Milwaukee Bucks vs Orlando Magic: Lineups, preview & prediction 3/14/18

The Milwaukee Bucks continue their soft patch of schedule Wednesday night against an Orlando Magic team coming off a winless road trip.


Milwaukee (36-31) are taking care of business against lesser opponents ahead of a Monday night showdown at Cleveland, having beaten both New York and Memphis by double-digits in their last two games. 

The Bucks play Atlanta after this game, and those four opponents have combined to lose 35 straight games as of the end of play Tuesday night, with the Grizzlies accounting for 18 of them after the Bucks handed them a 121-103 loss Monday night.

Khris Middleton scored 24 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 20 as seven players scored in double figures and Milwaukee shot 58.0 percent, their third-highest total of the season. The Bucks have had two of their top five shooting performances of the season in their last two wins.

Orlando (20-48) limped back home after a winless five-game road swing that ended with a 108-72 pounding administered by San Antonio on Tuesday night. In a season of misery, the Magic plumbed new depths, matching a season low established at Utah earlier on this trip by shooting 34.1 percent.

Nikola Vucevic and Jonathan Simmons were the only players in double figures with ten points apiece as the Spurs turned 20 Magic turnovers into 22 points. Orlando, who played without starters Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier on Tuesday, averaged 90.4 points during their road swing, well off their season mark of 104.7 per game, while shooting 41.2 percent.

Three keys to the game

Jennings makes smashing debut for Bucks - Originally their tenth overall pick in 2009, the Bucks signed guard Brandon Jennings to a ten-day contract Monday following a call-up from the G-League, and he had a stunning season debut with 16 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in just 24 minutes. It was almost a deja vu experience to his NBA debut with the Bucks in which he totaled 17 points, nine assists and nine rebounds.

Jennings started the season in China before signing with the Wisconsin Herd in February.

A Magic act may be needed for points - In some ways, Orlando's season low in points Tuesday was not a surprise since they were without Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, and the pair might not be available for this game as well. Gordon did not clear the concussion protocol before Tuesday's game, while Fournier has missed the last three contests with a sprained MCL. The Magic are 5-16 without Gordon, who averages 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds.

Small steps for Snell - Lost in the Brandon Jennings revival was Bucks shooting guard Tony Snell reaching double figures for just the second time in 16 games with 12 points. The more exciting part for the Bucks is that it all came from the perimeter as he made four of six from 3-point range. Snell has hit four or more 3-pointers in a game just four times this season but is shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Matchup to watch

PF Giannis Antetokounmpo vs PF Jonathan Isaac - The Greek Freak will be well-rested for this game, not because the Bucks won in a blowout, but because he was saddled with foul trouble against Memphis. Antetokounmpo played just under 27 minutes, his fewest since logging 26:16 against Sacramento on November 28.

He has played well against the Magic, totaling 58 points on 24-of-39 shooting. Antetokounmpo should have a clear advantage against rookie forward Jonathan Isaac, who has been pressed into starting duty with Gordon shelved. The sixth overall pick in last year's draft, Isaac has averaged 4.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in 22 games, missing most of the season with a high ankle sprain.

At 6' 10", Isaac can give some resistance defensively on the perimeter against Antetokounmpo, but whether he can stop him in the low post and get help from Vucevic to do so is another matter.

Milwaukee Bucks projected starting lineup

PG - Eric Bledsoe | SG - Tony Snell | C - John Henson | SF - Khris Middleton | PF - Giannis Antetokounmpo

Orlando Magic projected starting lineup

PG - D. J. Augustin | SG - Jonathan Simmons | C - Nikola Vucevic | SF - Mario Hezonja | PF - Jonathan Isaac

Fantasy tip

This is a game tailor-made for Middleton, who has gone 20 of 30 from the field in the last two games while scoring 54 points. He also has totaled 43 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in two games versus Orlando this season, and while he has averaged 18.6 points in 13 lifetime games against the Magic, he has shot 52.4 percent in those contests.

Bucks point guard Eric Bledsoe has been quietly effective in the two games versus the Magic, totaling 33 points and 12 assists while shooting 54.2 percent. He has averaged 12.5 points and 5.4 assists in 11 games versus Orlando along with 1.7 steals per game.

Vucevic likely will be the go-to option offensively for the Magic if Fournier and Gordon are unable to play, and he has averaged 16.4 points and 8.9 rebounds in ten games since the All-Star break. The center missed the first two matchups this season due to his wrist injury and has recorded nine double-doubles in 19 games versus the Bucks, averaging 15.7 points and 10.2 rebounds while shooting 51.3 percent.

Simmons has struggled in the two losses to the Bucks this season, totaling just 16 points while shooting six of 20. The third-year pro had done well in the previous four meetings, averaging 11.5 points while hitting 18 of 26 shots.

Betting tip

The Bucks are 8.5-point favorites, but aside from going 9-1-1 in their last 11 road games against teams with a losing home record, they don't have many trends in their favor. Milwaukee are 2-7 against the spread in their last nine games overall, 1-5 in their last six versus conference rivals and 1-4 in their last five against Southeast Division teams.

Orlando have covered in their last five games when playing on the back end of consecutive nights and are 8-1 against the spread in their last nine contests against Central Division teams. The Magic are 12-5 versus the number in their last 17 conference matchups and 18-8 in their last 26 overall.

The over/under has yet to be established, but the under has been the better play for both teams of late. It has gone 11-4 in Milwaukee's last 15 road games and 12-4 in their last 16 conference matchups. The under has posted a 14-6 mark in Orlando's last 20 home games and 4-1 in their last five overall.

Prediction

To borrow the tag line from Finding Nemo, the Bucks need to "just keep swimming" the next two games to wrap up a needed four-game sweep of this stretch of schedule. The patch has come at a perfect time in relation to their chase for a playoff spot as the teams around Milwaukee are beating each other up, allowing the Bucks to draw within 2.5 games for fourth place, which carries home-court advantage in the first round and 3.5 games behind Indiana for the Central Division lead.

If Jennings can stick, which is no guarantee since he is on a ten-day contract, Milwaukee's backcourt could get a needed scoring punch given the lack of game-to-game consistency from Snell to rookie Sterling Brown and veteran Jason Terry. The Bucks need offense from that spot to go from playoff contender to potential second-round playoff team.

The Magic are hoping to use the final 14 games to see what rookie Jonathan Isaac can provide, though they also hoped he would also soak up information watching Aaron Gordon in addition to his increased minutes. Orlando are a weary team, both physically and mentally, and it would be surprising to see them offer much resistance playing on back-to-back nights after ending a road trip.

This should be a straightforward end to Milwaukee's two-game road swing, and the Bucks should head back home with a three-game winning streak after a 111-95 victory.

TV info

The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Wisconsin and Fox Sports Florida. Tip-off time is 7 pm EDT.

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