Following a loss to the Boston Celtics Tuesday, Memphis is now on the outside looking in regarding their position in the Western Conference playoff picture. After entering the Bubble with a comfortable 3.5 game cushion as the eight seed in the West, a 1-6 stint in Orlando has put a damper on the team’s postseason aspirations. The Portland Trail Blazers are owners of the final playoff spot as of now, and the Grizzlies are deadlocked with the Spurs and Suns for the ninth-best record in the conference.
This one against Milwaukee is a must-win for Memphis. If they defeat the Bucks Thursday, they’re guaranteed a spot in the play-in series. If they lose? Well, they’ll need both San Antonio and Phoenix to lose too, and if they don’t, the Grizzlies’ season will come to an end. Fortunately for Memphis though, the Bucks don’t have a whole lot to play for. Regardless of the outcome, Coach Mike Budenholzer and crew will finish with the NBA’s best record. So let’s hope that Milwaukee opts to rest their key contributors with their fate in the Eastern Conference standings already decided.
To learn more about Memphis’ opponent, I picked the brain of Brew Hoop’s Kyle Carr, who was kind enough to fill me in on how the Bucks have fared in the Bubble, their expectations heading into the postseason, and more.
1. The Bucks have lost four of their seven games in Orlando. How concerned are you about the team’s recent play?
I go back and forth on how concerned about the Bucks bubble performance I should be. Other than Toronto, all of the losses came down to one or two possessions that they failed to execute offensively. But there are elements that need to improve like their perimeter defense and the frequency of turning the ball over. Milwaukee likely can skate by in the first round. But they’ll need to flip whatever switch.
2. Will anything less than a championship for the Bucks this season be considered a disappointment?
Milwaukee not making the finals would be considered a failed season while making the finals but not winning the championship would be disappointing. It would still sting losing in the finals, but at least the expectation of making it would be accomplished.
3. Which matchup are you looking forward to most in this one?
Giannis’ suspension combined with Budenholzer’s tendency to give players days off for load management makes it a bit difficult to know who will and won’t play. I’m going to assume that Middleton, DiVincenzo and Bledsoe will play in some capacity so I would go with Dillon Brooks vs Donte or Khris Middleton. Brooks has the capability of doing damage to this Milwaukee team that has seemed to willingly let people shoot. He also has the speed to get past Middleton and the size benefit against DiVincenzo. With most of the attention going to Morant, that might give Brooks some good looks.
4. What is Donte DiVincenzo’s ceiling?
Donte’s ceiling is likely a role playing starter on a title contending team. He’s thrived and made a leap this year and if he can improve his shooting, he will be a locked in starter in the near future. I expect him to be an impactful sixth man as he does seem to be able to do a little bit of everything to a passable degree.
5. Who’s your favorite Grizzly and why?
It’s easily Ja Morant; I remember hearing about him last year as someone who would be a high draft pick and watched him dominate Marquette in the NCAA tourney. He’s got everything you would want in a PG and a franchise player. He has that chip on his shoulder of proving people wrong that I love and the man has bounce! It’ll be really exciting to see what Memphis does with him and JJJ moving forward!