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Preview: Suns square off against MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks

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The Bucks just beat the Trail Blazers by 43. The Suns just lost to the Bulls. This might get ugly.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

When Eric Bledsoe forced his way out of Phoenix to a contender by tweeting out his frustrations, it led him eventually to Milwaukee as a sidekick to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. However, before that deal was ever done, the Suns were insistent on having Malcolm Brogdon come back to Phoenix in return for Bledsoe.

Well, as we all know, that didn’t happen. Now, the Bucks have both starting in the backcourt while the Suns have no starting-caliber point guard over a year later.

Right there is another indicator of just how long this situation without a viable replacement to Bledsoe has dragged on for. Will there be an end in sight, or will the Suns continuously keep trotting out Isaiah Canaan into the starting lineup, even though swapping out him for Mikal Bridges swings their entire unit?

Both Phoenix and Milwaukee are going different directions this season, and now they square off on Black Friday.

Probable starters:

Suns - Isaiah Canaan, Devin Booker, Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren, Deandre Ayton

Bucks - Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

Suns

OffRtg = 102.3 (27th), DefRtg = 112.5 (29th), NetRtg = -10.1 (30th)

If the Suns want any shot of maintaining competitiveness against Milwaukee, a smart play would be deploying the Point Book lineup once more that we saw on Monday in Philadelphia. The Bucks are one of the longest teams in the NBA, and allowing Bridges to guard Middleton or Giannis might be their best bet.

As we saw on Wednesday, though, head coach Igor Kokoskov inexplicably went back to starting Canaan and it backfired. Canaan again was one of the worst players in the Suns’ rotation, while Bridges singlehandedly kept the Suns in the game during the third quarter. You would hope it clicks sometime soon for Kokoskov that Bridges needs to stay in the starting lineup, but I’m doubtful it’s a change that’s actually made until a subsequent move is made (ex: trading Trevor Ariza to a contender in January).

In the meantime, the x-factors for tonight’s game against this juggernaut team would be an aggressive scoring mentality from both Booker and Ayton. Not only will Booker need to chip in 30 or more points, but the Suns’ No. 1 pick actually has to be demanding the ball when he’s going on that end. In the second half of Wednesday’s contest, Ayton only took five shot attempts. That has to change immediately, but, again, this could be tied back to the Suns’ pure lack of playmaking on their roster.

Phoenix tends to fall in a hole fast, so it could be more of the same tonight. As you can tell, I would be stunned if they kept this one close, especially when you consider the motivation from the coach on the other side.

Bucks

OffRtg = 115.7 (1st), DefRtg = 103.4 (4th), NetRtg = +12.3 (1st)

What a difference a coaching hire makes, right? After Budenholzer spurned the Suns, using them as leverage to get the Bucks job, he has transformed this team into one of the most dangerous teams. Not only are they taking three-pointers at an astronomically high rate, but they also get to the rim at will and play at a blistering pace.

The player who’s leading that charge is a likely MVP candidate, and possible winner depending on what happens this season, in Giannis. So far this season, The Greek Freak is averaging 26.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks while carrying a true shooting percentage of 60.1. Those are LeBron-like numbers.

And at the moment, I would say Antetokounmpo should be the favorite alongside Joel Embiid. That should be a tight race, too.

We all know what to expect out of Antetokounmpo, but how about his crime partners? Middleton and Bledsoe have tapped into their two-way upside this season behind Budenholzer’s revamped system. All three will likely be All-Stars in the Eastern Conference this season.

By the way, with the Suns maintaining flexibility for max cap space this offseason, a name who I think should be getting consideration is Middleton. Ideally, he would slide in right between Booker and Mikal Bridges, forming a lethal scoring trio with Ayton anchoring down low. Don’t be surprised if the Bucks are forced to give Middleton a max, because they can’t afford to lose him and teams will be chomping at the bit to acquire him.

Nowadays in a Budenholzer offense, Middleton is looking more and more like a discount Klay Thompson. Adding that in on the wing in Phoenix would be fun, but, as mentioned, it’s very unlikely to happen. Don’t be surprised if the Suns are linked to Middleton if Milwaukee doesn’t ink him to an extension before July 1.

Even though LeBron James bolted to the Los Angeles Lakers leaving a hole in the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee has stepped up to the plate with a new MVP candidate. The Bucks are a formidable foe now to teams like Toronto and Boston. It’s setting up to be an unpredictable playoffs for the first time in years.

Prediction

After Budenholzer left the Suns at the altar earlier in the offseason before they settled on Kokoskov, I’m expecting a game where running up the score is a major possibility. Following the Bucks’ thumping of the Trail Blazers on Wednesday by 43 points, Phoenix could be in for a rude awakening.

We saw an unreal performance from Booker against a much better roster last season when he dropped 46 points on the Sixers’ heads. The Suns’ new $158 million dollar man will have to another unreal scoring binge for them to pull this one off.

Not only will Budenholzer have his roster motivated, but Giannis is going to have a field day going up against a team where nobody has a chance of stopping him one-on-one. Also, Middleton tends to go off himself whenever he plays against the Suns, so 25-plus points chipped in from him wouldn’t be a surprise either.

I think this game will lose competitiveness rather quickly as the Bucks cruise to an easy victory over the Suns.

Bucks 135, Suns 112