Milwaukee at Cleveland
Time: 6 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: CLE -7.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Milwaukee is without starting forward Jabari Parker, who was lost for the season to his second-career ACL tear. Th Bucks have plodded along going 5-5 through its past 10 games, but Milwaukee still sits a full game behind No. 8 Detroit for the final playoff spot in the East. The Bucks are 13-18 on the road this season as they travel to face the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland is 25-6 at home this season and 7.5 point favorites according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.
The Bucks recently returned Khris Middleton, but losing Parker was a substantial blow. Questions will linger as to whether Parker can return at the high level at which he was playing prior to sustaining the injury. The Bucks’ future looms in the balance. Even with Giannis Antetokounmpo showing all the signs of a franchise player and defining talent, Parker was the perfect complementary forward to Giannis’ playmaking and overall dominance.
While Parker has not been billed to be a good defender, his point production is sorely missed from a Bucks team that averages 105.4 points per game. Milwaukee counted on Parker for 20 of those points, and now the onus falls on Greg Monroe to account for the missing production.
Middleton, too, is rounding into shape as a fringe All-Star talent. Over his six games he has averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 assists, but he did really shine the past three games in averaging 26 minutes per game. Against the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 15, Middleton had 20 points on 7 of 13 shooting while dishing seven assists and grabbing three boards. His overall brilliance is crucial to the team, but the bad news is that at least for tonight, Middleton will be resting.
The Bucks are trying to both bring him back slow and remain in the playoff chase, which is no small task. But perhaps the reason is because this game in Cleveland presents such a daunting task even with his services, that it can somewhat be written off as a “schedule loss,” at this point. The problem is Milwaukee cannot allot too many such games to that circumstance if it is to make the postseason this year.
Key in the Bucks’ ability to tread water sans Middleton has been the play of rookie guard Malcolm Brogdon. With Joel Embiid possibly due to miss most of the rest of the season, Brogdon has become the de facto choice for the Rookie of the Year award, and this comes after having fallen into the second round as a four-year player from Virginia.
Brogdon has brought his tough-nosed defensive style to a team it fits in well with, but perhaps the bigger surprise has been just how good he has been on the offensive end. He had 15 points and seven assists in the 100-96 win over Phoenix last night, and over his past five games he is averaging 11 points, 4.6 assists and 0.8 steals per game—a slight uptick over his 9.5 points and 4.2 assists on the season. He has come into the league mature enough to be a key figure on a playoff team, and his 25.5 minutes attest to the value he has in an otherwise somewhat mediocre backcourt.
Middleton rounding into shape pairs nicely with Brogdon, while Tony Snell and Matthew Dellavedova both can have their moments of being rotation-worthy NBA talents. No matter what the case, the Bucks sport so much length on the frontline and developing lottery pick Then Maker remains atop the Bucks’ priority list for the remainder of the season.
With Parker out for the year, Maker has absorbed the starting role, but not necessarily the starter’s minutes. He saw just 14 last contest and has struggled to find minutes after initially running with the first 5. Maker has shown flashes, but at this point it is still difficult to say he deserves the minutes over forward John Henson.
Henson is more well-versed in the defensive rotations and often is the best defensive big for the Bucks, which otherwise trot out the cumbersome Greg Monroe (who scores plenty well at 11.5 points per game).
Henson is seeing 20 minutes a night and averaging seven points, five rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, but his overall impact can be bigger, too, with Parker out. Jabari Parker attempted 16 field goals a game, and that has to be divided amongst the Bucks remaining scorers in some type of fashion. As to how, that is still being settled.
Cleveland is coming off a 117-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls, and the Cavaliers are still without Kevin Love for about another month. At 40-17, perhaps that is not overly concerning. Cleveland should be able to maintain its lead atop the Eastern Conference, and even if it fails to, the Cavs still have a locked and loaded LeBron James to give them an edge over the rest of the fodder in the Eastern Conference.
Last game against Chicago, however, James was not available and it required Kyrie Irving to basically assume the role he did before James and Love ever came to town. Irving shot 13 of 25 en route to 34 points, seven assists and nine rebounds, but the near-triple-double was not enough with only two other Cavs even hitting double figures (Channing Frye with 11 and James Jones with 14 off the bench).
Cleveland shot 46.3 percent and turned it over just 12 times, but it held a negative-7 difference on the glass and forced just seven Bulls turnovers the entire game.
The typical Cavs defense was not in effect without James, and while Cleveland has made some intriuging moves to add depth, it merely needs to tread water until Love returns.
The Cavs added both Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut to its bench, moves which gives LeBron his “****ing playmaker” and the Cavaliers a strong body (and six fouls) off its bench in Bogut. Williams has been lulled into something of a career sleep, so perhaps James’ brilliance can awaken and revitalize him in much the same manner it has forward Derrick Williams.
Williams, a former No. 2 overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves, seemingly has found a home in Cleveland. He had eight points, four rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes, and his role seems to fit well in as an energy player off the bench. While he may never live up to that No. 2 overall billing, it seems clear he can function as a vital rotation player even on a contending club like Cleveland.