Just 3.5 games separate the Wizards in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings, and the Heat in eighth. Indiana and Milwaukee both sit in the middle of all this congestion, with records of 34-27 and 33-28, respectively.
The Bucks are on a three-game losing streak, and on Wednesday were soundly defeated by the Pistons. Giannis Antetokounmpo had one of his worst games of the year, scoring just 11 points, grabbing three rebounds and dishing out two assists as Milwaukee went down 87-110.
The Pacers are currently on a two-game losing streak of their own, having gone down 102-107 in a disappointing loss to Atlanta on Wednesday. Bojan Bogdanovic hit four 3-pointers in the last quarter to give the Pacers a chance, while Victor Oladipo had 22 points and five assists, but it wasn’t enough to get them over the line.
Three keys to the game
Giannis’ health - Giannis still managed 30 minutes against Detroit, and wasn’t playing well to begin with, but he was forced to leave the game with ten minutes remaining after suffering an eye injury. He is listed as questionable for this game, and if he doesn’t play, the Bucks will have a lot of trouble winning this one.
Pacers’ points off turnovers - This is a common mode of scoring for the Pacers. Their 15.1 points off turnovers per game is behind only the Lakers and the Warriors. The Bucks, though, are the best in the league at stopping their opponents scoring in this way. They allow a meagre 8.6 points off turnovers per game, significantly better than anyone else in the NBA.
Can the Bucks compete on the boards? - Milwaukee have been one of the worst teams in the league at rebounding all season, grabbing just 48.2% of available boards. But on Wednesday it hit rock bottom as they had just 35 rebounds compared to Detroit’s 57. This incredible discrepancy led to an extra 22 shots for the Pistons, and was a major reason for the Bucks’ loss.
Matchup to watch
Khris Middleton vs Bojan Bogdanovic - Both of these players are streaky scorers, equally capable of putting up huge performances as they are of going missing. Middleton is more likely to at least contribute in some meaningful way, and is a solid defender too, something Bogdanovic can’t claim to be. The Croatian is in excellent form though, averaging 19.1 points per game in his last ten outings. Middleton is averaging 20.0 points per game this season, a career high, while also grabbing 5.2 boards, dishing out 4.0 assists, and contributing 1.3 steals. If either of these guys can get going on Friday, it will give their team a major boost.
Milwaukee Bucks predicted starting lineup
PG - Eric Bledsoe | SG - Sterling Brown | SF - Khris Middleton | PF - Giannis Antetokounmpo | C - John Henson
Indiana Pacers predicted starting lineup
PG - Cory Joseph | SG - Victor Oladipo | SF - Bojan Bogdanovic | PF - Thaddeus Young | C - Myles Turner
Antetokounmpo hasn’t been as dominant against the Pacers as against most teams in his young career, but his numbers are still fairly impressive. In 18 career outings against them, he averages 15.0 points on 48.4% shooting, 5.7 boards, 3.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks.
Domantas Sabonis has given the Bucks a lot of trouble in the two matchups between the sides this season. In the first game, he shot 10-for-13 on the way to 24 points, while in the second one he went 8-for-12 for 17 points, while also grabbing ten boards and three assists.
The Pacers have been given a three-point head start by oddsmakers. Expect this one to be close. If Antetokounmpo doesn’t get up, Indiana will probably win, but he is more likely than not to suit up, and as a result the Bucks are a good bet to cover this line.
The outcome of this game will depend largely on the health of Antetokounmpo. Expect him to get up, however, and contribute significantly at both ends of the floor for the Bucks.
Sabonis clearly enjoys playing against the second unit of the Bucks, and despite Jabari Parker now being present, he will have another big game, scoring 15-plus points in a cameo performance off the bench.
It won’t be enough though, and the Antetokounmpo-led Bucks will leapfrog the Pacers with a victory. They’ll run out 109-103 winners in a close game.
The game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Wisconsin and Fox Sports Indiana.