The NBA's Central Division, it seemed, only had two good teams at the beginning of the year. Everyone one and their mother predicted the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls to win the division and, in the process, dominate everyone else. The Milwaukee Bucks, fresh off picking near the top of the lottery, figured to be at the bottom of the division.
But the Bucks have been one of the NBA's pleasant surprises so far. Milwaukee is young, but loaded with talent. Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the inevitable franchise cornerstones showing flashes of their respective max potentials right now, while O.J. Mayo and Larry Sanders have been seemingly rejuvenated. And Jason Kidd, for all of the drama he caused, is doing excellent work on a team that is a the polar opposite of the Brooklyn Nets squad he coached a year ago. The result is the Bucks are 10-8, half a game ahead of the Cavs in the division and currently fifth in the Eastern Conference.
This likely isn't sustainable - Milwaukee's youth is both a blessing and a curse - but the Bucks are fun.
What: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Milwaukee Bucks
When: 7 p.m.
When: Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Ohio
Televison: Fox Sports Ohio
Music: Dead Presidents by Jay-Z
Parker rapped this song off the top of his head in a video released by the NBA a few months back. And this song is excellent.
The Bucks defense is good. The Bucks' best chance of winning this game is a mix of defense and some luck. Parker may be able to score in the NBA right now, but he will largely be defended by LeBron James and Shawn Marion in this game. He's also a rookie and only averaging 11.9 points per game. The Bucks will also need Brandon Knight - yes, this is same Brandon Knight that Kyrie Irving did this to a few year back - to get going.
But this will really come down the Bucks' ability to even moderately slow down Cleveland's attack. Teams are only shooting 44.3 percent against Milwaukee give up 103.6 points per 100 possession - good for eighth in the league. And what's most interesting is that the Bucks aren't exactly loaded with plus defenders. Parker, as a rookie, is bad and Knight is susceptible to pick and rolls and any sort of quick offensive attack. The key is Sanders, who is somewhat back to the anchor he was two years ago when the Bucks played LeBron's heat in the playoffs. He's blocking three shots per 36 minutes and blocking 6.8 percent of all two-point field goals.
Kevin Love has been awesome the past two games. In the Cavs' last two games - both wins - Love has shot 16-23 from the field and looked rather comfortable in the flow of the game. He's getting the line, getting touches all over the floor and morphing into the uber-efficient Love we expected him to be from the start.
This is a huge, huge development for the Cavs. For the season, the Cavs have an offense rating 110.8, which is fourth in the NBA. But against the Wizards - the first game Love really went off - the Cavs had an absurd offense rating of 127.9. Over time, if this keeps up, the Cavs will be become mostly unstoppable on offense.
One other thing to note: Love has only taken five 3-points in the last two games. In the other game he really looked sharp - the win against the New Orleans Pelicans - he took nine.
Giannis! It's somewhat hard to figure out Giannis at this point in his career. He's still growing into his already freakishly long frame and, despite being relatively effective so far this season, he's incredibly raw on both ends. But he can Eurostep from the 3-point line. Seriously.
He's also 19 years old. Think about that for a second. It's both awesome and terrifying. With him and Parker at the core, the Bucks truly are a team to look out for over the next few years, provided they can land the right players in the draft/in free agency. And like Giannis, the Bucks should only get better from here.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction: The Bucks have been a really pleasant surprise, but the Bucks just aren't in the Cavs' class. The Bucks will have some moments, but the Cavs should win this comfortably. Cavs 101, Bucks 93.