What: Phoenix Suns (33-28) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (42-17)
When: 11 a.m. AZ Time
Where: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Watch: Bally Sports AZ, ABC
Listen: 98.7 FM
A rematch of the 2021 NBA Finals will see the Phoenix Suns pinned against one of the elites of the NBA, under the ABC spotlight.
For Phoenix, this will be the first time Devin Booker will have played in Fiserv since the empty “damn,” that he let out following their Finals concluding game six loss two seasons ago. Nonetheless, it is a matchup I am sure they will value. Direct matchups, and cross-conference, especially in the final third of the season, serve as perfect opportunities to see how your cards stack up against others, especially when on the road.
Add the context of the Milwaukee Bucks 13-game win streak, and them playing their best ball of the season while still integrating major pieces to the fold, and the makings of a great litmus test.
· Chris Paul
· Devin Booker
· Josh Okogie
· Torrey Craig
· Deandre Ayton
· Jrue Holiday
· Jevon Carter
· Pat Connaughton
· Bobby Portis
· Brook Lopez
- Landry Shamet (foot) is OUT
- Kevin Durant (knee) is OUT
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) is OUT
- Wesley Matthews (calf) is OUT
What to Watch For
Milwaukee is presently on a 13-game win streak and has a record of 25-5 at home on the season.
Their offense in this window (124.5 per game) has largely served as an “in addition to” to their stingy and staunch defensive.
In this window, they’re allowing just 111.5 per game.
On the season, they are funneling actions toward the potential defensive player of the year, Brook Lopez, via his signature drop coverage (which, in turn, is a dynamic the Suns like to attack).
He sets up shop near or below the free-throw line, as their elite point of attack defenders, in Jrue Holiday and former Sun, Jevon Carter, wreak havoc on pick-and-roll initiators. Frequently coming after hounding ball handlers for 90+ feet after timeouts, made free throws, and made baskets, these two masterfully disrupt timing and navigate around picks, with active hands, and muddy the flow of pick-play.
Those two, along with Lopez in a drop, are so dependable that the Bucks have “really” stayed home on shooters around the perimeter, allowing pick-and-roll to serve as a two-on-two, forcing teams to take tough and heavily contested shots against their league-best rim protector.
Where many teams would “gap” off shooters to aid their pick-and-roll defense, the Bucks keep stay a step or two closer and entice opponents to test themselves in the midrange, or in the paint.
If there is a team in the NBA that is equipped to engage in tactical warfare with this defensive scheme, it is the Phoenix Suns, and their willingness and proficiency in operating from the midrange.
Paul, Booker, and Ayton will need to blitz the Bucks in the in-between ranges of the floor - in the varying scenarios of pick-and-rolls they run - to upend and bust the defensive base of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Specifically, with Paul and Ayton, this will be a game where the former’s patience and blatant seeking out of the latter - via their two-man game - could prove to bust the game open.
Even more, Paul has been really exaggerating his methodical prodding of the mid-range. Enabled by separation created as a byproduct of his patient and fundamental setting up for coming off screens with misdirection and change of pace, and aided even more so by high-IQ screening angles (!!!) by Ayton, Paul has been springboarded into the mid-range and been able to consistently engage drop defenders with cagey timing to draw them in to giving him attention - luring them into deep water - then exploiting the switch by attacking for himself or simply buying time for Ayton to get into his roll, or post up against a mismatch.
Sound On— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) February 14, 2023
Zooming in on the Paul-Ayton PnR
Patience & detail
↔️ Paul's scoring/passing blend
Ayton's screening (!!!) & short-roll scoring
The spacing Durant/Ross/Warren Jr bring in addition to whats already present
Full vid : https://t.co/CSn5lGpoC6 pic.twitter.com/JgSRpAj3pg
In this game of “basketball chess,” where the styles certainly make the fight, I'm curious as to who will “blink” first here, in making adjustments to what the other is doing
Will Lopez play at his typical depth in drop all game and control the paint? Or can Paul, Booker, and Ayton - via midrange baskets in a blend - force him to take steps away from the porch, and closer to the free-throw line?
Sidenote: The Bucks defense, on the season, is sixth in field goals allowed in the restricted area, 26th in field goals allowed in the paint (non-restricted area), tied for first in field goals allowed in the midrange, and second in fewest attempts allowed in the corners.
This shot profile allowed defensively speaks volumes to discipline and the looks they entice, versus the looks they take off the table for opponents. They strategically funnel actions to the least efficient shot in the NBA - where their best defenders are typically stationed - and take away the shots teams love to seek out.
Phoenix, even sans Kevin Durant, is tailor-made to test the Bucks defense in a manner most teams aren't equipped to do so.
Keys to a Suns Win
- The efficiency of the shot that helps them upend defenses, in the midrange. Paul pull-ups, especially after engaging Lopez via snake dribbles and forcing late-switches, Booker fadeaways, and Ayton short-roll scoring via floaters and his pound dribble combinations will need to be efficient.
- Multiple efforts on the glass will be needed as well, as the Bucks are averaging an astronomical 53.2 rebounds per game. Relative to team season stats, that would outpace themselves at the top of the league.
- Lastly, at the very least, off-setting the bench scoring of the Bucks will be a major key. Even with Giannis likely out, and a piece of that group mixed in more with the starters, they still will have a handful of players that can fill it up in scoring.
- More high activity and swarming defensive efforts, especially from the wing group
The Suns will garner yet another impressive road win against an elite of the Eastern Conference, behind elite pick-and-roll play setting advantages for them to create offense out of.