Consistent scoring from multiple sources was definitely the theme from the Bucks Saturday night against the Knicks. Five starters registered double figure points, as Milwaukee routed the Knicks 106-91. The Bucks will be searching for similar efforts in tonight’s matchup against Portland.
Obviously the first thing that meets the eye from Saturday night’s box score is the exceptional play of Michael Carter-Williams. He put forth yet another solid game off the bench, tallying 20 points, three rebounds and five assists. In his five games off the pine, Carter-Williams has rallied to limit his turnovers, a blemish that stained his ability to run the offense as the team’s starting point guard. His assist ratio has soared from when he was a starter to now, going from 25.4 to 29.7. In comparison, his turnover ratio has dipped down, dropping from 19.2 to 11.9. MCW’s turnovers were on of the reasons so many Bucks fans had a rocky relationship with the third-year man being the team’s starting point guard. He always seemed like he was in a rush. Coming off the bench has seemed to provide MCW with a new perspective and flow to the game. Even his offense has seemed to take a spring in it, as he scored a season high in points on Saturday with 20.
As for the Bucks opponent, they get the gritty Portland Trailblazers. Portland was a 50 plus win team last season, but many tangents have shifted for them. LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews all left for new teams in free agency, breaking up the core that had brought great success to the northwest for years. However, despite the loss of those three role players, the Blazers are still relevant thanks to one player – Damian Lillard. The All-Star point guard out of Weber State continues to man the ship for Portland, as his averages of 24.2 points and 7 assists a game lead the team. This is a game in which Michael Carter-Williams length on the defensive end could be utilized well to the Bucks’ advantage. It really falls all on Kidd to make the decision on if he wants to risk leaving a hole in the offensive end of the court by playing MCW while at the same time knowing he could contain the firepower of Lillard.
While all of the attention and spotlight will fall on Lillard, shooting guard C.J. McCollum is one of the leading candidates in the league for most improved player. The third year player out of Lehigh has turned eyes with his consistency on offense, as his 19.2 points per game are second on Portland, only trailing Lillard. He is a viable threat from behind the arc, knocking down 39 percent of his shots and an overall 42 percent from the floor. The matchup between him and Khris Middleton should be an entertaining one. Three point shots could become the norm between the two of them.
One of the keys to the game for the Bucks will not only be the ability to generate turnovers, but generating points off of those turnovers. The Bucks enter tonight’s game fourth in that defensive category, and considering how porous their defense has played at times; it’s imperative for them to capitalize on any extra possessions they get. Possessions are also slim for the Bucks, as their pace currently sits in the bottom half of the league. On the contrary, Milwaukee also allows the third most points off of turnovers, so it’s somewhat of a double-edged sword. Hopefully they will be able to come out on the positive end in the turnover battle.
Containing Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end will be a major factor in deciding whether or not the Bucks will be victorious tonight. If the Bucks can stop those two, their percentage of a win goes up. However, it is important for their defense to put forth another consistent performance. They cannot afford to only enforce a well-played defensive game once every five games or so. To be successful in this league, defense needs to be a number one priority game in and game out. Kidd and the rest of the coaches have preached this to their players. The defense has bounced back and responded well in the last few games and it remains imperative for them to continue that streak. Tonight, we will be provided the opportunity to see if they can pull that off.