The Milwaukee Bucks are the defending NBA champions. They should, theoretically, have a leg up on the league’s 29 other teams as title contenders.
The Bucks are set to host Golden State (with Klay Thompson now on board). If Milwaukee can convincingly beat the Dubs, it would go a long way toward proving the team is still the favorite to win back-to-back championships.
The Milwaukee Bucks have had a difficult first half of the season
The Bucks are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference standings and have dealt with numerous injuries all year.
Not that other teams haven’t missed key players for chunks of time, but the defending champions had their starting center, Brook Lopez, for opening night.
That was it. And he’s expected to miss the entire season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has missed nine games. Jrue Holiday has missed 10 and is still out of the lineup with an ankle injury, which comes on the heels of being out and in the league’s health and safety protocols.
The other member of Milwaukee’s Big Three, Khris Middleton, has missed 12 games.
The Bucks have needed players like Jordan Nwora, Rodney Hood, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo to play significant minutes in a dozen games.
Still, Milwaukee has a plus-minus of 3.8, the eighth-best in the league. It’s also fifth in the NBA in scoring and second in rebounding (without Lopez).
A win over the Warriors would help solidify their spot as title contenders
Golden State is currently second in the West, but until recently, has been the best team in the NBA since the first week of the season.
Curry has broken like every 3-point record ever already this season. Thompson just returned after missing more than two calendar years and has scored 31 total points in two games.
The Warriors led the league in both offense and defense until a cold stretch hit the past few weeks. The Dubs dropped in offense but are still first in points allowed, second in assists, and fifth in rebounding.
Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green are all working back into 2015-level form. Jordan Poole has become the third splash brother. Even a raw rookie like Jonathan Kuminga is playing a key role.
Is Bucks-Warriors a potential NBA Finals matchup? Of course it is. But it would also be a much-needed win for Milwaukee.
Giannis and Co. have dropped four of their last five, including back-to-back games to the Charlotte Hornets.
To make injury matters worse, Grayson Allen, who’s been the team’s starting two-guard this year, is in health and safety protocols. So is backup point guard George Hill as well as head coach Mike Budenholzer. (Bud may return for the Golden State game).
It’s not like the defending champs are lacking confidence. But it’s been a tough stretch in a tough first half of the season. A win over one of the best teams in the league — with the challenges Milwaukee is facing — puts them right back in the title conversation.
Regular season wins are valuable, but the playoffs are Milwaukee’s main focus
A win over Golden State would vault the Bucks back to the top of the championship conversation. However, that’s not Milwaukee’s goal in January.
The goal is to be there come playoff time. And the ultimate goal is to be there in July, hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the second consecutive time.
Solidifying a spot as the title favorites is all well and good, and a win over the Warriors would get the Bucks back there.
But there’s still half a season to go, half a season to get healthy, and half a season to ramp up and prepare for a title defense.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com.