MILWAUKEE – When the Clippers take on the Bucks Saturday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee, several historic marks will be on the line.
They could extend their eight-game winning streak to nine, which would stand as the second longest in franchise history and supplant the 1991-92 squad as the best in Clippers team history. They could secure their 17th win in their first 23 games, marking the franchise’s best-ever start to a season.
“We’ve won in different ways,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said Friday when asked what has impressed him the most about his team’s current winning streak. “It hasn’t always been the starters. It hasn’t always been the bench. It’s been either one sometimes, a different mixture of them, certain guys stepping up a certain times. We’ve done it sometimes on the defensive end, sometimes on the offensive end. We’ve executed when we’ve needed to on both ends in the fourth quarter, especially at home. These first two road games we’ve made plays.”
The Clippers (16-6) will have to continue to make plays against the undermanned Bucks (12-9), who come in riding a four-game winning streak of their own.
Milwaukee has won of late, despite the continued absence of Mike Dunleavy Jr. (knee), Ben Udrih (ankle) and Tobias Harris (elbow). They also recently got rookie Doron Lamb and emerging star Larry Sanders back from illness and center Ekpe Udoh back from a wrist injury.
Dunleavy, Udrih and Harris will not play Saturday. Chauncey Billups (foot) remains out for the Clippers.
The Bucks return home after a one-off road game against the Cavaliers Friday. They are 2-1 in the second game of back-to-backs so far this year.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 100, Bobcats 94: The visiting Clippers completed a stretch of four games in five days unscathed, snagging a first-quarter lead Wednesday and keeping Charlotte at bay for most of the night. Their lead vacillated between two and nine points for the final three quarters, but the Bobcats never regained the lead after a 12-11 advantage early on.
“You have to win games like this to be a good team,” Blake Griffin said. “You have to win games like this to get that experience and get confidence. For guys to step up and grind out this win, it’s ugly, but to grind it out, it’s great.”
Griffin, Matt Barnes and Chris Paul scored 19 points apiece and Paul added 10 assists for his ninth double-double of the season. Barnes followed up an effective game against the Bulls with an 8-for-13 outing, (3-for-6 from 3-point range), to match his season high in points. Eric Bledsoe chipped in 13 points and eight rebounds and Jamal Crawford added a season-high eight assists, despite his string of 28 games with double-figure points coming to an end. Crawford finished with nine points.
Bucks 90, Cavaliers 86: Shorthanded or not, the Bucks took care of the Cavaliers Friday at Quicken Loans Arena behind a season-high 33 points from Monta Ellis. The Milwaukee guard was 12-for-24 from the field and 8-for-11 from the free throw line. The Bucks were without Dunleavy, Harris and Udrih, but still managed to force 27 Cavaliers turnovers and hold them to 39.5% shooting. Despite trailing by as many as 16 points, the Cavaliers took a one-point lead midway through the third quarter. Ellis responded with seven consecutive points to help Milwaukee regain control. Cleveland was led by Kyrie Irving’s 26 points.
Chris Paul/Eric Bledsoe vs. Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis. Both teams possess electric backcourts. While Willie Green will start alongside Paul in the backcourt, Eric Bledsoe may be a major factor in keeping up with the speedy tandem of Ellis and L.A. native Brandon Jennings. Ellis is coming off a season-high 33 points on Friday and has topped 20 points in three of Milwaukee’s last five games.
“We put [Bledsoe] on Monta when he was in Golden State a little bit,” Del Negro said. “Bledsoe athletically can stay with those guys.
“We’ll see how the game goes. We want to stay with our rotation, but we went a little smaller last game because they were smaller and [Bledsoe] played a few more minutes and there’s no question he deserves more.”
In 19 games against the Clippers, all with Golden State, Ellis has shot 35.1%, nearly 11% below his career average. Still, Del Negro knows it will be imperative to keep Ellis and Jennings out the paint and out of the break. Jennings has thrived in transition off of his 2.52 steals per game, second only to Paul, and Ellis is capable of getting to the free throw line seemingly at will (15th in the NBA and fifth among guards with 5.3 free throw attempts per game).
“We gave up too many fast-break points and we didn’t do a good job on penetration [in Charlotte] and against Milwaukee with Jennings and Monta you better do a good job because they’re very good off the dribble,” Del Negro said. “We have to make sure we are in our right help positions and we’re talking. I thought we got a few things accomplished today, some offensive things, so I thought we had a good practice.”
CARON BUTLER'S HOMECOMING
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
Protect the Paint. During their eight-game winning streak the Clippers have bludgeoned opponents inside. They are averaging 53.3 points in the paint since Nov. 28, second in the league. The Bucks, who boast the league’s top shot blocker in Sanders and two guards who notch steals by digging down on post players, match up fairly well in that regard with the Clippers.
Turnovers. Another aspect of the matchup that pits the best of what one team does versus the best of the other, is the turnover over battle. The Clippers and Bucks both live in the top five of the NBA in points off turnovers with L.A. leading the league with 21.9 per game. However, they are also among the top 10 teams in fewest turnovers.
"They try to get their fast break started by turnovers," Bledsoe said. "So we've just got to try and take care of the ball tonight."
In Wednesday’s win over the Bobcats, the Clippers had just 11 turnovers their fewest this season on the road.
Blake Griffin has averaged 21.0 points on 58.9% shooting in seven games this month… The Clippers are 10-0 when Matt Barnes scores 10 or more points off the bench… The Clippers have not lost a season-series to the Bucks since 1999-2000. Since then they are 15-8 against Milwaukee, but have lost three in a row at Bradley Center... Caron Butler, who is a native of Racine, Wisconsin, expects to have upwards of 200 people in attendance.