The Clippers just beat one of the top Eastern Conference teams in the Philadelphia Sixers, and now face another in the Milwaukee Bucks. Keep reading for a full preview of the Clippers’ second game against the Bucks.
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:00 PM PT
How to Watch: NBA TV, Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Projected Starting Lineups
Bucks: Jrue Holiday – Donte DiVincenzo – Khris Middleton – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Brook Lopez
Clippers: Reggie Jackson – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Marcus Morris – Ivica Zubac
Bucks: PJ Tucker Questionable (Calf), Jrue Holiday Questionable (Knee), Donte DiVincenzo Questionable (Foot), Giannis Antetokounmpo Questionable (Knee), Khris Middleton Questionable (Hip)
Clippers: Pat Beverley Out (Knee), Serge Ibaka Doubtful (Back), Rajon Rondo Doubtful (Adductor)
The Big Picture
The Clippers have won five games in a row, enabling them to push back into the 3 seed, keep up with the surging Jazz and Suns, and keep some distance ahead of the incoming Blazers and Nuggets. More important than the standings, however, is that the Clippers’ overall play has greatly improved. Despite a slump in three-point shooting from Paul George, the Clippers have increased their paint scoring and free throw attempts, largely through increased minutes to Terance Mann and Ivica Zubac. Those two players, especially Zu, are also the cornerstones of an improved defense, one that has been greatly bolstered by more effort from George and Kawhi Leonard. With a top-10 defense and still solid offense, the Clippers look much better than they did two weeks ago, and that’s without several rotation players healthy. In short, things are good right now.
While the Bucks have lost their last two games, they’d won their eight prior contests, and are firmly ensconced as a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are a well-balanced team, possessing the 7th best defense and 5th best offense in the NBA, and have far and away the second-best Net Rating behind the Jazz. They’re powered by reigning back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is having another dominant season after a slow start. Moreover, reinforcements are on their way – they traded for veteran forward/center PJ Tucker a week ago, and are going to be picking up Austin Rivers after he passes waivers. Tucker adds some versatility on defense as well as corner three-point shooting, while Rivers brings toughness, energy, and more three-and-d style play. With those two, the Bucks’ rotation will be fully stocked with veterans with playoff experience, and while questions regarding Coach Budenholzer’s playoff performance linger, there’s no doubt that the Bucks will be a formidable opponent in the postseason.
Slowing Giannis: The Clippers last played the Bucks almost a month ago to the day, and lost 105-100. The main culprit in their demise: one Greek Freak, who tore them apart to the tune of 36 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks. Interestingly, the Clippers’ best defender on Giannis was Ivica Zubac, who is now starting and playing huge minutes with Serge Ibaka out. While the Clippers miss Serge (especially since their backup center now is the virtually unplayable Patrick Patterson), having Zu starting and playing 30+ minutes against Giannis could be a blessing in disguise. But Zu can’t do it alone – the Clippers need to be able to wall off the paint against Giannis’ drives while also being able to close out against shooters. Hopefully the Clippers can prevent another explosion like they did a month ago.
Keeping Turnovers Down: One key to slowing Giannis is to keep him out of transition. And the best way to do that is not turning the ball over, especially live ball giveaways. The Clippers have not given the ball away much lately, and that trend is one that will hopefully continue down the stretch of the season. Obviously turnovers are bad against every team, but they’re especially deadly against the Bucks, so the Clippers had better be careful.
Well, that about wraps up this game preview of the Clippers’ showdown against the Bucks. Keep commenting on here throughout the game, as this post will serve as the game thread!