Opponent: Milwaukee Bucks
Starting Lineup: Donte DiVincenzo - Wes Matthews (Questionable) - Khris Middleton - Giannis Antetokounmpo - Brook Lopez
Second Unit: George Hill - Pat Connaughton - Kyle Korver - Sterling Brown - Ersan Ilyasova - Robin Lopez
Leading Scorer: Antetokounmpo (31.4 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Antetokounmpo (12.7 RPG)
Leading Assists: Antetokounmpo (5.5 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Antetokounmpo, of course
The Bucks have a deep, solid roster at pretty much every position, but the engine that steers the ship is Antetokounmpo, who is registering an even better season that his MVP campaign last year. He has the vision and handle of a guard, the size of a big and is even developing an outside shot of a wing, shooting over 34% from three-point range on more than 5 attempts per game. There’s little any team can do to stop him. For the Indiana Pacers, it gets even more challenging because there is nobody who matches up with him well. The past few seasons, Thaddeous Young was the Pacers’ “Giannis stopper.” Now? It’s going to be done by committee. This is a tough matchup for Indiana.
Biggest Advantage: Coming off a back-to-back?
Man, it’s tough to come up with any advantage the Pacers have against the Bucks. Eric Bledsoe being injured is a good thing for Malcolm Brogdon’s success, since Bledsoe is an elite on-ball defender. But DiVincenzo is establishing himself as a pretty good defender himself. The Bucks are coming off a game last night against the Knicks in New York, so they are coming off a back-to-back with travel. That’s always a tough thing for teams to do. However, nobody played more than 27 minutes for the Bucks because it was a blowout. Here’s to hoping they are a little fatigued from the travel.
The X-Factor: Matthews
Matthews isn’t considered the X-Factor because of how much he swings the game individually, but whether he plays or not changes a lot schematically for the Bucks. With him in the lineup, Antetokounmpo starts at power forward, but if he remains out, then they start Ilyasova and play Antetokounmpo at small forward. The Ilyasova-Lopez frontcourt struggles on defense in transition. If Matthews is out and they start them together, can the Pacers take advantage?
There aren’t many, if any, teams in the NBA who can feel good about a matchup with the Bucks. They are on pace to win 71 games for God’s sake. It’ll be a guard Antetokounmpo by committee type of night with Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Warren, Justin Holiday and others all getting shots on him. I’m particularly intrigued with Holiday’s ability to guard him, as he’s done well guarding bigger guys this year. The problem with the Bucks is that they are so well-balanced around him. Even with injuries to Bledsoe and Matthews, guys like DiVincenzo, Hill and Connaughton have stepped into bigger roles like it’s been no problem. The Pacers will hope the Bucks have an off-shooting night and should look to push the pace when Ilyasova and Lopez are sharing the floor.