What: Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks
When: 7:00 p.m. MT
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM/1400 AM (Spanish)
Bucks: Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Mirotic, Brook Lopez
Suns: Tyler Johnson, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dragan Bender, Deandre Ayton
Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov likely hasn’t seen his team execute as well as they did Saturday in a home victory over Los Angeles in weeks. Kokoskov wanted to see his team control the pace — limiting turnovers and getting back in transition — as well as flex their size advantage over the Lakers’ small, offense-first starting unit. Phoenix checked every box in a victory that was huge for the team’s psyche.
115.1 ORtg (2nd) - 105.2 DRtg (2nd) = plus-9.9 netRtg (1st)
The description I’ve heard lately that most aptly suits the blossoming behemoth the Bucks have cultivated up north is a “sleeping giant.” This team is compared with the 2014-15 Warriors, a group that took the final step toward championship contention quickly and surprised all of us by winning a title.
Now, those same Warriors with Kevin Durant remain at the top of the league, waiting for any newcomer to challenge them, with the earned belief they can squelch any uprising from another perky contender. Just as Golden State crunched the Rockets last year, they must believe they can do the same to the Bucks this season if they meet them in June.
Milwaukee rebounds well, doesn’t foul, jacks a ton of 3s and uses the battering ram of Antetokounmpo to decimate set defenses. They’re incredibly tough to beat, though the Suns have the benefit of seeing them at less than full strength.
Bledsoe is dealing with back soreness but is not on the injury report for tonight’s game, while Malcolm Brogdon missed Saturday’s loss to Utah with a foot injury and his status has yet to be announced.
Of course, the Suns did beat the Bucks back on Nov. 23 thanks to a historically poor shooting night from Lopez and some fourth quarter heroics from Jamal Crawford. This team look vastly different than they did in November, however. Mirotic is a huge upgrade and veteran Pau Gasol, fresh off a buyout agreement with San Antonio, could make his Bucks debut tonight as well.
105.1 ORtg (28th) - 115.1 DRtg (29th) = minus-10.0 netRtg (29th)
This game will come down to how the Suns defend Antetokounmpo. Phoenix actually has the length and athleticism to match the physical advantages of the rest of Milwaukee’s roster, but they have no answer for Antetokounmpo.
In the teams’ last matchup, Antetokounmpo shot 14-16 from the field on his way to 35 points. If it weren’t for Lopez’s 3-17 night, Milwaukee would have walked away with an easy victory. Even with that uncharacteristic dud from Lopez, the Bucks only lost by two. The Suns must be aggressive on Antetokounmpo to have a chance.
Three players who were not much of a factor back in November will give the Suns options on Monday night: Oubre, Ayton and Bridges. We saw Ayton defend LeBron James for nearly the entire game on Saturday, limiting the GOAT’s ability to get to the basket and put pressure on the Suns’ defense. He could be set for a similar challenge Monday.
This would allow Oubre, who was fantastic getting his “body behind the ball,” as Kokoskov says (rotating to protect the rim when Ayton is out on the perimeter), to do more of the same on Monday. Oubre is at his best when he use his athleticism and instincts to make big plays on defense, and we might see him start out defending Lopez, with Bender on Mirotic, to get back to what worked Saturday.
Whew. This one is going to be a huge challenge. Milwaukee is a well-oiled machine and the Suns are an inexperienced squad that beat themselves far too often. Phoenix needs to be perfect to have a shot.
Prediction: Bucks 125, Suns 110