Game #20 Preview: Buck Hunting

Indiana Pacers @ Milwaukee Bucks
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
8:00 pm EST
Bradley Center
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The 2010-11 Pacers look like the 2009-10 Bucks. Last year, Milwaukee was the darling team that everyone dug, mostly due to its quick, electric young point guard and its fundamentally sound, rapidly evolving center. Well, Brandon Jennings may have had more to do with the Bucks’ rise last year than Darren Collison has for this season’s Pacers, but the speedy floor general along with the still-improving Roy Hibbert have been the biggest factors.

And now, as Milwaukee tailspins amid preseason expectations, the Pacers have taken their moniker as Central Division surprise artists. Interestingly, they are also doing it the same way: with defense. The Bucks were the leagues 2nd best defensive squad last season, only allowing 103.1 points per 100 possessions and only allowing opponents to shoot an eFG% of 48.6% (good for 8th best in the NBA). This year’s Pacers are the 7th best defensive team in the NBA, allowing an even-better 102.8 points per 100 possessions while surrendering an eFG% of 46.8% (good for 3rd best).

This year’s Bucks team is similarly tough in terms of allowing buckets — they are 5th best with 101.8 points per 100. But the reason they are struggling so mightily to win games is that their offense has fallen off a cliff. In terms of both points per possession and eFG%, they are the worst offense in the NBA.

A lot of this can probably be attributed to the struggles of John Salmons. The great Bucks blog Brew Hoop had a good post detailing exactly why Salmons might be playing so much worse than he did for Milwaukee last season. For Pacers fans hoping their team wins tonight, this is the key takeaway.

What does seem clear is Salmons’ importance to the Bucks’ bottom line. The former Miami star has averaged 17.0 ppg, 3.7 apg, and 3.9 rpg on .467/.435/.758 shooting in seven Bucks wins, but just 10.2 ppg, 2.7 apg, and 3.3 rpg on some seriously terrible .318/.306/.771 shooting in 12 losses.

If Indiana can keep Salmons in check tonight in Milwaukee, that would seem to be the first step to beating the Bucks, something the Pacers couldn’t even do on their own court on November 5 — despite the fact that their best player, Andrew Bogut, didn’t even dress that night. In fact, beating the Bucks isn’t something the Pacers have done much of at all even dating back to last season. They were swept in their four meetings last season and are only 3-7 in their last 10 match-ups.

Of course, the November loss came before we knew that this year’s Indy team might be good and before we knew that this year’s Bucks team might be bad. Now, both teams are gleefully or painfully (respectively) aware of their current situations.

Whether this can reverse the recent fortune for Indiana vs. Milwaukee is unknown.

But we will find out in a few hours.

Pacers vs Bucks By the Numbers

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Tags: Game Previews