Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Friday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Golden State at Milwaukee (PK'em, 240), ESPN, 9:35 ET

The Warriors still won’t have Draymond Green, so we’re not going to get a chance to see MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo deal with the best team in basketball’s top defender. That doesn’t mean Golden State doesn’t want this game against the Bucks (16-7 SU, 12-11 ATS) more badly than it has wanted to win any individual contest it has suited up for in this young season.

Head coach Steve Kerr won’t have to say much as his two-time defending champions take the floor for the first time ever at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, the franchise’s new downtown arena. Although the Warriors (17-9 SU, 12-14 ATS) opened a season-long five-game road trip in Toronto against the team with the NBA’s best record, Stephen Curry was held out for an extra few days of rest. That potential Finals preview will take place in Oakland next Wednesday and will likely include Green, who is nearing closer to a return from a toe injury. DeMarcus Cousins is practicing too and may make an appearance before Christmas, which would definitely be much earlier than I expected we’d see him make his Warriors debut.

Golden State’s team is in flux but that doesn’t mean Friday night’s clash with the Bucks isn’t personal. The final leg of the road trip is the one that the group has been pointing toward, a task made easier by the fact their old friends the Cavs are in shambles.

It’s probably killing Green not to play since regular-season games like tonight’s don’t come around often when you’ve won three titles in four years and already own the single-season wins record. However, most opponents don’t come into Oakland and figuratively throw their feet on the furniture while tagging up the walls and desecrating the locker room.

The Bucks handed the Warriors their first home loss in their final season at Oracle Arena.

Milwaukee now owns consecutive victories there after posting a 134-111 rout of the Warriors on Nov. 8 snapped their eight-game winning streak. The Bucks hung a 41-point third quarter on the champs, dominating the start of the second half the way Golden State typically does. Stephen Curry left with an adductor strain that would cost him weeks. Kerr said his team came out with “mindless intent,” hurting themselves with foul trouble. They were out-rebounded 46-38. The 134 points Golden State surrendered were the most the team has given up since Game 4 of the 2017 Finals.

The Bucks had lost eight of nine against the Warriors from Jan. 2014-18 before beating them last March and this time last month and will be looking to become the second Eastern Conference team to sweep Golden State since 2014, following Indiana’s lead from last season. The Central Division leaders bounced back form a 136-134 upset loss to the Knicks over the weekend by absolutely crushing second-place Detroit 115-92 on Wednesday, but the real news out of that one is that shooting guard Khris Middleton was apparently benched.

Middleton is having a fantastic season that will put him in the conversation for a spot as an All-Star reserve, averaging 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4 assists. He knocked down a game-winner to help close out November with a win over the Bulls but was benched due to a lack of effort and played just 19 minutes in the loss to New York.

After a film session where Budenholzer pointed out why Middleton was banished to the pine in favor of Sterling Brown, the two had reportedly cleared the air per Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel beat writer Matt Velazquez, but Middleton sat out the Pistons win due to “personal reasons.” He’s not listed on Friday’s injury report and will presumably participate.

Point guard Eric Bledsoe has been fantastic of late and has replaced Middleton as Antetokounmpo’s primary tag-team partner of late, so his matchup with Curry will be worth watching. Bledsoe led the Bucks with 26 points and six assists, while “Greek Freak” added 24 points. Middleton was a game-high plus-33 in that game and is invaluable in that he can defend Curry and Klay Thompson while serving as a viable threat on the other end more effectively than Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell. It’s important Milwaukee gets him right.

Even with Green sitting, Golden State should be in much better shape for this rematch than it was for the first meeting since Andre Iguodala has been a fixture in the lineup and was only just returning to the fold this time last month. Shaun Livingston was out with a sore foot and is also back contributing, providing stability for the second unit. Center Damian Jones (shoulder) is expected to remain sidelined, so look for Jonas Jerebko and Kevon Looney to remain in the starting lineup and Jordan Bell to continue as the primary big man off the bench.

Milwaukee has rookie Donte DiVincenzo back after an injury and should have Middleton in the mix, but forward Ersan Ilyasova has been nursing a concussion, missing four of the last five. He’s questionable. Center John Henson has been out since mid-November due to wrist surgery, so the Bucks’ frontcourt depth is limited. We could very well see a lot of small ball here, but the total of 240 is certainly taking that into account. The first meeting produced the highest number of the season for Milwaukee, closing at 242. It’s Golden State’s second-largest total to date. The ‘over’ is 2-1 in Warriors games that close over 240.

Six of Milwaukee’s last nine games have gone ‘under.’ Six of the Warriors’ last seven have gone ‘over.’ Curry is averaging 33.0 points since returning from his groin injury, shooting 18-for-33 from 3-point range.

Best of the Rest

Philadelphia at Detroit (-1.5/215.5), 7:05 p.m. ET: The Pistons will look to turn around a brutal run that has seen their strong start short-circuit in lopsided losses to Oklahoma City and Milwaukee by a combined margin of 50 points. This will be the first of two games in four nights for Detroit against Philadelphia, so the potential is there for some bad blood to develop between these potential Eastern Conference playoff rivals since most of the guys up front are alphas who thrive on running their mouths. The teams have already split a pair of contentious meetings this season. Andre Drummond landed in foul trouble in the most recent meeting on Nov. 3, playing just 21 minutes. He shot 6-for-20 in an Oct. 23 home win at Little Caesar’s Arena in which Blake Griffin scored 50 points in 133-132 OT win.

Joel Embiid will not play. The 76ers will rest him after an awful effort in Wednesday night’s loss to Toronto and has surmised his recent form has been “trash”. Embiid has averaged 36 points and 14 boards in the two games against the Pistons thus far, so it's no surprise the line moved from Philly being favored by 1.5 points to coming in as a 2.5-point underdog upon news of his absence. This will be Detroit’s first look at Jimmy Butler-infused Philly, so we’ll see how Griffin handles another active defender he’ll have to deal with. Starting shooting guard Rodney Bullock and backup point guard Ish Smith are considered doubtful, so Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard and veteran Jose Calderon are likely to play larger roles and starter Reggie Jackson should get a longer leash.

Indiana at Orlando (-2/206.5), 7:05 p.m. ET: Pacers-Magic games got spicier last season given the presence of Frank Vogel on Orlando’s sideline and the emergence of former draft picks Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in Indiana, so it’s disappointing that this first meeting of the season will only feature one of them. Vogel reportedly turned down an assistant’s job in Houston and Oladipo is still on the mend with a sore knee, so only Sabonis’ improvement ties these teams together tonight. Both are playing reasonably well, although Indiana is relying on Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans to adequately replace Oladipo’s magic and have gotten spotty results. The Magic have seen Aaron Gordon return from injury to have a big week so far, while Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier have continued to produce offensively. Orlando has been vulnerable at home, winning just six of 13, while Indiana Is 7-6 on the road.

Denver (-1/219.5) at Charlotte, 7:05 p.m. ET: Kemba Walker has really struggled of late, dealing with an ankle injury and a busted jumper. After his marvelous 60-point game in a loss to Philly, Walker scored 43 in a win over the Celtics and then shot 50 percent in a Nov. 21 blowout of Indiana. Since that game, he’s hit more than half his shots in a game only once in seven outings and is in an 11-for-48 slump from beyond the arc. Not surprisingly, the Hornets are 2-5 in those games.

It’s therefore no surprise to see the Nuggets favored on the road here as they seek out an eighth consecutive win to improve to 4-0 on their current road swing that culminates in Atlanta on Saturday night. The ‘under’ is 5-2 in those games as Nikola Jokic has helped control the pace of games at both ends. Top perimeter defender Gary Harris has been out with a hip issue and won’t play against the Hornets, so Torrey Craig will remain in the starting lineup and Malik Beasley will get extended run off the bench.

L.A. Lakers at San Antonio (-1/225), 8:35 p.m. ET: The Lakers won for the first time in three tries against the Spurs on Wednesday thanks to LeBron James’ 20-point fourth-quarter outburst. They’ll look to avoid losing the season series as they open a stretch where they’ll play six of seven outside Staples Center. LeBron is averaging 36 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in the three games against the Spurs and will probably have the ball in his hands even more since guard Brandon Ingram won’t play due to an ankle injury that will keep him out of this one and Saturday’s visit to Memphis.

The Spurs saw Rudy Gay bounce back from a scoreless game in Tuesday’s 139-105 loss to Utah by leading Wednesday’s upset bid with 31 points before fouling out. San Antonio opens Friday as the last-place team in the Southwest Division but is 7-4 at home and has everyone relatively healthy as they aim to avoid what would be only their second three-game losing streak of the season. The ‘over’ has gone 9-0-1 in the Spurs’ last 10 contests, which includes Wednesday’s 121-113 result that snapped L.A.’s run of nine consecutive games that failed to surpass the posted total.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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