1. Both contests between these two teams this season have been close, with each side winning at home. Milwaukee is coming off of its first victory in over three weeks – what will be the key for Cleveland to avoid giving the Bucks their first winning streak of the season?
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: The Bucks have lost six straight road games and hold the league’s worst record at 8-33. Yet the Cavaliers aren’t good enough to just show up and think they can win. They can’t give the game away by playing down to their competition and turning the ball over. Cleveland also must clear the defensive glass, which won’t be easy against a spritely John Henson and rested Larry Sanders.
Chris Manning, RightDownEuclid.com EIC: Milwaukee will need win the frontcourt battle against Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao if they want any chance of winning this game. Of late, the starting frontcourt has kept the Cavaliers in games of late, and when they struggle or aren’t the floor, they aren’t the same team. Thompson, in particular, will need to be contained by the Bucks. In the second half against the Mavericks, he was spirited and got the Cavaliers comeback rolling. As for Varejao, when he’s on and passing well, he adds a unique dimension to the Cavaliers offense. It’s odd really – the Cavaliers high scorers are on the wing, but they can feed off the Cavaliers bigs better than the inverse. If Milwaukee can hold their own here, they will greatly increases their chances of victory.
Nick Whalen, BehindtheBuckPass.com EIC: First of all, the fact that Milwaukee is the lone team yet to win consecutive games is a feat in itself, especially considering every other team in the league accomplished it well over a month ago. But really the key for Cleveland will be to prevent unforced errors. Though they’ve underachieved as a team this season, the Cavs are clearly the more talented team in this matchup and must avoid playing down to Milwaukee’s level. One of the factors for Milwaukee in Wednesday’s win over Detroit was winning the rebounding battle – something that hasn’t happened often this season – so keeping John Henson and Larry Sanders (and maybe even Miroslav Raduljica) off the glass will be a priority.
2. When the Bucks visited Cleveland on Dec. 20, Giannis Antetokounmpo was starting just his second NBA game. He’s now started the last 17, and his notoriety has increased league-wide. However, Antetokounmpo’s numbers haven’t been spectacular of late. Is containing the at-times explosive rookie a priority for Cleveland, or are the Cavs more concerned with handling other Bucks players?
MA: Antetokounmpo, 19, is raw but he’s already shown flashes and is far ahead of where people thought he would be halfway through his rookie season. I’ve read and heard a few times that he might be the number one pick if the 2013 NBA Draft were re-done. However right now, he isn’t a top offensive concern. Brandon Knight has been solid this season, averaging over 18 points since December, while Caron Butler put up 30 in the win over Detroit and Henson has been the team’s best player on both ends. I think Mike Brown should force Antetokounmpo to make plays and instead focus on slowing down Knight and O.J. Mayo (if he’s healthy) on the perimeter and keep Henson in check in the paint.
CM: Giannis is amazing definitely has a ton of upside, but he’s just not there yet. Antetokounmpo doesn’t have the ability to score in isolation and doesn’t yet have the moves necessary to score consistently without someone directly setting him up. As a result, Cleveland should focus in on Brandon Knight (who had 17 points in the previous matchup between these teams) and John Henson (who had 18). Knight will be especially important, as he was competitive with Irving for stretches on Dec. 20. If I’m Milwaukee, I attack the Cavaliers’ defense with pick and roll after pick and roll with Knight and Henson until Cleveland proves they can stop it. Antetokoumpo will have to make his impact in other areas of the game.
NW: Antetokounmpo is a talented young player, no doubt, but he oftentimes disappears from games offensively. At this point in his development, he lacks the one-on-one skills to really force opponents to gameplan for him, so I think Cleveland is much more concerned with staying in front of Brandon Knight and keeping Sanders and Henson off the boards. Although, if Larry Drew opts to again go with a big starting lineup featuring Ersan Ilyasova at small forward, as was the case Wednesday, Antetokounmpo could have a major size advantage at shooting guard.
3. Bucks center Larry Sanders has been more larry sanders than LARRY SANDERS! this season. How does he matchup against Cavs center Anderson Varejao and where can he have the biggest impact on this game?
MA: Sanders sat out Wednesday’s win with an illness and reportedly will come off the bench tonight. He’s only played 12 games since returning from a torn ligament in his thumb and has been inconsistent, clearly still shaking off the rust. His numbers are down across the board and I’m sure it is concerning for Bucks management, which gave him a four-year deal worth $44 million this summer. He remains a menace defensively, protecting the rim and that will always be his greatest impact. Varejao has 30 pounds on Sanders and should continue his torrid work on the glass no matter who he’s matched up against. The Cavaliers will be wary of Sanders when he’s on the court and his presence alone will surely factor into the minds of Kyrie Irving and co. He clearly hasn’t been himself yet this season so it will be interesting to see if the Cavs choose to attack him.
CM: A year ago, I would have Sanders was the type of player who can give Varejao fits due to his athleticism, but considering how both men have played so far this season, I can’t see how Varejao doesn’t get the better of the matchup. He’s been rebounding at an absurdly high rate of late and played well against Joakim Noah in the Cavaliers previous game. Sanders’ best chance of making an impact in this game will be limiting Varejao’s passing out of the high post and stopping Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters from getting easy looks inside. The Cavaliers are much easier to defend when teams for the two guards to shoot from the outside and it will key for Sanders to anchor the Bucks’ defensive efforts.
NW: Sanders has certainly been a major disappointment after inking that four-year extension this offseason. His offensive game has shown no development whatsoever and his rebounding and blocks numbers are down. I’m not of the belief that Sanders simply transformed into a far worse player this season, and a matchup against a limited offensive center like Varejao should enable him to stay out of foul trouble. As always, Sanders’ biggest impact comes as a rim protector/rebounder, as he really lacks the skills to impact games on the other end.