After a disappointing end to their most successful season in nearly two decades, the Milwaukee Bucks will kickstart their redemption campaign on Thursday night with a trip to Houston.
It will have been nearly five months since the loss that saw the Bucks season come to an end and the Raptors move on to the 2019 NBA Finals when the ball tips in Houston Thursday night. The offseason has been full of league altering news and roster changes that are sure to make the 2019-2020 season one of the most highly anticipated in recent league history. Star players have switched sides, new alliances have been formed, and there is not a team across the league that will not have to make new adaptations.
This rings true in Milwaukee as it does anywhere else, but one thing Bucks fans can smile about is that the core around Giannis has remained intact — apart from Brogdon’s departure. His “replacement” Wes Matthews has been confirmed to begin the season in the starting lineup, along with Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and of course reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (per @matt_velazquez on Twitter).
With a great starting five and depth on the bench once again, Mike Budenholzer’s squad will look to get the ball rolling quickly once again this year, but the early schedule presents challenges for a team that will have high expectations from the get-go this time around. This article will preview the Bucks’ first ten games of the season, seven of which will be played on the road.
Game 1: October 24th @ Houston Rockets
To put things simply, this will be a fantastic game to watch for any basketball fan, but perhaps even more so for Bucks fans. Not only will the season opener give Bucks fans their first taste of what the rotations may look like for big games this year, but it will feature MVP runner-up James Harden and his new running mate, former MVP Russell Westbrook in what should be a run-and-gun style game against Giannis who will look to defend his crown.
Houston made waves this offseason acquiring Westbrook in a blockbuster deal that left an aging and overpaid Chris Paul stranded in Oklahoma City with seemingly no way out (for now). With the West as strong as ever from top to bottom, Houston will need to hash out any chemistry problems early to avoid slipping up and having to dig themselves out of a hole in the standings like last year.
The Rockets still boast one of the better three point shooting rosters in the league, with the likes of Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, PJ Tucker, and Ryan Anderson still there to supplement their new two headed dragon of Westbrook and Harden. Milwaukee will need to adapt to the Rockets’ offensive flow as the game goes on. Westbrook and Harden have both been ball dominant stars throughout their careers, but are sure to have to share from Thursday night onward. Look for Giannis and Brook Lopez to man the middle while Middleton and Matthews try their best to slow down Harden, and Bledsoe attempts to shadow Westbrook.
The threes are sure to fly from both teams Thursday night, and if they can avoid a slow start on opening night this one should be a shootout. To begin the season on the road against a hungry team like Houston is no simple task, and win or lose both the fans and the team will have to keep level headed following game one.
Prediction: Houston 120 Milwaukee 113
Game 2: October 26th Home vs Miami Heat
After Thursday night’s season opener in Houston, Milwaukee will get the Wade-less Miami Heat for their home opener on Saturday afternoon. The Forum should be rocking once again in a game the Bucks should be favored in.
Miami spent last season celebrating the career of future hall of famer Dwyane Wade, and fell just short of the playoffs. However, Pat Riley had a busy offseason and managed to land All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler in a sign and trade blockbuster deal which saw center Hassan Whiteside pack his bags for Portland and shooting guard Josh Richardson head off to Philadelphia. Miami also picked up center Meyers Leonard from Portland in the deal.
With veteran guard Goran Dragic running the offense once again, Coach Spo and the Heat will aim to get back into the playoffs in 2019-2020. Butler will bring intensity to a team that lost their longtime leader in Wade, and young players like second year center Bam Adebayo and rookie Tyler Herro are sure to show promising signs for Miami.
While these things all point to the turning of a new leaf for Heat fans, Bucks fans can expect a solid showing from their team on Saturday afternoon, regardless of what happens against Houston. Milwaukee finished last year 39-10 at home including the playoffs, and ought to be one of the best home teams in the NBA once again this season with the support of a rapidly growing fanbase around the city and Wisconsin as a whole.
Prediction: Milwaukee 117 Miami 105
Game 3: October 28th Home vs Cleveland Cavaliers
With their season opener and home opener behind them, the Bucks will have their first cupcake-type opponent for game three of the season as they face off against a Cavs team with little to look forward to for awhile.
The Cavs struggled mightily last year after the departure of LeBron James, as star forward Kevin Love played in just 22 games and the team scraped their way to a woeful 19-63 record. Young point guard Collin Sexton will look to build off of his rookie display and improve on their 19 wins from a year ago, but the Cavs will be heavily outmatched as they head to Fiserv Forum for a date with last years best regular season team.
Joining Sexton in the backcourt this year is fifth overall pick Darius Garland, another point guard who showed great potential coming into his freshman year at Vanderbilt. The 6’2 guard had his season cut short due to injury after just five games, but had been shooting the ball efficiently and looked promising in preseason play.
All in all, the Cavs are facing a huge rebuilding project and lack the talent to compete with the best teams in the NBA this year. Meanwhile, Milwaukee has all the reason to believe they can compete for a championship, and anything less than a convincing victory against Cleveland would be a disappointment.
Prediction: Milwaukee 123 Cleveland 101
Game 4: October 30th @ Boston Celtics
After lofty expectations a season ago came quickly crashing down, and Kyrie Irving giving up on his team at the hands of the Bucks, there is no question that the Celtics will be playing this one with a bit of a chip on their shoulder.
Irving left his team hanging while Milwaukee dismantled Boston in five games last postseason, and departed for Brooklyn to team up with injured superstar Kevin Durant in the summer. The Celtics reacted quickly though, replacing Irving with Kemba Walker, who brings a similar skillset to the table. The Celtics also lost arguably a more crucial piece to their puzzle though, as center Al Horford signed with the 76ers, leaving a gap in their armour that is sure to show on the defensive end at some point or another this season.
The Bucks matched up well with Boston last year, and the scale has seemingly tipped further in their favor for the upcoming season. With less rim protection Giannis, Bledsoe and Middleton should be able to find more lanes to attack the basket for this one, and a road win at TD Garden could provide the momentum boost Milwaukee is looking for as they get ready for a tough four-game road stretch a few games later.
Prediction: Milwaukee 116 Boston 107
Game 5: November 1st @ Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic made their way into the playoffs last year with the help of Nikola Vucevic’s ultra-consistent play and the emergence of Aaron Gordon, but were dispatched in five games by the eventual champion Raptors after stealing game one on the road.
This year, Orlando figures to mix in around the middle of the Eastern conference standings once again and try to get back to the playoffs. Vucevic and Gordon are back and the Magic young frontcourt talent alongside them with the likes of Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba. Their front office did not make any big moves in the offseason though, and first round draft pick Chuma Okeke will be out to begin the season as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered during Auburn’s tournament run.
With that being said, this is a road test Milwaukee should be able to pass. As Giannis absorbs the pressure in the paint, his supporting cast should get plenty of opportunities from outside. The Bucks should beat the Magic regardless of where the game is played, and by game five you’d expect any offseason rust to have just about worn away.
Prediction: Milwaukee 122 Orlando 111
Game 6: November 2nd Home vs Toronto Raptors
While this matchup might sting a bit to think about, things will be a bit easier this time around as Kawhi has moved home to Los Angeles by joining the Clippers in the offseason, putting a serious damper on Toronto’s summer celebrations. The reigning champs will play be coming off of two full days of rest for this one though, and still cannot be taken lightly.
After receiving rings in front of their home crowd on opening night, the Raptors took down the Zion-less Pelicans in overtime thanks to a career high 34 points from Fred Van Vleet *shudders* and a monstrous 34 points and 18 rebounds from newly extended Pascal Siakam. Siakam could well be an All-Star this year, and the Raptors should be a solid playoff team at worst as long as they can stay healthy.
Milwaukee played well all series last year against Toronto and Kawhi continually pushed them over the hump. Look for the Bucks to dig in a bit deeper for this one as it will be played on the second night of a back to back in front of a home crowd who will remember all too well what happened last May. A win here could prove to be a crucial springboard into the brutal four game road stint that follows.
Prediction: Milwaukee 115 Toronto 108
Game 7: November 4th @ Minnesota Timberwolves
The trip across the Mississippi river for a date with the Timberwolves will mark the start of a four game road trip for the Bucks, who will actually play seven of their next eight on the road beginning with this game. That adds up to 10 (!!!) of their first 14 games being played on the road, a truly grueling way to get their season started, but one that could make a world of difference if they’re able to survive it decently well in the standings.
The T-Wolves figure to be a pretty poor team this season unless former #1 pick Andrew Wiggins suddenly taps into some undiscovered ability to be even moderately efficient/consistent. Perhaps lottery selection and March Madness wonder Jarrett Culver will come out of the gate hot, but for now it is hard to expect a reliable offense anywhere on this roster outside of Karl Anthony Towns.
Last year Middleton led the team in scoring for both matchups against Minnesota, both of which resulted in wins. For the road matchup in 2018, Middleton tallied just 16 points to lead the way along with Ilyasova, and only had to play 25 minutes as Milwaukee cruised to a 30 point victory and were able to rest their starters a bit. A similar situation for 2019’s road edition against the Wolves would be a blessing, with their next two games looming against much more profound opponents.
Prediction: Milwaukee 122 Minnesota 107
Game 8: November 6th @ Los Angeles Clippers
This ought to be an interesting one. With Paul George aiming for a November return after getting two surgeries performed on his shoulders (per Ramona Shelburne, ESPN), it is possible that he could be back in the rotation by the time Milwaukee shows up at Staples Center for their matchup with one of Vegas’ favorites to win the title.
Even if George is on a minute restriction or does not play, the Clippers remain one of the strongest teams in the NBA with George’s fellow new arrival Kawhi Leonard fully healthy and coming off a Finals MVP performance in Toronto last season. In the Bucks series against the Raptors, Kawhi averaged 29.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists 2.2 steals and 1 block per game against playoff-intensity defense. Milwaukee will need to play stifling defense to slow down The Klaw at all in this one, all while keeping track of the Clippers many moving bells and whistles at head coach Doc Rivers’ disposal.
The Clippers knocked off the Lakers in impressive fashion without Paul George on opening night, and should continue to roll through opponents all year long. To make matters worse, their matchup with the Bucks will be their third straight home game and the team should be rested after having two full days off coming into this one. The game is slated to be broadcast nationally on ESPN, and with all eyes watching, the Bucks will have their hands full.
Prediction: Los Angeles 119 Milwaukee 115
Game 9: November 8th @ Utah Jazz
After a tough midweek game against the Clippers, the Bucks will turn their plane around and start to head back east, with a Friday night stop in Utah for a game against a Jazz team that just looks well constructed. Rather than aiming for marquee superstars, the Jazz brought in Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay over the summer, creating depth that will make them extremely difficult to beat.
With the new signings partnering up alongside reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert still manning the paint, and young stud Donovan Mitchell likely to continue improving, the Jazz will be right up there with the Bucks as one of the deepest teams in the NBA this year. The third game of four on a difficult road trip, this one will be a grit check for Milwaukee and depending on the result in LA two days earlier could mark the beginning of a quick slump.
Coach Bud will have to really drive home the importance of focus for this team heading into this matchup, and try to escape with a victory before heading out to Oklahoma City for their fourth and final road game before returning home.
Prediction: Utah 110 Milwaukee 103
Game 10: November 10th @ Oklahoma City Thunder
Thank goodness the road stint ends on a lighter note. Oklahoma City lost out on Paul George who requested a trade just one year after inking a four year extension with the team, and in turn decided that it was time to attempt a large scale rebuild by trading Russell Westbrook away as well. This ended up with Oklahoma city having a hoard of draft picks for the future, but little to show for on their current roster.
Chris Paul is now 34 and owed over $38 million this year as he arrives for what everyone can only assume is a dreaded stay with the Thunder. The team also acquired Danilo Gallinari and exciting second year player Shai Gilgeous Alexander in the Paul George trade, but apart from those pieces and Steven Adams their roster is lackluster.
Look for the Bucks to try to gain back any confidence they may have lost after back to back tough road matchups with some of the best in the West by putting a beatdown on the Thunder. On paper and on the court, they should be the better team, and a win should be the only acceptable results to both the fans and the organization.
Prediction: Milwaukee 118 Oklahoma City 99
The Bucks inarguably have been dealt a difficult hand to begin the season, but if they can fight through their first 10-14 or so games with a winning record, the schedule will inevitably balance out and things could shape up nicely for this team. Remaining healthy will be important, and if they can get into their first big chunk of home games later in November towards the top of the Eastern conference standings, they will be able to position themselves nicely.
With the whole outside world desperately trying to pry away at the idea that Giannis could leave Milwaukee at the end of his current contract, it could become a distraction at some point this year. Hopefully the talking point will instead shift back to his performance as he sets his sights on another MVP, and the possibility of becoming just the third player (Jordan and Olajuwon) ever to win MVP and DPOY in the same season after falling just short last year.
The first 10 games will not define the season for Milwaukee, but can serve as a stepping stone towards another fantastic regular season that will hopefully propel the team to another deep playoff push, and maybe even the ever elusive championship diehard fans have been longing for for nearly half a century now.