Once again the Wizards will understandably be without the services of Nene and Trevor Booker tonight against Milwaukee; the timing of their unavailability due to plantar fasciitis with the consideration of lottery balls in mind while Kentucky’s Anthony Davis squares off against Kansas’ Thomas Robinson in tonight’s men’s NCAA basketball championship game could not be more impeccable. Otherwise, the Wizards are playing for pride and the Bucks are playing for the playoffs (they are 2.5 games behind the Knicks for the eighth playoff spot in the East). For tonight’s 3-on-3 we have Jeremy Schmidt from the ESPN TrueHoop Milwaukee Bucks blog, Bucksketball, Michael Sykes from the hoops blog, What’s Left on The Floor, along with yours truly, TAI’s Kyle Weidie. Three questions, three answers starts now…
#1) Since Monta Ellis arrived in Milwaukee, the Bucks are 5-4 and averaging 105.2 points per game; before he arrived the Bucks were 19-24 and averaging 97 points per game. The Wizards, on the other end, have struggled to score as of late, especially without Nene in the lineup (they are likely to be without him again on Monday night). WIth guards like John Wall and Jordan Crawford perfectly willing, yet skillfully unable, to duel with the likes of Brandon Jennings and Ellis, how quickly could this game get out of hand for Washington?
SCHMIDT: Jennings and Ellis mean a lot less to the Bucks offense working well than guys like Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih and Drew Gooden. Jennings and Ellis take a lot of shots and occasionally score a lot of points, but the offense works best when those other guys are leading the team and moving the ball. Ellis has cracked 20 points once since the trade. But Milwaukee has been putting the league’s bottom feeders out pretty quick lately, and they could do the same to the Wizards.
SYKES: The game could be out of Washington’s reach by the end of the first half. Ellis and Jennings are both guards who play their best when hot. If the Wizards’ backcourt tandem of Wall and Crawford allow this to happen, the game will almost certainly slip through the cracks. The Bucks are deadly in the first half, averaging 51.1 first half points throughout the season and 59.9 in their last three games according to Teamrankings.com. The Wizards must play defense without gambling to prevent open looks for Ellis and Jennings.
WEIDIE: The Bucks move the ball so well as a team, sometimes in spite of Ellis and Jennings, that I’m not sure it much matters what the hot shot duo does on the court… especially with the Wiz again starting the youngest five-man unit ever to begin a game for the franchise (Wall, Crawford, Singleton, Vesely, and Seraphin). Even if Nene was in the lineup to more intelligently anchor the defense as opposed to the inexperienced Seraphin, I don’t think Washington’s perimeter players have the moxie. or interest, in stopping dribble penetration. The Bucks tallied 26 assists against the Wiz in their first meeting this season, 30 dimes in the second. Look for Franklin D. Roosevelt coinage to keep dropping on the floor tonight against Washington’s D.
#2) Over the past two games, the Bucks have started a lineup of Jennings, Ellis, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden. If, with Nene and Trevor Booker likely out again, the Wizards start Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin at the 3-4-5 like they did last night in Toronto, will the home team be able to find any advantages in the frontcourt?
SCHMIDT: Carlos Delfino may be ready to step back in for Luc Mbah a Moute, but both of them are less important than Dunleavy. Regardless of who is filling that spot, Milwaukee’s going to have an advantage on at least one end of the court. Mbah a Moute is a top defender and Delfino can shoot it from three. Dunleavy has been amazing over the past month.
SYKES: Washington’s key will be defending the lane with Gooden and Mbah a Moute on the floor at the same time. They both flourish in the painted area, but it’s Mbah a Moute’s bread and butter. The Wizards will have an edge defensively with Mbah a Moute on the floor because he will not draw attention when he is outside of the paint, as he is shooting 27-percent from midrange on the season. Gooden will be a factor here, but the real threat is Ilyasova. He is Milwaukee’s most versatile frontcourt player offensively and defensively. He can spot up from most places on the floor including beyond the arch, so Vesely will need to stick with him, and he must not be allowed to get easy rebounds. I know we all remember his tip in from the last time the Wizards played the Bucks. The Wizards will have an edge as long as they are able to do their work early and get in position to keep Milwaukee from deep in the paint and box them out.
WEIDIE: The only presumed advantage the Wizards might have will be tough to exploit versus Milwaukee’s generally stingy team defense. I don’t think Gooden, or anyone on the Bucks, has the ability to match Kevin Seraphin pound-for-pound in the post; the big man’s soft touch and high release has been killing it lately. Unfortunately, Seraphin’s inexperienced offensive wherewithal, and his low-ability to recognize passing to combat defensive movement when he has the ball in the post (not necessarily his willingness to pass), will ultimately keep the advantage on Milwaukee’s end.
#3) The Bucks are favored by 5.5 points (NOTE: 7 points at game time). Which stat will most influence the game, which player will most influence that stat, and what’s your final score prediction?
SCHMIDT: Milwaukee’s been moving the ball well and hitting threes against bad teams. I’m fairly certain that won’t change in Washington. 5.5 seems on the low end for how much the Bucks final margin of victory could be. If they have another one of their 30 assist games and make a high percentage of threes, this could be another double digit victory for the Bucks for sure.
SYKES: The assist total for each team will be the key to this game; the squad with the most will win. And Monta Ellis will have the most influence on this area. If he can get over seven assists while scoring his average of about 20 points, the Bucks will have the edge. In wins, Milwaukee averages 26.8 assists, but in losses, that drops to 20.6. While that isn’t a bad total, it isn’t as gaudy as their assist total in wins. If the assists are limited that means the bigs aren’t getting involved in the game–which means the Bucks will lose. With that being said, I have the Wizards losing a close one 101-96. I think that Ellis, in particular, will have his way with Jordan Crawford tonight.
WEIDIE: Boards and bench. In a game like this where the Wizards have the almost-decided disadvantage — which is just about every game for Washington — they can’t afford to give the Bucks more than one crack at the basket; Milwaukee secured 20 offensive rebounds in the Feb. 28 matchup between these teams, their fourth most this season. But rebounds be damned, I like Ekpe Udoh to come off Milwaukee’s bench to clean the glass against whomever the Wizards trot out in their second unit, i.e., the hapless Brian Cook. My call: 115-98 Bucks.