Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers (26-15) are still winning. And yes, they are facing the Milwaukee Bucks (30-13) again (and will do so Friday as well). The Cavs dismantled the Bucks sans Giannis Antetokounmpo last week 135-95, a drubbing that was over in the second quarter. Milwaukee is seeking some redemption against the Cavs, this time on their home court.
This time the Bucks will have a different head coach as Adrian Griffin was let go on Monday afternoon. While there are reports of Doc Rivers taking the job, there’s been no official word yet. Joe Prunty will be leading the Bucks tonight.
Where: Fiserv Forum - Milwaukee, WI
When: 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports Wisconsin
Spread: Bucks -6.5
Expected Cavs Starting Lineup: Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Max Strus, Dean Wade, Jarrett Allen
Cavs Injury Report: Darius Garland (jaw, OUT), Evan Mobley (knee, OUT), Caris LeVert (wrist, QUESTIONABLE), Tristan Thompson (suspension, OUT), Ty Jerome (OUT, ankle), Isaiah Mobley (G League, OUT), Emoni Bates (G League, OUT)
Expected Bucks Starting Lineup: Damian Lillard, Malik Beasley, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Bucks Injury Report: Giannis Antetokounmpo (shoulder, PROBABLE), Chris Livingston (G League, OUT), TyTy Washington Jr. (G League, OUT)
What to watch for: Can anyone stop Sam Merrill?
The Cavs’ bench has been on full display over this eight-game winning streak, but the player who has arguably been the most impactful is Sam Merrill. The 27-year-old former Buck lit the Orlando Magic up for 26 points in 31 minutes on 8/13 from deep, including hitting his first five threes. One game prior, he dropped 18 points and drilled five three-pointers against the Atlanta Hawks. In both of those contests, Merrill absorbed minutes from the injured Caris LeVert and picked up the scoring slack in a big way.
Merrill’s release is quick, and the Cavs use that to their advantage by running him around pin-downs and screens to get a glimmer of daylight. In the previous game against the Bucks Merrill only played 22 minutes because of the lopsided score, but Milwaukee will be on full alert when he is on the court. Even with average at best defense, Merrill’s offensive impact is undeniable. How the Bucks defend the three-point line will be worth watching, especially if Antetokounmpo is playing.
One stat to watch for: Jarrett Allen's double-double streak
In addition to Merrill, the other machine has been Jarrett Allen. The 25-year-old has a double-double in 12-straight games and put up 21 points and 13 rebounds last time out against the Bucks. Things will likely be different this time around with Giannis healthy, meaning the paint will be guarded by both him and Brook Lopez. That will assuredly make things more difficult for Allen.
That being said, the sudden gravitational pull of the Cavs’ key shooters may open up the paint a bit more. Milwaukee is not as stout of a defensive team as they previously have been (21st in the league), but they have good interior defenders. That means the Cavs will have to continue their heavy three-point shooting tendencies to create some space in the paint for Donovan Mitchell drives or Jarrett Allen lob-catching. In the previous game against Milwaukee, the Cavs won the rebounding battle by 19 - no doubt a significant reason why they won. With Giannis back, the Cavs will find tougher sledding on the glass as well.