at SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Tip-off: Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: N/A, Total: N/A
How will Milwaukee look with Eric Bledsoe in the fold?The Spurs and Bucks appear to be in opposite situations, in a way. The Spurs are an older team with tons of experience, and they seem to win year in and year out regardless of circumstance. They do, however, appear to be perhaps a little more talent-poor than in years past this season. That is certainly the case for as long as they are without SF Kawhi Leonard, who was the league's MVP candidate in the preseason but has seen the timeline of his injury already go past what was widely expected. A four-game losing streak early in the year certainly didn't seem very Spurs-like. Milwaukee, on the other hand, has plenty of talent but little experience to call upon. They were a trendy pick to earn a home playoff berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs this seasonóand they very well still couldóbut they've begun their season by losing more than they've won. Milwaukee and San Antonio will meet on Friday night in San Antonio.
Days ago, the Bucks acquired disgruntled Suns PG Eric Bledsoe in exchange for C Greg Monroe and two draft picks. Friday figures to be his Milwaukee debut, and it will be interesting to see how he settles into this Milwaukee team. He brings a major talent injection and strong perimeter defense, but his fit on the offensive end is questionable. He's typically been a ball-dominant point guard throughout his career, but that won't be the case with SF Giannis Antetokounmpo running the show for the Bucks. Further, Bledsoe isn't a particularly good three-point shooter, which raises questions about just how effective he can be off the ball. Despite all that, it was a no-brainer move for Milwaukee because of how good Bledsoe has been throughout his career. He'll likely bump either G Malcolm Brogdon or G Tony Snell from the lineup, a duo that is red-hot from three this season at 48.8% and 53.8%, respectively. Meanwhile, ostensible marksman SF Khris Middleton is yet to heat up at only 26.9% in the early going. Head coach Jason Kidd recently bumped PF Thon Maker from the starting lineup for PF John Henson, so the Bledsoe addition will fit right into a recent pattern of lineup overhaul. Of course, the real story in Milwaukee is Antetokounmpo, who could very well be the league's MVP at season's end if the Bucks can cobble together a respectable record. Giannis has looked like a hybrid of Kevin Durant and Shaq this season, taking long strides to the basket and viciously outmuscling opponents once he gets there. He tends to step up in games against tougher opponents, so expect a big outing at San Antonio.
Some wondered if PF LaMarcus Aldridge's time was up in San Antonio after he played dismally in last year's playoffs, including probably Aldridge himself. But thanks to some honest communication with coach Gregg Popovich that has helped him become better utilized in the team's system, Aldridge has been pretty effective in leading the Spurs offense while Leonard and PG Tony Parker have been out with injuries for the entire season thus far. He's averaging far more than any other Spur at 22.5 PPG, leading the team with 8.3 RPG and even shooting 42.9% from three on about two attempts per game. In his previous two seasons in San Antonio, he averaged no more than 18.0 PPG. In the Spurs' most recent game, a 120-107 home win over the Clippers on Tuesday, he seriously outdueled Blake Griffin with 25 points to Griffin's 15. SF Rudy Gay is second on the team in scoring at 13.5 PPG, and he seems like an early favorite for Sixth Man of the Year. He's a natural fit here, where he can utilize his prodigious scoring habits without being allowed to indulge his ball hog tendencies. He had 22 against the Clippers, matching a season high. SG Danny Green and PF Pau Gasol each had outright season highs in that game with 24 and 19 points, respectively. Each is shooting exactly 40% from three on the season, with Green leading the team in attempts and Gasol shooting from out there about as much as Aldridge does. PG Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills split ball-handling duties in Parker's absence, but figure to maintain prominent roles even when he returns. The lanky Murray is averaging 6.0 RPG.