ESPN execs have to be thrilled. The NBA can’t be too happy either. The Los Angeles Clippers are sitting Kawhi Leonard on Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks in what could very well be an NBA Finals preview. “Load management” rears its ugly head in a premier primetime spot for the NBA with the start of college basketball season taking up a lot of headlines.
NBA fans and diehards will be undeterred by the news. Casual fans won’t be thrilled.
Anyway, we’ll take a look at the smoldering remains of this game, which, let’s be honest, is still a pretty good game, even without Kawhi.
The Bucks are healthy, very wealthy, and hopefully wise coming into this game. The Clippers will sit Kawhi Leonard, in case you haven’t heard. Paul George remains out for at least another week or two.
Is not on the board. The Clippers looked to be a short favorite before the Kawhi news, but we should see the Bucks favored by a few points when the sportsbooks open up for the day. Nobody in the offshore market had been brave enough to hang a number yet at time of writing.
My best guess is somewhere around Milwaukee -3.5 with a total of 223.5.
What’s At Stake?
Well, this had the potential to be an NBA Finals preview, but now nothing is really at stake. The Clippers would certainly like to show that they can win without Kawhi, but barring disaster, Kawhi will be there with them for the season.
The Bucks still want this dub, going all the way out to the West Coast with one travel day off of Monday’s game against Minnesota. That was a resounding 28-point win.
The reason why Kawhi is sitting is because the Clippers have a more important game tomorrow against the Portland Trail Blazers. At least the TNT audience will see Kawhi.
This is a bad spot for Milwaukee in all honesty. This is a fourth game in six days with stops in Orlando, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and then LA. Friday’s spot could be worse with some tired legs in Salt Lake City. The Bucks haven’t played any back-to-backs yet, but they haven’t had more than one day off prior to any game either.
Obviously life without Kawhi is a little different than life with Kawhi. Of course, Toronto managed to survive last season in the Eastern Conference for quite a while until Leonard turned in an elite postseason. It’s not like the Clippers don’t have a supporting cast around Kawhi.
Lou Williams has averaged 20.3 points per game and Montrezl Harrell has had a big season to date with 19.3 points per contest. The Clippers aren’t quite as deep as last season’s team, which also included Tobias Harris for a time. That’s what happens when you have to fit the contracts of guys like Kawhi and Paul George. We’ll just wind up seeing more playing time from JaMychal Green, Maurice “How could you be so” Harkless, and Patrick Patterson.
Getting robbed of Giannis vs. Kawhi is a bummer. The Greek Freak has scored 27.7 points per contest with 14 rebounds per game and over seven assists per night. He’s really good. The Bucks’ supporting cast is also lacking a little bit without Malcolm Brogdon and it has had an impact on the defensive end to a degree. Eric Bledsoe is a solid scorer and fills the stat sheet, but Brogdon’s background with Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers made him a tremendous defender.
We’re likely to see a bit of a pace war tonight. Milwaukee is seventh in Pace and the Clippers are 23rd. The two teams are about equal in ORtg, but Milwaukee has played better on defense, though the strength of schedule does favor the Clippers a bit, so take that with a grain of salt.
Milwaukee is one of the best teams in the league at taking care of the ball and one of the worst at forcing turnovers. The Clippers are in the middle of the pack in offensive TOV%, but narrowly inside the top 10 in defensive TOV%.
The Clippers rank in the bottom 10 of the league at defending the three-point line. The Bucks take the second-highest rate of threes in the NBA. That might be your game right there, especially without Kawhi to go score for score for Giannis.
With no line on the game, I can’t say much here. What I can say is that Lou Williams points over is a must. He’ll get the bulk of the offensive usage without Kawhi. As it is, he’s taking over 16 shots per game in 30.7 minutes per night. Expect him to be chucking early and often.
I’d also look at a big night for Khris Middleton. Without Kawhi, who is an elite defender, the Clippers are going to have to offer a lot of help on Giannis. He’s a premier passer, however, so his teammates should benefit, with Middleton the most likely benefactor. Middleton points over and Giannis assists over have a correlation to them.