Milwaukee Bucks Game Preview: Dec. 7 vs Portland Trail Blazers

The Milwaukee Bucks take on a much less dangerous Western Conference team on Wednesday when the Portland Trail Blazers come to town.

Feb 2, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) passes the ball as Portland Trail Blazers forward Meyers Leonard (11) and Al-Farouq Aminu (8) defend during the third quarter of the game at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Blazers won 107-95. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks battled with the San Antonio Spurs until the very end, but they came up just short. If Milwaukee can hang with the Spurs like that, they should have a good chance against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

Portland is not a bad team by any means, but the Blazers have struggled to make all of their pieces fit together. Lots of noise was made about Portland paying up big time for the services of Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner, and the critics may have been right about those two deals.

Neither player has been very effective this season, and it’s hurt the Blazers. This team has the NBA’s worst defense, in large part thanks to their starting frontcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

Those two are not great defenders, and they have no rim protector behind them to make up for it. Miles Plumlee‘s brother Mason Plumlee mans the middle on Portland, and he isn’t capable of doing enough to make up for those two.

This will be a battle of who can exploit the other team’s weaknesses better. We’ll look at major keys for both teams, a player to watch and then make predictions about Bucks v Blazers.

Nov 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans guard Langston Galloway (10) and forward Anthony Davis (23) during the first quarter at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Milwaukee: Defend The Arc

The Milwaukee Bucks have done an excellent job of defending the three-point line this season. Sort of. One way to look at three-point defense is the number of attempts allowed–if teams can’t shoot threes, they can’t make them.

Milwaukee has not been so hot in that regard. Only the Charlotte Hornets have allowed more attempted threes than the Bucks have this season. The good news is teams have not been able to convert those threes.

The Bucks are first in the NBA in opponent three-point percentage. Teams have shot just 31.1 percent against Milwaukee, a fantastic mark 1.5 percent lower than the next-best team. That’s been due to the Bucks closing out on every three, and losing opponents beyond the arc much less often than they did last season.

Lots of factors lead to the difference, not the least of them the addition of better defenders in Tony Snell and Matthew Dellavedova and the transformation Bucks fans have seen from Greg Monroe.

Anyway, that tight three-point defense will need to continue against the Blazers. Portland is 6-1 when Damian Lillard shoots above 40 percent from deep. If Milwaukee can hold Dame down–which is far from easy–the Blazers will need to rely too much on McCollum and their other scorers.

Dec 5, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) is defended by Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu (8) during the third quarter of the game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Portland: Step It Up On Defense

The Blazers have been bad on defense. They’ll need to stop that to win against Milwaukee. It’s a given that Lillard and McCollum will do pretty well on offense, but Portland needs to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker from running all over them.

That starts with the starting lineup. Against the Chicago Bulls on Monday, Portland started Maurice Harkless and Ed Davis at the forward spots. That won’t work against the Bucks–Davis can’t run with Jabari.

The Blazers will probably start Al-Farouq Aminu this time around, who will pose a bigger challenge to Jabari than Davis probably could. Portland is lucky that their better defenders are at the forward spots, but the Bucks will likely seek out ways to get their stars lined up against Lillard and McCollum whenever possible.

If the Trail Blazers can keep their guards far away from Giannis and Jabari and do a decent job at defending those two, they’ll have a chance to win by tearing up the Bucks on the other end. This game might well come down to which pair of stars goes off for more points.

Dec 5, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts to a call during the first half of the game against the Chicago Bulls at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Player To Watch: Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard is carrying the Blazers this year. He’s got help in C.J. McCollum, but there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind about who runs things in Portland, and that’s Dame.

Lillard is averaging a career-best 27.9 points per game this year on 46.3 percent field goal shooting and 36.2 percent three-point shooting. Lillard is also adding 5.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game.

Unfortunately, with the offensive highs have come the defensive lows for Lillard. His defensive rating and defensive box plus/minus are worse than they’ve ever been, which is to be expected considering how bad Portland’s team defense has been.

Aminu being back should help with that, but he’s been healthy for nine games and the Blazers are still dead last in defensive rating.

Feb 2, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives to the basket on Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) and forward Jabari Parker (12) during the third quarter of the game at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Blazers won 107-95. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Finale

The Milwaukee Bucks just lost a heartbreaker. Staying up and ready for the next opponent despite a tough loss is a sign of a good team. The NBA community seems to believe the Bucks are one of those–this game will help us find out for sure.

The Blazers are good, but they’re having real problems on the defensive end. If the Bucks can get rolling, this could be a huge game for one of (or maybe both of) Jabari and Giannis. Nothing would excite the home fans more than a new career-high for a young Buck!

Portland is well-coached though, and all that money spent on the team means there is talent here. If everything clicks, the Blazers are dangerous. The Bucks just need to stop them from getting into rhythm.

Predictions and Leaderboard:

Tom Pheister: Bucks by 7 — 13-6, 212 point differential

Jordan Treske: Bucks by 9 — 13-6, 230 point differential

Lukas Harkins: Bucks by 4 — 12-7, 191 point differential

Adam McGee: Blazers by 4 — 12-7, 209 point differential

Tim Wray: Blazers by 3 — 12-7, 214 point differential

Ti Windisch: Bucks by 5 — 11-8, 196 point differential

Adam Coffman: Bucks by 2 — 13-5, 199 point differential

Rohan Katti: Bucks by 3 — 13-5, 205 point differential

The game is on Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. CT, and will be televised on Fox Sports Wisconsin.

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