San Antonio Spurs vs. Milwaukee BucksAT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
January 19, 2014 6:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
San Antonio has gone 8-2 over their last 10 games, lead the Western Conference with 31 wins, and the only thing many people want to talk about is the Spurs' struggles against the top-flight competition around the NBA this season. So far, the defending Western Conference Champions are 1-7 against the other top seven teams in the NBA, and that trend continued on Friday night with a home-loss to Portland. What the Spurs have done well this season is beat the teams they are supposed to beat, and San Antonio faces one of those teams tonight when the Milwaukee Bucks roll into town a night after losing to the Houston Rockets.
Mid-season Kawhi Leonard development update
Viewed by many as an ideal candidate to reach the next echelon of on-court performance, Leonard's production (at first glance) has largely mirrored that of last season. Here's why Kawhi's subtle stagnation shouldn't really alarm Spurs fans at all.
Going into the Rockets game, Milwaukee is the definition of struggling team. They are the only team in the NBA without at least 10 wins with just seven. They've also lost eight in a row and are 1-9 in the last 10 games. The Bucks are putrid on offense, averaging just 91.6 points per game, good for last in the NBA and on Wednesday in a loss to Memphis, the Bucks scored just 77 points. Milwaukee is 24th in rebounds per game, 19th in assists per game and 13th in the league in points allowed per game.
If the Bucks do have an offensive weapon, it is point guard Brandon Knight - who scored 27 of the Bucks' 77 points in the Memphis loss. He is surrounded by offensively challenged players in the starting lineup, forcing him to be more attacker than facilitator. Guys like Larry Sanders, Luke Ridnour, Ersan Ilyasova and Giannis Antetokounmpo have names tougher to spell than games tougher to guard. Caron Butler and John Henson can provide some scoring off of the bench, but O.J. Mayo has been hampered with injury and only played seven minutes against Minnesota. He logged thirty minutes last night against the Rockets.
Milwaukee had a plan coming into the season, but injuries and a few disappointments have left the Bucks struggling to find consistency on the floor. The rotations and lineups have changed so often that no chemistry has been built on the offensive side of the ball. Milwaukee has a weak 1.4 assist-to-turnover rate, and the Bucks shoot poorly from nearly everywhere on the floor. The team hits just 41 percent of its shots and 34.7 percent from behind the three-point line, averaging about 20 attempts behind the arc per game.
This is one of those January games that will allow Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to play with his rotations, limit minutes and see what the guys on his bench can do for longer stretches throughout the game. There is literally nowhere on the floor that the Spurs don't have the advantage and that extends far beyond the starting lineups.
Despite being on polar opposite sides of the NBA spectrum both teams are playing for the summer. The Spurs are playing to be ready for a playoff run that will hopefully end in one more win than last season, and the Bucks are playing to figure out what to do in the upcoming draft and offseason.
Matchup to watch: A hobbled Tony Parker looked a step slow against Portland, and Milwaukee's Brandon Knight is the lone player on the court for the Bucks that can cause any true havoc. San Antonio's ability to keep him out of the lane will determine the level of success Milwaukee can have on the offensive side of the court because this is not a great shooting team to say the least.
If this game goes according to plan, there doesn't seem like much incentive to watch on the surface. And on the Spurs' level, that's probably true. They should be able to come in and demolish the Bucks easily, and there will be little to gain from that because these teams' abilities have such a gap between them. However, if you're a fan of the NBA as a whole, and enjoy watching young prospects with lots of potential, make sure to keep an eye on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Greek Freak wasn't expected to play much in the NBA this year when he was drafted 15th overall in June. But because the Bucks were so awful, they decided to bring him over and see what he could do. And while he hasn't put up huge numbers consistently, he has shown flashes of potential through the season.
Antetokounmpo is 6'9" tall, but has a 7'3" wingspan, making it easier for him to get to the rim. That length also gives him tremendous defensive potential, not only in isolation defense, but in his ability to recover on the weakside and get blocks. He's still extremely raw on both sides of the floor, but his basketball instincts have shown to be good so far. And if that doesn't interest you, then try reading his blog posts, which BrewHoop has translated from a Greek NBA site into English. His humble-yet-confident attitude mixed with a charismatic kid on his own in life for the first time makes him an easy character to root for. So, if for no other reason, watch the game tonight to see your new favorite rookie in action for the first time.
Game Prediction: Spurs by a lot. The scoreboard might break.
Opening line in Vegas: Spurs by 16, line after Tony Parker was ruled out, 15
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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