A major measuring stick game, provided everyone plays
Where We’re At
The Milwaukee Bucks have blown the first two games of their homestand, getting bullied by the Memphis Grizzlies and following it up with a narrow loss against the Phoenix Suns. While a potentially phantom call was enormously frustrating in that Suns game, the Bucks had plenty of opportunities to come away victorious before their offense failed them down the stretch. Simply put, putting up a W against the East’s best team would go a long way towards building back some confidence in this team. Their last bout with Philadelphia featured no Joel Embiid and still went into OT. Once again, that featured an epic collapse by the Bucks late in the game, and a horrendous defensive gaffe by Donte DiVincenzo, but Giannis ultimately pulled the Bucks through and sat on the court as a playful taunt.
The Philly folks in the arena likely didn’t see it that way. If there’s a prop bet for Embiid sitting on the Fiserv Forum court, that’s a shoo-in. Of course, the Bucks could stave off that reality by putting a pummeling on this Philly squad, but they’ve found their groove under Doc Rivers. Even while Embiid was out for an extended period of time, they held fast as the leaders of the East. Like Milwaukee, they’re coming off a loss against Phoenix, that nearly ended in a ridiculously dramatic fashion.
Joel Embiid was THIS CLOSE to sending it to OT in incredible fashion. pic.twitter.com/gw6eFGiml8
— NBA (@NBA) April 22, 2021
Even without Ben Simmons or Tobias Harris in the lineup, they almost conquered Phoenix behind 38 points and 17 rebounds from Embiid. For the season, the biggest reason for Philadelphia’s success has been their 2nd best defensive rating, behind just the Lakers stingy mark. Bucks fans saw its potency firsthand in that first game of the season, when they held Milwaukee to an utterly disgusting 31 points in the first half. That was some of the rockiest basketball I’ve seen in a long time, and Milwaukee’s only hope was that Philly struggled to score without their best player. Even with Embiid’s MVP-level season, they’re still ranked merely 15th in offensive rating.
The big question for this game is injuries and rest. It sounds like Giannis was merely experiencing cramps at the end of the Phoenix game, so he should be good to go. We don’t have an updated injury report from Milwaukee yet either. As for Philly, Seth Curry, Simmons and Harris missed the Suns game, but were listed as questionable earlier in the day, so it’s possible they were resting up for this one. Embiid, for his part, wants to play.
Embiid says he plans on playing tomorrow in Milwaukee.
He then went on to say “Even tonight, I wasn’t supposed to play”
“We got a bunch of guys out. It’s my job, just go out and be a leader, just push every night. I can’t rest, even if I’m hurt.”
“That #1 seed is important.”
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) April 22, 2021
Player to Watch
Ben Simmons had one of the better defensive performances I’ve seen in quite some time on Giannis in their first matchup. He’s a fleet of foot menace whose long arms can knock the ball away and put up resistance at the rim. For a player like Giannis whose speed can typically result in a blow-by or capitalizing on a sliver of space, Simmons does a decent job of taking that away. Given Embiid is back in the lineup, and enjoys taunting Antetokounmpo by sagging deep in the paint, Simmons may not get the assignment this time. One scenario he could though is if the Bucks opt for the obvious solution against the deep drop, a Khris-Giannis pick-and-roll, and the Sixers switch. I expect Middleton to be aggressive in those scenarios, and he’ll need to be, because Simmons could certainly disrupt him as a primary defender. We’ve seen Khris have trouble ball handling and finding his spots against premier, pushy defenders this season. Anything Simmons gives the Sixers offensively is a plus, but I’d be concerned about his kickouts to open Sixers given the Bucks predilection for over-helping inside.