Time: 7 p.m. MST
TV: FSAWhat’s so funny about this 2013-14 version of the Milwaukee Bucks is that it resembles the Phoenix Suns from a year ago. The front office led by general manager John Hammond spent on reasonable free agents O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal, and also took on Caron Butler’s contract in a trade with the Suns.
The goal was to challenge for the playoffs, but the lack of talent coupled with the injury bug has set the Bucks in the back of the questionable Eastern Conference. Things have begun to turn in Milwaukee’s favor, however.
Aside from John Henson’s injury that kept him home from Milwaukee’s three-game Western Conference road trip, the Bucks are starting shaping up. Milwaukee visits Phoenix on Saturday night having lost nine of its last 11, but was given a boost with the return of center Larry Sanders, who has missed most of the season because of a ligament tear in his thumb.
The Bucks as a whole look similar to the Suns of last year in terms of flawed expectations, but in the last two games they have ran out a roster similarly built to this year’s Suns squad. The starting lineup includes shotblocking rim-roller Larry Sanders, stretch power forward Ersan Ilyasova, defensive 3-man Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a duo of point guards in Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight.
The Suns, however, will start Gerald Green for the second consecutive game because Eric Bledsoe will miss at least one more week to recover from a sprained knee.
Hornacek said Bledsoe (right knee sprain) will be out at least a week. Green will start in his place. #SunsVsBucks
— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) January 4, 2014
Here’s what we’ll be looking for as the Suns aim to win the getaway game before heading off on a five-game road trip.
What makes the Greek Freak so special?
About a week ago, I spelled “Antetokounmpo” with just that sneaky second N missing. Now, I can proudly do it without looking it up (/after bragging, copy and pastes all names in this story). As much as my NBA spelling knowledge has grown in the last few months, Antetokounmpo’s height has grown more.
According to Sports Illustrated, the rookie has grown more than an inch since draft day. He’s a ball-handler with length, vision and a semi-respectable jumper. But it’s his defense that can be the most unique of any NBA player thanks to his lanky frame.
How do the minutes work out at guard?
With Bledsoe out, Green will get the start. Ish Smith took 20 of the minutes from Bledsoe against the Grizzlies, but Hornacek still kept Dragic on the floor for 38 minutes. In the end, Dragic was a bit spent. There’s some give and take there, because while that’s a reasonable amount of minutes — Tom Thibodeau would wonder what the issue is here — Dragic was also being asked to cool down Jerryd Bayless and on the other end act as a one-man fastbreak. It’s the same story against Brandon Knight, who went for 37 points two games ago.
Giving more minutes to Smith, Green and even Dionte Christmas could be the options. It’s Goodwin who fits in well as a combo guard who will test the Bucks’ transition defense, however.
Will Phoenix throw the first punch?
Jeff Hornacek said at practice Friday that the Suns often react to opponents’ strong starts rather than doll out the first punch. The Suns have never appeared to be the most capable of starting off well, but they have shown the ability to force their speed and aggressiveness on opponents if only when they’re trailing (see the last game against Memphis and the comeback at Denver).
Kendall Marshall debuted Friday night as a starter for the injured-plagued Los Angeles Lakers to score 20 points and record 15 assists. He went 8-of-12 from the floor and continually attacked the rim — woh!. He also went 2-of-3 from beyond the three-point arc.
It makes you wonder why Phoenix and Washington were so quick to give up on the 2012 first-round pick. Clearly, Marshall has improved since a year ago and seems to have used the experience of being booted to play with an aggression we never saw last year. To me, that was the biggest issue. We never saw Marshall use whatever was bottled up — he was never in attack mode.
With something to prove and with an offseason of work, Marshall does look like the NBA point guard he was drafted to be. Of course, playing the miserable Utah Jazz in one game is not the norm. The point is he has NBA talent.
So the parting thought: it makes you wonder why two teams were quick to give up on him. The Suns chose Ish Smith over Marshall. The Wizards, who need a point guard as the Eric Maynor experiment has failed, would love to have him at this point.
It’s not fair to the Suns or to Marshall to speculate on anything, but something else to this story is missing.