Bucks visit Rockets with defense in mind

NBA Basketball

Most of the conversation lauding the Milwaukee Bucks’ versatility tends to focus on their offensive might, a justified approach given the fact that Milwaukee leads the NBA in scoring and ranked fifth in offensive rating following its road victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.

However, the addition of undersized power forward P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline has afforded the Bucks an opportunity to enhance their defensive versatility. Against the Hornets, the Bucks substituted offense for defense at the five, with Tucker entering late on defense to replace 7-footer Brook Lopez, a traditional center with a sterling defensive reputation of his own.

“We have the utmost confidence in both of those guys guarding on the perimeter or guarding in the post,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “So it’s great to be able to flip-flop either one of the two depending on how the game’s going or what the matchups are. Even when we’re not able to get subs we’ve still got the confidence that both guys can do what we need them to do on both ends.”

The Bucks, set to face the Houston Rockets on the road Thursday, have won six of nine games since a surprising three-game losing skid. Milwaukee appears to be ramping up for the playoffs just in time, and the selflessness that personifies its philosophy on offense is paying dividends on the opposite end of the court with players willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team.

“We’re such a deep team that we can throw a lot of different looks out defensively,” Lopez said. “When you’ve got guys like P.J., Bobby (Portis), Giannis (Antetokounmpo), myself — that’s a lot of different defensive coverages. That’s a lot of different looks. We can be great either way.

“It’s just understanding that whoever is out on the floor we’re going to be in a great situation in terms of defense and trusting in anyone who is out there.”

The Rockets lost their first game following the announcement that veteran guard John Wall would miss the remainder of the season with a right hamstring strain. Houston has dropped 10 of 11 games including a 114-107 home setback to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

With Wall, Eric Gordon and D.J. Augustin unavailable, the Rockets utilized a makeshift backcourt featuring Kevin Porter Jr. essentially serving as the lone guard in the starting lineup. Rookie forward Jae’Sean Tate assisted in ball-handling duties.

Overall, the Rockets took an egalitarian approach on offense, with Porter and bigs Kelly Olynyk and Christian Wood posting five assists each. Tate added four assists along with 20 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

The Rockets have committed to playing Porter as their lead guard and, as expected, the results have been spotty. While his talent is undeniable, Porter, in just his second season in the NBA, will turn 21 next Tuesday and the responsibilities that accompany leading an offense can result in games like Tuesday when he shot 2 for 12 and committed five turnovers over 35 minutes.

“Learn from it,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “That’s what this is for. He’s going to have some successes, he’s going to have some down times. In order to get better, you have to have nights where things don’t go great for you, and we were still right in the game.

“My message to him is learn from it and you’ll be better.”

–Field Level Media

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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