Monday, January 4, 2016

Bucks vs. Spurs - What to Watch For

The Bucks 

Milwaukee returns home from a successful four game roadie.  At least, I would call it successful.  They beat the Pacers, who are good, and the Timberwolves, who Timberwolves fans thought might be getting good.  The Bucks lost to the Mavs and Thunder, who are both very good.

Returning home from a successful road trip is trouble in the NBA.  Betting against teams that are returning home from successful roadies is a longstanding betting angle in the NBA.  And with the Bucks standing as ten point underdogs, I can't give you the old, "well they could miss covering the spread and still win the game," line.

Normally I am skeptical of betting "trends", but betting against an NBA team in their return from a successful roadie makes sense.  A successful roadie usually means that the partying gets amped up, which can lead to less sleep.  Once home, the players get to sleep.  Sleep is usually a good thing, but when you're not sleeping and you're having success, usually you experience a lull during that initial period of getting sleep.  Maybe we'll get lucky and the Bucks will have stayed up late partying last night because the Packers managed to avoid playing the Seahawks.

The Opponent

What can you say about the Spurs that hasn't been said about Imperial Japan?

Kidding!

Seriously, the Spurs have been the Spurs, but moreso.  They just swept a four-game homestand and they haven't lost a game by more than four points in a month and a half.  They're on a 19-3 run and only four of those wins have been by single digits.  They've lost to a grand total of one team that has a losing record, Kawhi Leonard is in the top three of the MVP race (along with Steph and Durant) and they can play eleven guys without losing steam.  They are a vicious, methodical force of basketball destruction.

There is some good news: San Antonio is only 9-6 on the road and Tony Parker will be out tonight.

The Matchup

Now seems like a good time to mention the elephant in the room: I'm back after two months off!

I was going to ignore my lengthy sabbatical, but I bring it up because during my absence a very unexpected thing has happened to the Bucks' offense: Michael Carter-Williams has become our best option.  I literally just shook my head at what I just typed, but it's true.  There's the odd night where Monroe has a juicy matchup, but overall the Bucks work best when Michael-Cartier (as I've come to call him) pushes the ball in the open court and gets to the lane in the half court.

The Bucks need Michael-Cartier to be at his best tonight.  Monroe's matchup with Aldridge is less-than-likely to be advantageous.  The Greek works best as a helper; not as the main guy.  Middleton has become a solid option on the block, but not against Kawhi.  And Jabari... I'll just stay away from talking about Jabari for a little while longer.

When on defense, Milwaukee loves to trap.  Now, the Spurs are a veteran team and veteran teams adjust better than young teams.  Last season the pre-Michael-Cartier Bucks surprised the Spurs in San Antonio and nearly got the duke.  In the second Bucks/Spurs game last season the Spurs controlled the game, shot 50% and only had eight turnovers.  I'm not much of a stats guy, but those stats happen to tell the story of the game: trapping didn't work too well against the Spurs.

I expect the Bucks to keep the trapping to a minimum and focus on closing out the perimeter instead. Tim Duncan seems to still be recovering from a sore knee, Parker is out and Manu isn't the penetration threat he once was.  The Spurs still have plenty of shooters.  My sense is that Coach Joe & his staff will accept a layup or two if it means keeping those Spurs shooters quiet.

The Verdict

I'll be watching most, if not all, of this game.  The Spurs are a fun team and they usually play attractive basketball (read: not just a bunch of B.S. threes).  It would be a stretch for me to predict a Bucks victory against a great veteran team like this, even at home.  I will, however, be on Twitter tonight using the #Bucks hashtag.  Join the conversation and chat with me @benmiller.

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