The host Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers, opponents Saturday night, could not be on two more different trajectories.
The host Bucks seek to extend the best start in the 52-year history of the franchise. Milwaukee won its 17th straight game on Friday, 127-114 at Memphis, maintaining an already sizable lead atop the Eastern Conference.
Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 37 points — 17 in the fourth quarter — and grabbed 11 rebounds in the win. He is on a career-best pace in both statistical categories.
Antetokounmpo missed Wednesday’s game against New Orleans to rest a sore quadriceps muscle, but the Bucks used the opportunity to show off their all-around depth.
“I think we took a little more ownership of what’s going on out there,” Khris Middleton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel following the defeat of the Pelicans. “When Giannis is out there, he draws such a huge crowd that we play through him a lot. Without him tonight, we know we have to do a little bit more. It was a great test; they play with a fast pace just like us. I think we did a great job.”
Now Milwaukee sets its sights on the longest winning streak in franchise history. The 1970-71 squad with Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won 20 straight.
While the Bucks pursue history, Cleveland is trying not to fall apart. The Cavaliers lost 14-of-15 from Nov. 12 through Dec. 11, only getting off the schneid with a 117-109 defeat of San Antonio their last time out.
Ahead of the win against the Spurs, anonymously sourced reports swirled suggesting Cleveland players were unhappy with first-year coach John Beilein. Beilein is in his first season in the NBA, having spent the previous three decades in the college game, most recently at the University of Michigan.
“At the end of the day, if you’re going to build a culture and a family, you can’t have that Chatty Patty (stuff) going on. That is wack,” veteran center Tristan Thompson told reporters on Wednesday. “Everyone’s got to look in the mirror. There’s only so much Coach can do, and there’s only so much we can do. Do we have the best roster in the NBA? No. But we’re going to go out there and compete every night. Guys got to look in the mirror.”
Against San Antonio, however, Thompson and Beilein engaged in a shouting match on the sideline.
Beilein has attempted to implement a perimeter-oriented offense, using two ball-handlers on the floor at the same time. Second-year guard Collin Sexton is leading the Cavaliers with 17.8 points per game, but Cleveland’s shooting from the perimeter has been inconsistent.
Sexton’s backcourt mates, Jordan Clarkson and Darius Garland, are shooting 42.6 and 37.9 percent, respectively, from the floor. That contributes to shooting averages from the floor and behind the 3-point arc that rank 26th among the NBA’s 30 teams. The Cavaliers are 28th in points per game at 103.2.
That is in stark contrast to Milwaukee, which at 120.8 points per game leads the NBA.
–Field Level Media