PHOENIX — The last time the Milwaukee Bucks won a basketball game in the city of Phoenix, Grant Hill was a freshman in high school, Steve Nash was a middle schooler and Robin Lopez and Markieff Morris were not even born yet.
Indeed the last 23 seasons the Milwaukee Bucks entered the Valley of the Sun, they exited with a loss, dating back to Feb. 21, 1987. That’s the second-longest active home winning streak in the NBA, trailing only San Antonio’s 27-game run over Golden State that nearly ended this past week, and the second-longest in franchise history. The Suns can tie that mark of 24 straight home wins over Sacramento from 1988-98 with a victory tonight.
But don’t try telling Alvin Gentry that has any bearing on tonight.
“To be honest with you guys, I don’t care if they didn’t win during the Millard Fillmore administration,” Gentry said. “All I know is that we’re playing this team tonight, and that’s the only thing that matters. These guys weren’t born when the other ones lost, so it doesn’t matter how many games they lost here or whatever, I just know we’re playing this team tonight and this is the team we have to beat.”
The Bucks enter this game cold on the season as well, having lost four in a row on their Western road trip that concludes tonight in Phoenix.
Just like on Friday against Portland, a weary opponent will be invading US Airways Center tonight. The Bucks dropped a 92-86 game at the Clippers last night that started at 8:30 p.m. Arizona time, so like the Blazers they arrived in Phoenix in the wee hours of the morning. The Bucks have also played three games in four days and five in seven this week on their trip.
The team has been without star center Andrew Bogut the past three games and will be tonight as well as Bogut is currently on his way back from his home country of Australia where he returned to take care of some “personal issues,” according to his manager via The Associated Press. Milwaukee will certainly miss its leading rebounder at 10 a game and shot blocker at 1.8 per contest.
Drew Gooden has taken Bogut’s starting spot and stepped up to the tune of 20.0 points and 11.3 boards over these past three games.
Milwaukee is led by point guard Brandon Jennings, who averages 20.0 points and 5.6 assists per game but has been even better in his last two, scorching the Kings and Clippers for 26.0 points and 7.0 assists per. As has been his MO throughout his career, Jennings is an inefficient shooter, knocking down 41.1 percent of his shots overall and 28.9 percent of his threes.
Just like last season the Bucks are a superb defensive squad that really struggles on the offensive end, an issue only exacerbated by the loss of Bogut. The Bucks are struggling to score even more than they did last season, when they ranked dead last with an offensive efficiency of 99.0. This year they rank 27th at 95.0.
The Bucks couldn’t even score on Phoenix’s forgettable defense last season in US Airways Center, as the Suns held them to 86.5 points per 100 and an effective field goal percentage of 33.9 percent, a season low for a Suns opponent.
They are rock solid defensively, however, yielding 94.9 points per 100 possessions, good for fifth in the NBA. This is no mirage as last season they ranked fourth at 99.9.
The Suns, on the other hand, are starting to find their groove offensively. They have set season highs in field-goal percentage in three consecutive games, and as Schmitz explained yesterday the resurgence of Steve Nash is at the heart of the improvement.
Milwaukee plays one of the slowest tempos in the NBA at 92.1 possessions per game, and they figure to be even slower tonight coming off the brutal five games in seven days road trip.
The Suns’ blueprint to a 24th straight home victory over Milwaukee, therefore, should be be the exact same plan they executed to perfection on Friday: jump on the Bucks early by pushing the pace and then never let them off the mat.
- Before Friday’s game Gentry hinted at the possibility of a lineup change but said before Sunday’s contest that won’t be necessary if the starters continue to open as well as they did Friday night.
- NBA fans voted the Suns’ tilt on Tuesday against the Lakers onto NBA TV as part of the network’s Tuesday night “Fan Night” in which fans vote for a game that will be shown on the channel. The game can also be seen on FSAZ.
- Gentry does not see much value in looking at how well a team defends the three: “The worst stat in the NBA is defending the three. It’s just not a stat I think is relevant at all.” For the record, the Suns rank seventh in this category, holding opposing three-point shooters to 29.9 percent shooting.