Milwaukee Bucks Game Preview: February 4 at Phoenix Suns

Mar 30, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) during the game against the Phoenix Suns at BMO Harris Bradley Center.  Milwaukee won 105-94.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 30, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) during the game against the Phoenix Suns at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 105-94. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 30, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) during the game against the Phoenix Suns at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 105-94. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks can break their long losing streak by taking down a reeling Phoenix Suns team on Saturday.

The Milwaukee Bucks have now lost ten of their last 11 games in an almost-impressive display of bad basketball. At least Milwaukee stayed competitive in the team’s latest loss to the Denver Nuggets.

That Denver team is pretty good. The Bucks next opponent, the Phoenix Suns, are not pretty good. Phoenix has the second-worst record in the NBA, with only the Brooklyn Nets losing more often than Phoenix so far this season.

This is the day’s most important game in terms of tanking standings, according to Tankathon. The Bucks are currently farther from the sixth seed in the East than they are to the second overall pick spot in the lottery, which is currently held by this Suns team.

A Bucks win here could help snap the team back into shape for a playoff run, but a Bucks loss here could put the team in a prime spot to chase a pretty good draft pick. I’m not sure anybody in Milwaukee would be happy with that considering how good Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker have been this year, but that’s where we’re at right now.

To figure out how either the Suns or Bucks could win on Saturday night, we’ll look through major keys for both team to come out on top. We’ll also check out a member of the Suns to watch, and then make some predictions about the game’s final score.

Dec 5, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova (8) shoots during the second quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 5, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova (8) shoots during the second quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Milwaukee: Make Some Threes

The Phoenix Suns may not be the most well-coached team around. Phoenix has some capable shooters on the team, including Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, P.J. Tucker, Tyler Ulis and Dragan Bender, who all hit at least 32 percent of their threes.

The Suns are somehow still 21st in attempted threes per game, behind teams like the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies. In addition to not taking advantage of the three-ball on offense, the Suns get torched by threes on defense fairly often too.

The Suns allow their opponents to shoot 38.7 percent from beyond the arc this season, second-worst in the NBA. When teams make a lot of threes, Phoenix has no answer. The Suns are 0-12 when the opposition makes 14 or more threes this season.

Milwaukee’s strategy, then, should be obvious. If a few Bucks like Malcolm Brogdon, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and Tony Snell can make a few threes, Milwaukee could put up too many points for the Suns to be able to match with their inefficient offensive game.

Mar 14, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) and Tyson Chandler (4) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the Timberwolves 107-104. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 14, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) and Tyson Chandler (4) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the Timberwolves 107-104. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Phoenix: Own The Boards

The Suns aren’t good at much this season, but to Phoenix’s credit this team can really rebound the basketball. The Suns are ninth in the NBA in rebounds per game, and fourth among teams in offensive rebounds per game.

When Phoenix dominates the glass, the team at least has a chance to win. The Suns have grabbed 59 or more boards three times this season, and they’re 3-0 in those games. That’s a tiny sample size and a huge amount of rebounds, but that’s how specific you have to get when a team is second-worst in the NBA.

Here’s a bigger sample size–in the 30 games this season where Phoenix has out-rebounded their opponent, the Suns are 13-17. That’s still not a great record, but it’s a ton better than their 3-17 record when their opposition wins or ties the rebounding battle.

Phoenix needs a few things to go their way to win games this season, but rebounding has been one of the most important factors. To beat the Bucks, the Suns will need to limit Milwaukee’s chances on offense and get themselves some more shots.

Feb 3, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) celebrates towards guard Devin Booker (1) after a play against the Sacramento Kings during the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center. The Phoenix Suns defeated the Sacramento Kings 105-103. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 3, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) celebrates towards guard Devin Booker (1) after a play against the Sacramento Kings during the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center. The Phoenix Suns defeated the Sacramento Kings 105-103. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Player To Watch: Eric Bledsoe

He may not add too much to the rebounding battle, but Eric Bledsoe is without a doubt the most important part of the Suns this season. He’s having a career year, averaging 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.

Bledsoe has been efficient from the field, making 44.7 percent of his shots on the highest usage percentage Bledsoe has seen in his career thus far. He’s also been dependable, playing in all 50 of Phoenix’s games thus far this season.

His three-point percentage is down slightly from previous seasons, but Bledsoe is making more threes per game than he ever has before thanks to his increased usage. With Brandon Knight falling off of the Earth and maybe even out of this galaxy entirely, the weight of carrying the Suns has fallen on Bledsoe and backcourt mate Devin Booker.

Booker is young and not ready to carry a team yet, so Bledsoe has taken the burden on himself and been incredible. The Suns are bad and guards in the West are excellent, but Bledsoe is looking like an All-Star caliber player in Phoenix this year.

Mar 30, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) during the game against the Phoenix Suns at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 105-94. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 30, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) during the game against the Phoenix Suns at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee won 105-94. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Finale

If the Suns wait at least one more game to realize how beneficial three-point shooting can be, the Bucks should have a pretty good shot at winning on Saturday night. The top scenario for Milwaukee losing is obvious.

Revenge games are always fun, and it could be argued Milwaukee ruined Brandon Knight’s life by sending him to the basketball hell that has been Phoenix for him. If there was ever a time for Knight to remind people of why he won me over two years ago, this would be the game.

Rebounding will play a crucial role in this game, as will defense. Neither of these teams has been very good defensively (or offensively) this season, but somebody has to win this game, right?

Predictions and Leaderboard:

Adam Coffman: Bucks by 6 — 28-21, 562 point differential

Rohan Katti: Bucks by 8 — 28-21, 591 point differential

Adam McGee: Suns by 2 — 28-21, 625 point differential

Lukas Harkins:  Bucks by 2 — 27-22, 549 point differential

Tim Wray: Bucks by 5 — 26-23, 567 point differential

Ti Windisch: Bucks by 15 — 26-23, 578 point differential

Tom Pheister: Bucks by 8 — 26-23, 638 point differential

Jordan Treske: Suns by 9 — 25-24, 655 point differential

The game is on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. and will be televised on Fox Sports Wisconsin.

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