Currently, the Milwaukee Bucks are outside the NBA Playoff seeding looking in, sitting exactly two games behind the New York Knicks for the eight seed. It goes without saying, then, that the Bucks need every win they can get, especially against non-Playoff teams.
A quick look at the Pistons' remaining schedule reveals that tonight's game is the Pistons' last chance to impact the 2012 NBA Playoffs in a meaningful way. A division rival fighting for its playoff life should be enough to get the Pistons up for this one.
Game Tips at 8:00 p.m. EST
Detroit, 22-36 (15-12 at home)
Milwaukee, 28-30 (13-15 on road)
The Pistons are fresh off a shellacking of the lowly Charlotte Bobcats. The stat-stuffed box score reveals just how well (almost) everything was working last night (obvious exception is obvious). And if you're curious what a Wins Produced lover's dream stat line looks like, look no further than Greg Monroe's brilliant performance in only twenty-six minutes. And credit where it's due, Brandon Knight had a field day as well.
But that was last night, and the opponent was the Bobcats.
Tonight, the Bucks are likely to provide more resistance, particularly on the perimeter.
Jeff Mezydlo of NBA.com notes just how well Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis have performed against the Pistons of late, with Jennings averaging 25.3 ppg against Detroit over the past three meetings and Ellis 25.5 on over 50% shooting over the past four. The efficiency-based metrics that I prefer aren't crazy about Ellis and Jennings, but on any given night, either one is capable of lighting a team up. With the Pistons' struggle to defend on the perimeter this season, Ellis and Jennings are a dangerous duo to face.
In addition to Jennings and Ellis, the Bucks employ several productive role players who are capable of hurting the Pistons in their own right. Ersan Ilyasova, Carlos Delfino, and Mike Dunleavy can all connect from deep - especially if the opposing defense breaks down and is forced to rotate - while providing competent production elsewhere. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is sort of the Milwaukee version of Jonas Jerebko - a versatile hustle guy that produces efficiently while being a general pest to the opposition.
To top it off, the Bucks are coming off a disappointing loss against the Knicks - a win would have tied the two squads for the eight and final playoff berth. Expect the Bucks to be motivated and to fight for the playoff lives.
As noted above, this is the Pistons' last chance to impact the 2012 NBA Playoffs. The Bucks simply cannot afford a Pistons win tonight. Knocking down a division rival's playoff hopes ought to serve as potent motivation.
Keys to the Game:
Feed the Moose. Last night's game against the Bobcats featured a Moose feeding frenzy at an all-you-can eat buffet with no other customers at the restaurant. Is Monroe still hungry?
Free Macklin. Please?
Contain dribble penetration, close out on shooters. Jennings and Ellis are both lightning quick and could wreak havoc if not contained. Forcing long two-point jumpers is a worthy goal. And while neither guard is know for being a playmaker for others, both are capable of finding the open teammate, and they have teammates who can finish from deep. The Pistons defensive scheme should focus on staying in front, providing help with breaking down, and closing out on capable shooters.
Exploit Stuckey's size advantage. The backcourt match up problems are not a one-way street. Assuming Stuckey's healthy enough to play (at the time of writing, he's listed as day-to-day), he is capable of taking either Ellis or Jennings off the dribble or in the post. As we all know, Stuckey has improved at drawing contact and getting to the line this year. Getting one (or more) of Milwaukee's guards in foul trouble would make things much easier for the Pistons tonight.
Question of the Game:
Does anyone else feel like Coach Frank punked us with the whole, "We've got a role for Vernon, and we're going to play him," thing?