Bucks vs 76ers: Giannis and Embiid to go head-to-head
Two of the best players in the NBA will go head-to-head on Thursday when the Milwaukee Bucks host the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Eastern Conference feels like a closer contest than the west at the moment, which should be on show when the Milwaukee Bucks host the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.
It will be Giannis Antetokounmpo versus Joel Embiid at Fiserv Forum, the players with the two best points-per-game averages in the league this season (29.4 and 29.3 respectively), which perhaps indicates how close this game could end up being.
The defending champions in Milwaukee are currently third in the East on 36-23, while the Sixers sit fifth on 34-23.
Bucks end losing streak
The Bucks ended a two-game losing streak with a 128-119 victory against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, with an ominous 50-point performance from Giannis.
It is the first time the Greek has scored 50 points this season, while Khris Middleton (19 points) and Jrue Holiday (14 points) also played their part, and they will be key again against the Sixers.
Embiid also managed 50 points last month in Philadelphia's win against Orlando Magic and has hit 40+ points in four other games since then.
Doc Rivers will be looking for a response after his team were crushed by the Boston Celtics 135-87 on Tuesday, where Embiid (19) and Tyrese Maxey (11) were the only Sixers to hit double figures.
There is still no James Harden following his blockbuster trade from the Nets, with his debut apparently coming against Minnesota on February 25, but the other arrival in that deal, Paul Millsap, made a good impression in his first game against the Celtics.
"He looked good," said Rivers. "After the game, he said he felt pretty good. I was surprised… He will add some toughness to us, there's no doubt about that, he'll be able to step out and make threes for us at the five spot. That'll be something we work on."
A victory for Philadelphia will open up the Eastern Conference even more, but with Giannis in such form, getting a win in Milwaukee will very much be easier said than done.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
It is a team sport, but the Greek sensation will always be vital to the Bucks, particularly in big games like this one.
Having gone 23 games in a row scoring at least 20 points, Giannis only managed 18 in last week's defeat to the Phoenix Suns, only to follow it up with his best scoring performance of the season against the Pacers.
The danger for Philadelphia is if their concentration on Giannis allows the likes of Middleton and Holiday to do damage, but coach Rivers is experienced enough to know that and plan accordingly.
Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid
As predictable as it is, it's difficult to go with anyone else for the Sixers right now. If they want to win in Milwaukee, Embiid has to thrive.
While his 19 against Boston was comfortably his team's highest score, it also saw a streak of 23 straight games with at least 25 points come to an end, and he'll likely want to begin a new streak right away.
Although he's slightly behind Giannis for points-per-game, the Cameroonian does have the edge in free-throws made, leading the league on 410 ahead of Giannis in second on 389.
KEY BATTLE – Will it be three and easy for the winner?
The Bucks enjoy a shot from downtown and are currently third in the league for three-pointers made (835), behind only the Golden State Warriors (846) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (841), while only the Washington Wizards (560) have fewer threes than the Sixers (620).
Having said that, only the Wizards and the Dallas Mavericks (both 613) have conceded fewer threes than Philadelphia (641) while no team has conceded more than the Bucks (833).
The Bucks have enjoyed an excellent recent record against the Sixers, winning the past six meetings, including a 118-109 win in Philadelphia in November. The last Sixers victory came on Christmas Day 2019 (121-109).