Milwaukee Bucks Game Preview: Feb. 13 vs Detroit Pistons

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Detroit Pistons

Dec 28, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) looks to drive the ball as Detroit Pistons(1) defends during the second quarter of the game at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Milwaukee defeated Detroit 119-94. Mandatory Credit: Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks face another Central Divison opponent on Monday night when the Detroit Pistons roll into Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Bucks are out here raising fan hopes after a fantastic game against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night. After a few rough losses being made much, much worse by the loss of Jabari Parker for the rest of the season, the Bucks seemed destined to struggle for a while.

That is, until they took the floor in Indiana. Milwaukee controlled pretty much the entire game, in part thanks to a new starting five that featured Thon Maker starting at center and John Henson not playing a single minute.

The Bucks found plenty of ways to score with the extra spacing provided by Thon, and the team flourished from three-point range. Jason Kidd has tried just about every possible tweak thus far, but it seems like he might’ve found a winner with his latest experiment.

The Detroit Pistons might be another opponent who has trouble handling Thon as a stretch five. Detroit rarely plays small, which makes sense considering Andre Drummond is the Pistons franchise player, for all intents and purposes.

Drummond is a fantastic rebounder to be sure, and the young Thon could have lots of trouble keeping up with him on the glass. On the other hand, Drummond could well struggle trying to chase Thon around the perimeter all night.

There might be a bit of a chess match between Kidd and Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday. To figure out which team has a good shot of winning, we’ll look at major keys for both of them, plus highlight a Piston to watch. Finally, some predictions about the game will be made to wrap things up.

Feb 3, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) shoots the ball during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 3, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) shoots the ball during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Milwaukee: Keep On Spacing The Floor

There’s a sample size of just one game for this, but starting Thon Maker at the center spot and rolling with Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, Michael Beasley and Giannis Antetokounmpo around him was an effective lineup against the Pacers.

Theoretically, it makes sense. The problem with the 2015-16 Bucks was a definite lack of spacing. Giannis needs room to operate in, and putting him in a unit with three other non-shooters never made all that sense.

Now the Bucks have the ability to put four shooters around the Greek Freak, while still having two players who are 6’11” or taller on the floor. That’s a formerly unthinkable concept, but it’s very real for the Bucks. Even though Thon is still raw and the Bucks got outscored with him on the floor on Saturday, I really want to see that same group start again.

Another part of this major key is Mirza Teletovic. He’s been inconsistent, but more minutes might help with that. This dude does not miss when he’s on.

Defenses have to account for that, which leaves that much more room for the other Bucks to operate within while he’s on the floor. That explains why Milwaukee has a net rating of +7.0 with him on the floor–the best mark among all Bucks.

Mar 21, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) backs into Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) during the fourth quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons win 92-91. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 21, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) backs into Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) during the fourth quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons win 92-91. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Detroit: Play Great Defense

The Pistons have to play fantastic defense to win games this season, because when they haven’t they’ve been hopeless. Detroit has a bottom-ten offense according to both offensive rating and points scored per game, mostly due to the lack of a true scoring threat.

Tobias Harris leads Detroit with 16.5 points per game. Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris and Jon Leuer all score between 10 and 16 points per game. That diversified scoring threat is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, it’s tough for opponents to focus in on one scorer, because the Pistons rely on all sorts of players. On the other hand. when none of those players are great at getting buckets, sometimes the math just doesn’t add up to enough points for a win.

That happens pretty often for Detroit. When the Pistons give up 100 or more points they’re 7-22 this season. Detroit has no answer for high-powered offenses–asking Tobias Harris and Reggie Jackson to keep up is simply asking too much most nights when the opposing team is racking up buckets.

Dec 17, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) takes a shot over Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young (21) during the third quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Pacers won 105-90. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 17, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) takes a shot over Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young (21) during the third quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Pacers won 105-90. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Player To Watch: Tobias Harris

It’s really tough to pick a Piston to watch. Detroit gets outscored with any one of Drummond, Jackson or Harris on the floor. They beat opponents by 0.1 point per 100 possessions in Morris’ minutes.

Still, Harris is the leading scorer, even if he’s not a starter on this team. That has to count for something, right? Harris had led the Pistons in scoring in each of their last two games, and he’s been a very reliable second unit scorer all season.

Plus there’s always a chance for a revenge game to be in play, although Milwaukee isn’t the only team to have given up on Harris. In the two games these teams have played already, Harris has dropped 16 and 25 points on the Bucks.

Harris’ three-point shooting still isn’t anything to write home about, but he’s nailing an impressive 55 percent of his attempts from within the arc. Much like DeMar DeRozan, who’s Raptors were beaten by the Pistons on Sunday night, Harris just gets buckets.

Dec 28, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) brings the ball up the court as Detroit Pistons forward Stanley Johnson (7) defends during the third quarter of the game at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Milwaukee defeated Detroit 119-94. Mandatory Credit: Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 28, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) brings the ball up the court as Detroit Pistons forward Stanley Johnson (7) defends during the third quarter of the game at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Milwaukee defeated Detroit 119-94. Mandatory Credit: Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

Finale

The Bucks once held a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With wins this week over the Pistons and Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee could nearly get back there by the All-Star Break. The Pistons currently hold the eighth seed, and they’re just two games better than the Bucks in the standings.

A win for Milwaukee would close that gap to one game. If the Bucks then beat Brooklyn and the Pistons lose their next game, to the upstart Dallas Mavericks, these teams would suddenly be tied in record. There are other teams in play to jump ahead, but there’s a scenario where Milwaukee is once more playoff-bound before the end of February.

That’s exciting stuff, although there’s a lot of basketball left to be played this season. This game against the Pistons is important for seeding purposes–in addition to affecting the standings right now, the winner will guarantee they don’t lose the season series, which could tie into seeding down the line.

Predictions and Leaderboard:

Adam Coffman: Pistons by 6 — 31-22, 625 point differential

Lukas Harkins:  Bucks by 3 — 29-24, 622 point differential

Ti Windisch: Bucks by 4 — 29-24, 630 point differential

Rohan Katti: Bucks by 5 — 29-24, 675 point differential

Adam McGee: Bucks by 4 — 28-25, 726 point differential

Tim Wray: Pistons by 3 — 27-26, 640 point differential

Tom Pheister: Bucks by 11 — 27-26, 721 point differential

Jordan Treske: Bucks by 9 — 26-27, 732 point differential

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

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