The Milwaukee Bucks are the best basketball team in Iowa. You can't argue with me. Check the standings.
Down six players tonight (Sanders, Ilyasova, Wolters, Knight, Inglis, O'Bryant), the short-handed Bucks held the lead for just about the entire game over the Minnesota Timberwolves, and only were really close to losing that lead late in the fourth quarter after strong second halves by Gorgui Dieng (16p/4r), Chase Budinger (13p), and Anthony Bennett (12p/11r).
Being down six players, the Bucks were going to need solid performances from several of the active players, and they got it. Jabari Parker (21p/11r) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (19p/9r) had very encouraging all-around performances (which we'll get to later), but O.J. Mayo was the best player in the universe on the court Friday night.
Though he still had his share of silly plays, Mayo looked way more energetic and assertive than he did at any point last year. Mayo had 19 points on 5-10 shooting, several of which came at crucial moments in the second half that helped stem a Wolves run that threatened the Bucks' lead. He was also a little bit of a pest on defense and got out in transition effectively, highlighted by a fancy dish to Micheal Eric that helped stretch the Bucks lead late when they needed it. Is Mayo going to sustain that level of production? Probably not, but it was nice to see him play with a purpose again.
--Parker got out to a fast start, but cooled off a bit in the middle of the game due to some foul trouble and general ineffectiveness. When the game got tighter down the stretch though, Parker was able to shine, and delivered the play of the game with a clutch dunk that helped seal the game. Out of a timeout, Parker got the ball handed off to him from John Henson that left him in isolation against Bennett. With the help of a little hesitation and a nifty spin move, Parker was able to free himself from Bennett, squeeze through a late double-team from Dieng, and flush home the two-handed dunk. Good news: we have video of the play!
Dunks are fun. Jabari is fun.
--Giannis spent less time in the point guard role in tonight's game, but made several effective plays along the baseline. It's interesting: defenders must know at this point that Giannis is stupid long, but they haven't found a consistent answer to stopping him when he uncoils and gets to the other side of the rim before they have a chance to react. Let's hope they never do, right?
--Jared Dudley missed a three and it's entirely my fault for jinxing him. I'm so sorry. Dudley was 3-4 on the night. On a more positive note though, having Dudley on the roster is interesting. He could wind up being a part of a trade down the road, but what Dudley offers is another shooter to stretch the floor. When paired with Khris Middleton, Dudley is even more useful because he provides an extra outlet for bigs or ball handlers when they penetrate or get in trouble. With Ersan Ilyasova stuck in whatever funk he's in, Dudley may prove to be quite valuable. Whether that value gets flipped or not remains to be seen, but it's refreshing to see someone producing in that role for a change.
The Bucks will now head to New York to face the Knicks on Monday, and should have a few more bodies available. Both Brandon Knight--who tried to give it a go tonight but was a late scratch--will likely be available. Nate Wolters should also be available after getting the DNP-CD tonight.
Conversely, Ersan Ilyasova is still questionable with a knee strain and it was announced today that Larry Sanders would miss the rest of the preseason after undergoing a minor surgical outpatient procedure this afternoon. Sanders is expected to be ready by the regular season, so whatever is ailing him can't be too serious. Whatever it is, the hope is that he is able to come back from it strong, as he was having a strong preseason, averaging 10.0 points and 10.7 rebounds in three games.