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LOS ANGELES -- Not so fast on that concept that the Milwaukee Bucks were experiencing a regression toward the mean after their recent run of two defeats in three games.
The Bucks made a statement Thursday with a 134-111 victory on the road over the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors and will now head to Los Angeles for a Saturday afternoon matchup against the Clippers.
At 9-2, the Bucks had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and the third-best record in the entire NBA before Friday's games. They were second in the league in points scored per game at 121.3 and eighth in opponents points at 107.6. That 13.7 point differential is easily the best in the NBA.
"I think teams are starting to take notice and realize that we're not the Bucks that we were when I first got here six years ago," Bucks guard Khris Middleton said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "We're a totally different team even from last year. We're going to come to play; we're going to play hard."
The Clippers might have a similar hard-playing attitude, but they have a hard time matching up with the Bucks' talent, especially forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has scored 26.5 points per game and has grabbed 12.9 defensive rebounds per game
Still, the arrival of the Bucks gives the Clippers a chance to see how much progress it has made on unifying a revamped roster.
The Clippers (6-5) do have a pair of victories already over the Houston Rockets, but otherwise have not fared well against the upper crust of the NBA. They are learning their capabilities, though, with Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris leading the team.
Gallinari missed most of last season with various injuries and Harris was acquired midseason in the trade that sent Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons.
"It's so nice; it's been great," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters Thursday about having Gallinari back full time. "He's a heck of a player. I think you forget how good he is until you see him play. And it's not just his scoring, it's his passing and his defense. So he's been great for us."
Defense has been a Clippers calling card, and a mainstay of Rivers coaching style, but it will be put to the test against the Bucks. Milwaukee has typically been reliant on an offense full of 3-pointers, but the Bucks worked the ball inside Thursday against a Warriors team that was missing Draymond Green.
The 84 points the Bucks scored in the paint Thursday were a team record. It leaves the Clippers not knowing what to expect, which is a troublesome thought since the Bucks are talented enough to control the pace and tempo of games.
"It's a big part of what we are trying to do," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said about taking the ball to the rim, according to the Journal-Sentinel. "We have guys that can get there and enough shooters that can spread the court. It starts with attacking the paint."
Putting the Clippers further in flux, when it comes to getting all their moving parts in sync, is the recent move away from center Marcin Gortat to 7-foot-3 space-eating center Boban Marjanovic, who is being backed up by Montrezl Harrell.
While flat-footed at times, Marjanovic makes up for it with a massive wingspan and solid work-ethic, making him a unique entity to deal with on the court. A healthy Gortat has not played a single minute in the Clippers? last three games, but he has yet to express frustration. Instead he has lauded the Clippers' team chemistry.
"I'm not panicking, that's a long season," Gortat said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I've been in this league for 12 years, I've seen things happen, so the most important thing is you don't want to be caught off-guard when your number is called and you're not ready. That's the worst thing."
For the Bucks, there appear to be no chemistry concerns, or worries about getting into the on-court mix. The Clippers will see a team brimming with confidence.
"Now we feel like we're one of the best teams out there," Middleton said, according to the Journal-Sentinel. "We're playing like it."
Updated November 9, 2018