The Milwaukee Bucks are the best team in the NBA, now with a 10-1 record. But power forward Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo and point guard Jrue Holiday won’t suit up for the second game in a row, because both starters continue to nurse minor injuries.
Antetokounmpo will sit out Friday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs because of left knee soreness. Antetokounmpo leads the NBA with a 32.40 player efficiency rating (PER). He’s in the top four in the two major offensive categories, averaging 31.8 points (fourth overall), 12.2 rebounds (ranked second), and 5.3 assists per game.
Holiday sprained his ankle against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday and will miss his second game in a row. Holiday averages 19.6 points, 7.9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game this season.
The Bucks have the best record in the NBA at 10-1, even though swingman Khris Middleton missed the start of the season while recovering from wrist surgery. An emphasis on defense, improving their 3-point shooting, and offensive rebounding has been the blueprint for the Bucks’ early success this season.
Short-Handed Bucks Face Worst D
Without their top two scorers and best defenders, the Bucks are a +1.5 underdog against the San Antonio Spurs (5-7). The Spurs seek to end a five-game losing streak after they started the season 5-2.
The Bucks are the second-best betting team in the NBA this season, with a 9-2 record against the spread (ATS). The Spurs are 7-5 ATS this season.
The Bucks and Spurs both average 113.6 points per game on offense, but find themselves at opposite ends of the defensive spectrum. The Spurs and their porous defense allow a league-worst 120.9 points per game. The Bucks boast the second-best defense in the NBA by holding opponents to only 105.4 points per game.
Small forward Keldon Johnson leads the Spurs in scoring, averaging 23.1 points per game. He’s probably the best player in the NBA you don’t know about, because he thrives in obscurity in a small media market city like San Antonio, which has a large population but little national presence.
The Spurs traded away their top scorer, Dejounte Murray, to the Atlanta Hawks in the off-season. But shooting guard Devin Vassell has become a reliable scorer, averaging 20.9 points per game, while shooting 45.9% from 3-point range.
Because of a light schedule this weekend with just one game, skipping the Spurs on Friday night provides Antetokounmpo and Holiday three additional days of rest before the Bucks face a pair of elite teams next week. With an 8-3 record, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Bucks. The Atlanta Hawks are 8-4 and tied for the third-best record in the East.
The Bucks and Hawks meet in a revenge game on Monday. The Hawks defeated the Bucks earlier this week, 117-98, and handed Milwaukee their first loss of the season after an unblemished 9-0 start.
Bucks First to 10 Wins, Brook Lopez, and Noah’s Ark
Both Holiday and Antetokounmpo were absent from the Bucks’ double double-overtime victory, 136-132, against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night in OKC. Even without their two leading scorers, the Bucks survived the double-OT thriller to improve to 10-1 on the season.
Backup point guard Jevon Carter started in place of Holiday. He exploded for 36 points and connected on 5-for-10 from 3-point range.
Center Brook Lopez added 24 points in the victory. Even though he struggled with 1-for-6 from 3-point range against the Thunder, he averages a career-best 35.7% from beyond the arc this season.
Lopez diligently worked on improving his 3-point shot in the off-season. He’s now averaging 6.4 3-pointers per game, also a career-high. Lopez is a valuable part of the Bucks’ five-out offensive strategy, because he forces opposing big men to defend him on the perimeter as a legit deep threat. That in turn unclogs the paint and opens lanes for a slashing Antetokounmpo.
During his summer workouts, Lopez utilized the Noah Shooting System, which is a series of cameras that provide real-time metrics of jump shots. The Noah Shooting System draws its name from the biblical reference of Noah’s Ark, because it captures the arc and trajectory of shots. Multiple cameras are positioned above the rim to track additional data for coaches to help players improve their 3-point shooting.
Lopez grokked the data from the Noah cameras and tweaked the launch angle of his 3-pointers. After the Bucks caught a glimpse of Lopez’s much-improved 3-point shot in the preseason, they quickly installed a Noah Shooting System at their practice facility to provide the entire team an edge with their outside shooting.
‘No Rings Without Rebounds’
Pat Riley, when he was the head coach of the 1980s Showtime LA Lakers, often used the phrase “No rings without rebounds.” It was Riley’s way of reminding his players that they couldn’t win a championship without outrebounding their opponents.
The Bucks are the best rebounding team in the NBA this season, averaging 51.1 rebounds per game. They’re ranked #12 on the offensive glass with 12.1 boards per game. It’s better than previous seasons, but head coach Mike Budenholzer wants the Bucks to improve on that underrated stat.
Some nights, you’re just not going to make shots, or make threes and you can’t just crawl into a hole and go home,” Budenholzer told The Athletic. “You have to find other ways to win.”
The Bucks are ranked #18 in 3-point shooting, averaging 35.2%. They attempt the fifth-most 3-pointers in the NBA, with 39 shots from downtown every game, yet they miss over 25 treys per game. They must cover up their long-range deficiency by extending possessions with offensive rebounds on errant 3-pointers. The Bucks are gradually improving their offensive rebounding by making it a priority for players to crash the offensive glass whenever possible.
Antetokounmpo (12.2 rebounds per game), Bobby Portis (10.9), and Lopez (6.7) are the Bucks’ top three rebounders. Portis and Lopez lead the team in offensive rebounds with an average of 2.4 per game each as their best glass crashers.
“It’s been a point of emphasis,” said Holiday. “Really just trying to get in there and get extra possessions. Portis has always been good. Lopez’s just a load down there.”
The Bucks are now the consensus betting favorite to win the 2022-23 NBA championship at +550 odds, according to the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.
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