Bucks-Rockets Season Opener Preview: Who and What to Watch?


The Milwaukee Bucks open up the 2019-20 season on the road tonight at Toyota Center in Houston. While taking on the new-look Rockets can be a daunting task, there is reason to believe that the Bucks’ depth can help them handle the explosive backcourt duo of Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The Bucks will need great performances from a number of players if they want to make a strong statement to open up the season.

Here are a few things to look for when watching tonight’s game:

Match-up Chess Match

This may be the most interesting part of the game: how do Mike Budenholzer and Mike D’Antoni rotate players and try to exploit match-ups? Do the Bucks focus more attention on Harden’s creativity and scoring or try to limit Russell Westbrook’s playmaking ability? Can the Rockets stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning league MVP? Budenholzer, having announced his projected starting lineup (Bledsoe, Matthews, Middleton, Antetokounmpo, and B. Lopez), must decide which guard matches up with Houston’s guards. Most likely Bledsoe will guard Westbrook, which leaves Matthews to match up with Harden. However, Bledsoe and veteran bench player George Hill may have had the most success guarding Harden last year. Team defense, similar to the plan last year against Houston, will be key in slowing down the Harden-Westbrook show.

Bench Scoring

It is easy to see that both the Rockets and Bucks will rely on their top three players for the bulk of their scoring for this year. For the Rockets, Harden, Westbrook and Clint Capela will lead the team offensively. The Bucks will rely on the KEG (Khris, Eric, and Giannis) for the bulk of their scoring. Thursday night could very well come down to which bench can outscore the other. The Bucks seem to be deeper than the Rockets, although the Rockets added Ryan Anderson, Tyson Chandler and Ben McLemore to bolster their bench. The safe bet to win the bench scoring battle would be the Bucks. GM Jon Horst seemed to put a priority on shooting once again this offseason with additions like Kyle Korver, Wes Matthews, and Dragan Bender. Horst also added Brook Lopez’s brother Robin, who has surprisingly found a three-point stroke. Otherwise, the deepest core in the NBA remained relatively intact after last year’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

X-Factor Players

Milwaukee Bucks

Sterling Brown, SG/SF

Sterling Brown’s role on both ends of the floor has been a lost narrative throughout the exciting offseason in Milwaukee. Brown, who seems to have slimmed down a bit, can provide a spark on the defensive end with his active hands. Brown also adds a certain athleticism and fearlessness that gels extremely well with the Bucks’ second unit. Due to Khris Middleton’s rising stardom and consistency, Brown will see shorter stints on the floor and less minutes overall. He can provide a spark though, and he plays with such intensity that it can lead to a lot of great things happening on the floor. If he sees the floor enough on Thursday, his impact could be felt.

Houston Rockets

Clint Capela, C

Capela is a bonafide top-ten center in the NBA. He has been for a couple years now. It will be interesting to see how Mike D’Antoni chooses to use him in the offense now with Russell Westbrook and James Harden sharing the backcourt. Will Capela be used in more of an off-ball role where he roves the paint or will he be extended to the top of the key where he can play pick-and-roll with Russ. It remains to be seen, but Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams had plenty of success playing pick-and-roll together. The only difference in Houston is that the Rockets have the shooters to spread out the defense and leave weak interior defenses to deal with the explosive Capela.

Key Stat to Watch


The Bucks were among the best in many statistical categories in 2018-2019. Among those, the Bucks were first in four categories: points, 2-point percentage, defensive rebounds and total rebounds. The stat to watch during Bucks-Rockets is rebounding. The Bucks ranked first in defensive and total rebounds while ranking only 25th in offensive rebounding. Meanwhile, the Rockets were 28th in total rebounds, 29th in defensive rebounds and 14th in offensive rebounding. This is one area I see the Bucks having a clear advantage. If they hope to win, they must continue the great work of clearing the glass on defense.


The Bucks tip-off against the Rockets at 7pm CT on TNT. Tune in!

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About Matt Murphy

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