Preview: Bucks at Trail Blazers
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Milwaukee Bucks hope they’re onto something as they invade Moda Center on Thursday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers in the final stop on a four-game road trip.
The Bucks (10-9) enjoyed probably their most complete game of the season in a 112-87 victory at Sacramento on Tuesday, a night after the Kings knocked off the Golden State Warriors at Oakland.
Milwaukee shot a season-best 59.2 percent from the field and had 27 assists in 42 baskets in the romp past the Kings.
“The ball moved,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We didn’t just hold it. We didn’t back down. We didn’t dribble 10 times to take a shot. Our guys trusted one another. They executed, did their job at both ends.”
“We’ve been wanting to play like this for a while, just moving the ball side to side and getting the best shot, not caring who scores or shoots it,” said Milwaukee forward Khris Middleton, who scored 12 points. “We played the right way, and it shows that it works.”
Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and guard Eric Bledsoe filled up the boxscore in abbreviated appearances. Antetokounmpo scored 32 points on 11-for-16 shooting and also piled up five rebounds, five assists and five steals in 26 minutes. Bledsoe, acquired from Phoenix three weeks ago, had 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including 3 for 4 from 3-point range. The point guard also collected five rebounds, five assists and three steals in 24 minutes.
Milwaukee’s defense allowed the Kings to shoot only 40.3 percent with 16 turnovers. Milwaukee had 13 steals, five in the first quarter.
“We were just helping one another,” Antetokounmpo said. “In the pick-and-roll, we had high hands. When you have high hands, you help the low man. When the low man is early, you help the fill man, the guy behind you. That’s what we did. We trusted one another defensively.”
Milwaukee, 2-1 on the road trip, goes into the Portland game 18th in the NBA in defensive rating at 105.8. The Blazers, who finished last season with a No. 21 defensive rating, have climbed to second this year at 99.3.
The Blazers put it together at both ends of the court while going 4-1 on their recently completed road trip, which ended with a 103-91 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday. The win over the Knicks was preceded by close wins in Washington and Brooklyn highlighted by playmaking down the stretch.
“It’s great momentum for us going forward,” said guard Damian Lillard, who led the way with 32 points against the Knicks.
“The best thing is our offense is kicking back into gear,” coach Terry Stotts said. “(Against New York), we made a lot of good reads. We moved well without the ball, made good passes. With the tempo we’re playing, there were a lot of good things.”
Pat Connaughton will make his fourth consecutive start at small forward. In the last two games, the third-year pro averaged 14.5 points, sinking 11 of 16 shots, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Lillard referred to Connaughton as the “MVP of the road trip.”
“He plays with a lot of confidence, and he’s a very smart player,” Stotts said. “It goes beyond making shots. He makes hard cuts, he makes team plays, (and) he doesn’t make many mistakes. He complements the players he’s out there with. He did that when he was coming off the bench, and he’s doing that as a starter.”
The Bucks, who beat Portland 113-110 in Milwaukee on Oct. 21, are looking for back-to-back wins over the Blazers for the first time since 2012-13.