in front of every open window in my house. For those unfamiliar with the Dance of the Seven Veils and who are unwilling to use their imaginations, YouTube has you covered. Now just put my head on top of what you see there…and allow that image to haunt your dreams.

The Phoenix Suns (17-29) continue this drawn-out road trip with a visit to Wisconsin to take on Eric Bledsoe and the Milwaukee Bucks (23-22).

Bucks Update

The Bucks are playing shorthanded again, missing all-everything forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. They fell handily to the Philadelphia 76ers without him on Saturday and have dropped four out of their last five games.

Without Antetokounmpo and his gaudy numbers (28.2 points, 10.1 rebounds), the Bucks will need big efforts from the supporting cast. Khris Middleton is averaging 20.1 points per game and recorded the first triple-double of his career against Philadelphia two nights ago (23 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists). The other key supporting cast member is Eric Bledsoe, who has averaged 17.6 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.2 steals since being traded from Phoenix to Milwaukee in November. The Bucks have gone 19-16 since Bledsoe’s addition. The status of reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon is up in the air after missing Saturday’s game due to personal reasons, and that will leave head coach Jason Kidd patching his roster as he goes along. Tony Snell and Sterling Brown each played heavy minutes as starters in their last game, but Snell only averages 8.2 points while Brown has only averaged 10.7 minutes over his 20 appearances this season. John Henson has taken most of the time as the starting center, as Thon Maker has failed to progress from his rookie year. The Bucks might be using a short bench tonight.

Milwaukee as a team owns a top-five shooting percentage overall (47.8 percent) but a bottom-five percentage from behind the arc (34.9 percent). They at least recognize their strengths and weaknesses in that regard, as the Bucks attempt the fifth-fewest 3-pointers per game at 24.6. They also commit the sixth-fewest turnovers per game (13.8) and rank in the top 10 for both steals per game (8.4) and blocks per game (5.1). Their rebounding, however, is atrocious. They rank 29th in both offensive rebounds (7.8) and defensive rebounds (30.8) and dead last for total rebounds (38.6). The Bucks also allow opponents to shoot 47.2 percent from the floor against them and 38.1 percent from 3 — both near the bottom of the NBA.

Team Leaders

Points: Giannis Antetokounmpo (28.2)

Rebounds: Giannis Antetokounmpo (10.1)

Assists: Giannis Antetokounmpo (4.6)

Suns Update

The Suns are coming off a solid effort against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, defeating them 108-100 in Denver. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak and gave Phoenix its first road win in the month of January.

Devin Booker recorded the 35th game of his career with 30 or more points last Friday, but he wasn’t the sole catalyst behind the win. T.J. Warren’s return from injury provided the ‘2’ in the 1-2 scoring punch, adding an important 25 points on efficient shooting. The bench also came up big, chipping in 44 points on 51.6-percent shooting (including 9 of 16 from 3). If not for Jared Dudley’s 1-of-6 shooting that night, both percentages would have been in the 60s. Marquese Chriss continues to be held out with his hip injury, providing Dragan Bender with experience as a starter. He has struggled to find his offense in his four starts for Chriss, averaging just 5.8 points on 30.8-percent shooting, but to his credit, Bender has grabbed 7.3 boards over these past four games compared to his average of 3.1 entering this stretch as a starter.

Phoenix allows the most points per game in the NBA at 112.2. Adjusted for pace, they still rank 29th at 109.4 per 100 possessions — just a smidge better than the Cleveland Cavaliers at 109.5. The Suns rank 21st in the league in opponent field goal percentage at 46.8 percent and 19th in opponent 3-point percentage at 36.6 percent. Those numbers aren’t horrible, but there has been slippage here in January (48.5 percent overall, 38.3 percent from 3) from December (45.6 percent overall, 33 percent from 3). With them being an inexperienced team, Jay Triano needs to get his players locked back in on the defensive principles he’s tried to instill.

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (25.3)

Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.8)

Assists: Devin Booker (4.6)

Injury Report

Marquese Chriss (Suns): strained right hip flexor (OUT)

Brandon Knight (Suns): torn left ACL (OUT)

Alan Williams (Suns): torn right meniscus (OUT)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks): right knee soreness (OUT)

Malcolm Brogdon (Bucks): personal (QUESTIONABLE)

Jabari Parker (Bucks): torn left ACL (OUT)

Mirza Teletovic (Bucks): pulmonary emboli (OUT)

Game Preview

The Bucks came away with the win back on Nov. 22 in Phoenix, leaving with a 113-107 win in overtime after Booker sank a deep turnaround 3 to tack on five minutes of free basketball. Antetokounmpo did not play in that meeting as well, but Middleton (40 points) and Bledsoe (30 points, seven assists) were instrumental in knocking off the Suns. The win moved Milwaukee to 9-8 at the time, and they’ve played .500 ball ever since.

With so many key players in street clothes for Milwaukee tonight, the Suns have an excellent chance to escape with a victory. They must make Middleton and Bledsoe work on both ends of the court, as the offense will assuredly run through them with few options remaining. If the Suns can force inefficient games from them, they will likely come away with the win. If the Suns allow them to have free rein, however, Bledsoe might just go two for two against his former club.

Key Matchup

Tyler Ulis vs. Eric Bledsoe

This game might not have as much significance as the meeting on Nov. 22 did for Bledsoe, but he certainly doesn’t want to drop a game against Phoenix on his new home court. Whether or not that happens will fall largely on the defense from the Suns’ point guards, and since Ulis remains the starter over Isaiah Canaan, he will be the focus. Bledsoe is a cannonball when he wants to be, so Ulis will need to be prepared to use his quickness to combat Bledsoe’s brute strength advantage with peskiness. One thing the Suns cannot afford to see happen is Bledsoe penetrating to the rim at will all night. If Ulis cannot keep Bledsoe away from the basket, Canaan needs to be prepared for an extended run tonight.

Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)

The Phoenix Suns have never had a season where they didn’t record at least one 20-point victory. Through their first 46 games this season, they have zero 20-point victories.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.