Coming off their first home loss of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks welcome the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday for a Central Division matchup in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee gave up 25 3-pointers to Utah, losing Friday’s first leg of a back-to-back, 131-118. The 131 points are the most the Bucks have surrendered this season, while the loss snapped Milwaukee’s three-game winning streak.
“They used the pick-and-roll to attack the paint,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said in his postgame press conference.
Utah’s ability to get into the lane off the dribble drew in Milwaukee’s defense to give open 3-point looks, resulting in a 50.5 percent shooting night, including 47.2 percent from long range.
Two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 35 points in the loss despite taking a hard fall that briefly took him out of the game.
“I don’t have an update on him, but he’s as tough as they come,” Budenholzer said. “He wants to be on the court, he wants to be there for his teammates.”
Budenholzer added Antetokounmpo will be monitored into Saturday morning to determine his availability against Cleveland.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, come into the sixth and final game of their longest road trip of the season ravaged by injury. Cleveland played without leading scorers Collin Sexton and Darius Garland in Thursday’s win at Memphis.
Sexton could return from the ankle injury that sidelined him just one game after becoming the first player in franchise history to score at least 20 points in the season’s first eight contests. However, Cleveland will still be without Garland, Dante Exum, Dylan Windler and Kevin Love in Milwaukee.
Reinforcements arrived earlier in the week, though, with Isaac Okoro returning from a two-week layoff due to COVID-19 protocols. Okoro started in the 94-90 win at Memphis and finished with a critical blocked shot in the final 10 seconds.
“What Isaac understands is there are a multitude of ways you can impact winning throughout the game, and especially in the clutch,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “If it wasn’t the middle of January, we’d be talking about that block for a long, long time. It was phenomenal.”
Defense was critical for the Cavaliers throughout Thursday’s win, and should be again for a Cleveland squad that has struggled offensively as injuries have mounted.
Thursday marked the sixth consecutive game in which the Cavaliers scored fewer than 100 points. They last broke the century mark in a 118-94 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 27.
Larry Nance Jr. and Cedi Osman provided perimeter scoring punch to complement Andre Drummond’s 22 points in Memphis, however, combining to make eight 3-pointers.
Cleveland may need a similar shooting effort to keep pace with a Milwaukee offense featuring five scorers averaging more than 10 points per game, led by Antetokounmpo’s 27.1 per game and Khris Middleton’s 22.2.
The All-Star duo led Milwaukee to the NBA’s highest team scoring average going into Friday’s slate of games. Cleveland ranked No. 29-of-30 in scoring after the Memphis win.
–Field Level Media