MILWAUKEE BUCKS (32-34)
at LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (40-27)
Tip-off: Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: Los Angeles -8, Total: 210
A Western Conference road trip is testing Milwaukee’s recent hot streak.
The red-hot Milwaukee Bucks cooled down a bit on Monday night, as they were outscored in every quarter of a 113-93 loss in Memphis (MEM -4). The defeat snapped a six-game winning streak for the Bucks, who had also beaten the spread in every game during that stretch. Their recent run has put them back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and they’re half a game up on the Bulls and Heat for the 8 seed at 32-34 on the season (29-37 ATS). After a day off Tuesday, Milwaukee will take on the Clippers Wednesday night in the second leg of a six-game Western Conference road trip. After winning two straight against Memphis and Philadelphia, Los Angeles lost to the Jazz, their biggest competition for the West’s 4 seed, 114-108 on the road (UTA -2). At 40-27 (33-34 ATS), the Clippers now trail Utah by two games for that 4 seed, and home-court advantage in a potential first-round series between the two teams. Over the last five seasons, games played 42+ games into the year involving a team averaging at least 102 PPG and having scored at least 55 points in the first half of two straight games (LAC) and a team allowing at least 102 PPG (MIL) are 155-98 Under against the total. This season, the Bucks are 8-18 ATS in road games against teams that average at least six three-pointers made per game—the Clippers make 10.3 threes per game. Milwaukee SF Michael Beasley has missed the last eight games with a left knee sprain and is likely out at least another week.
In an up-and-down season for the Bucks, it’s hard not to think about the impact that injuries have had on the team. Beasley (9.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG) is the latest casualty, although he will be back in time for a potential playoff push. The real tragedy is PF Jabari Parker (20.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG), who was having a breakout season before sustaining a season-ending ACL tear 50 games into the year. The flip side of the coin, though, is SG Khris Middleton (14.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.1 SPG), who missed the first 50 or so games of the year before returning to action recently. He’s still working off some rust, but, encouragingly, has played at least 33 minutes in three straight games for the Bucks. Fortunately, star SF Giannis Antetokounmpo (23.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.9 BPG) has only missed one game this year (knock on wood), and has been a monster in all facets of the game. He is a small forward in name only, playing positionless basketball as perhaps the most unique of the league’s “unicorns.” He has been relatively quiet with 18 points in each of his last two games, but tore up the Knicks last Wednesday for 32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks. The team’s highest-paid player is C Greg Monroe (11.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG), who is looking increasingly like an anachronism in today’s NBA due to his plodding style of play and shoddy post defense. He plays less than 23 minutes per game. C John Henson (7.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.4 BPG) takes on rim-protection duties, while guards Malcolm Brogdon (10.0 PPG, 4.1 APG, 1.1 SPG), Tony Snell (8.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG) and Matthew Dellavedova (7.8 PPG, 5.0 APG) take on various perimeter roles. Brogdon is a Rookie of the Year candidate and had 15 points against Memphis.
It’s also been a tough year for injuries in Los Angeles, where the Clippers have gone long stretches without one or both of their stars, PG Chris Paul (18.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 9.3 APG, 2.1 SPG) and PF Blake Griffin (21.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 5.1 APG). This may be the last go-round for the team’s core, which also includes C DeAndre Jordan (12.3 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 1.7 BPG); getting beat by teams like Utah, let alone the likes of Golden State and San Antonio, does not bode well for the Clips’ chances of making a serious postseason run. They’ll need Griffin at his peak, which is not where he has been for the past week: He’s averaging 12.3 points per game on 12-of-33 shooting over his last three games, and he had a season-low eight points against the Jazz. Paul, however, has been fantastic in the same stretch. He scored 33 points, including five three-pointers, against Utah, and he’s averaging 27 and seven assists over his last three. He was the more recently injured of the two, and it’s encouraging to see him playing about as well as he ever has. Jordan is second in the league in rebounding, tied for eighth in blocked shots and, thanks to a shot portfolio that consists mostly of dunks, leading the league in field goal percentage (70.1%). He looked like his best self against the Sixers on Saturday, putting up 19 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. SGs J.J. Redick (14.6 PPG, 40.9 3P%) and Jamal Crawford (12.2 PPG) shoot more than anyone except Paul and Griffin, while PG Austin Rivers (12.2 PPG) continues to make improvements that not many saw coming. SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (5.9 PPG, 1.0 SPG) remains one of the most quiet starters in the league, statistically speaking. C Marreese Speights (9.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG) stretches the floor off the bench (38.0 3P%).