Milwaukee Bucks Game Preview: Jan. 20 at Orlando Magic

Nov 27, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) looks to get by Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) in the second half at Amway Center. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Orlando Magic 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 27, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) looks to get by Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) in the second half at Amway Center. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Orlando Magic 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The slumping Milwaukee Bucks are back under .500, with a game against the Orlando Magic next up on the schedule.

The Milwaukee Bucks have lost three straight games, and they’ll need to be road warriors to prevent that losing streak from getting any longer. After sitting at 20-18 and looking up towards some good seeds in the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee is now 20-21 and barely out of the eighth spot.

The good news about the clump of teams in the middle of the East is that an ascension can be made very quickly. The bad news is that a slide downwards can happen just as quickly, if not faster.

With teams like the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks trending up, the Bucks need to collect some wins to prevent being left behind once playoff time rolls around. With Khris Middleton reportedly looking at returning soon, Milwaukee could make a real push towards the end of the season.

That won’t matter unless the Bucks are in a position to push towards anything, though. That means games like the one on Friday night, against the lowly Orlando Magic, matter.

To find out how either team could win this game, we’ll look for a major key for both Orlando and Milwaukee. Then we’ll single out a Magicman to watch, and finally make some predictions about the final score.

Jan 29, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) reacts with center Greg Monroe (15) and forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) after scoring a basket in the first quarter against the Miami Heat at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 29, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) reacts with center Greg Monroe (15) and forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) after scoring a basket in the first quarter against the Miami Heat at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Major Key For Milwaukee: Play Your Game

One of the worst things the Bucks do is play towards their opponents. That’s great when the Bucks play LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but when the Orlando Magic are on the schedule it can be troublesome.

Lots of young teams do this, and apparently it bothers other teams as much as it bothers fans. If the Bucks come out and play like they’re going against the champions, they’ll blow Orlando out.

If the come out of the gates a bit slow and don’t take this game as seriously because the Magic stink, that’s where things can get dangerous. Orlando isn’t good, but they’re still an NBA team. Any team can win on any night.

Milwaukee’s losing streak might help with this. The Bucks will want to win, and should be buoyed a bit extra by Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s All-Star starting nod. That could lead to a victory if the Greek Freak comes out with a bit of extra pep in his step against the Magic

NBA: Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets

Major Key For Orlando: Take Smart Shots

Although the Orlando Magic are built to rebound, grabbing tons of boards doesn’t necessarily lead to wins for this team. Orlando is 2-4 in games where the team pulls down 50 or more rebounds so far this season.

For the Magic, their efficiency from the field is a lot more important than their rebounding numbers. Orlando is 6-1 when the team makes half or more of their field goals. It’s a bit surprising that a team with so many big men hits that mark so rarely.

The Bucks, for the sake of comparison, have shot 50 percent or better from the field 15 times this year, and they’re 10-5 in those games. Giannis and Jabari Parker taking lots of shots and making most of them definitely helps there, and Orlando’s tendency to shoot a lot and not make many threes definitely does not help the Magic.

Considering it looks like two of the four shooters the Magic have who make more than 33 percent of their threes might sit out on Friday night, maybe Orlando should focus on the higher percentage shots instead of watching Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton chuck threes all night.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Portland Trail Blazers

Player To Watch: Elfrid Payton

The Magic know they’ll get good contributions from their big men, but the guard spot is less certain. With Evan Fournier likely out with heel soreness and Jodie Meeks out with sprained ligaments in his thumb, that leaves a lot of pressure on Elfrid Payton.

The only guard besides Fournier, Meeks and Payton scoring more than 3.3 points per game on the Magic is D.J. Augustin. Either Orlando finally lets Mario Hezonja play, or they slide Aaron Gordon down to shooting guard–the Magic don’t have many other options.

Anyway, back to Payton. He’s been playing better lately, but Orlando is still 2-9 over their last 11 games. There is one positive trend related to the point guard though–the Magic are 4-1 in games where he dishes ten or more assists, and 7-3 when he records more than seven assists.

When Payton gets the ball moving and runs Orlando’s offense well, the Magic tend to win. Point guards that can’t shoot can be tough to win with in the Association, but good passing can help make up for that key deficiency at times.

Nov 27, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) drives past Milwaukee Bucks guard Jason Terry (3) in the second half at Amway Center. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Orlando Magic 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 27, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) drives past Milwaukee Bucks guard Jason Terry (3) in the second half at Amway Center. The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Orlando Magic 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Finale

I’m not a huge believer in must-win games, especially in January, but this one might end up being key later on. The Bucks schedule gets tough after this Florida road trip.

After this game and the next against the Miami Heat, the Bucks play the Houston Rockets, the surging Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors, the Boston Celtics and the Utah Jazz. That’s a tough slate, and the Raptors and Celtics games make up a back-to-back for the Bucks.

Milwaukee will cross that bridge when the team comes to it, but collecting a win in Orlando is the first step to lasting through that stretch of the schedule with a playoff spot still at hand.

Predictions and Leaderboard:

Rohan Katti: Bucks by 8 — 26-15, 464 point differential

Lukas Harkins:  Magic by 2 — 23-18, 464 point differential

Adam Coffman: Bucks by 6 — 24-17, 472 point differential

Tom Pheister: Bucks by 7 — 24-17, 510 point differential

Adam McGee: Bucks by 14 — 23-18, 510 point differential

Jordan Treske: Bucks by 10 — 22-19, 545 point differential

Tim Wray: Bucks by 7 — 22-19, 481 point differential

Ti Windisch: Bucks by 3 — 21-20, 493 point differential

The game is on Friday night at 6:00 p.m. and will be televised on Fox Sports Wisconsin.

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