A pair of teams with aspirations for deep playoff runs will meet Friday night when the Los Angeles Clippers host the Milwaukee Bucks.
On Thursday, both teams made additions for the second half of the season before the NBA’s trade deadline. The Bucks acquired Jae Crowder from the Brooklyn Nets, via the Phoenix Suns, while the Clippers made sweeping changes.
Not only did the Clippers add Bones Hyland in a deal with the Denver Nuggets, but they also brought back Eric Gordon from the Houston Rockets and added Mason Plumlee from the Charlotte Hornets. Guards Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard departed in the deals.
Adding to the optimism for Los Angeles and Milwaukee is that each squad is healthy again. The Bucks’ Big Three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are back together after an injury respite and have led the team to a nine-game winning streak. The most recent victory came Thursday, 115-106 against the host Los Angeles Lakers.
The Clippers are feeling whole again with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back after both missed time with injuries. To make sure both are well rested in the second half, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said both stars will be on minutes restrictions heading into the All-Star break.
“Just the medical, just making sure that we’re doing the right thing by our guys,” Lue said. “(We’re) making sure they feel good, making sure they are healthy. That’s kind of what went into the decision.”
Both were marginally effective in Los Angeles’ 110-104 defeat to the new-look Mavericks on Wednesday, as Kyrie Irving made his Dallas debut. George had 20 points in 34 minutes, while Leonard had 18 points in 32 minutes.
The loss came after the Clippers went 4-2 on a trip through the Eastern Conference.
“We were able to make some shots, but just offensively too much standing,” Lue said of the defeat. “No pop, no cuts. We just got stagnant, and that can be expected after a long road trip like that. We just have to be ready to go Friday.”
Antetokounmpo scored 23 of his 38 points in the second half against the Lakers and added 10 rebounds overall. Milwaukee rallied from an 11-point deficit in the first half and an eight-point gap in the third quarter to defeat the Lakers.
Middleton had 22 points for the Bucks, while Holiday had 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. The Lakers were without LeBron James (ankle), one game after he set the NBA’s all-time scoring record on Tuesday.
The Bucks are one game off the pace of the NBA-best Boston Celtics.
Antetokounmpo said he believes his team will be even more aggressive moving forward with Crowder, comparing him to P.J. Tucker, who helped Milwaukee win the championship in the 2020-21 season and now is with the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Me, Khris and Jrue don’t say much; we just do our job, so we need somebody (aggressive),” Antetokounmpo said. “When you walk down the alley, you go and face the bullies and they run the other way, you think it’s because of you. But it’s the guy behind you. For us, that was P.J. two years ago.
“When you played with P.J., you kind of had that different swag. You were the bully, too. I feel like Jae brings that toughness, that edge to our team. I’m very excited to play with him. I don’t know when he’s going to join us, but I’m excited to see him.”
–Field Level Media