Just minutes after the Milwaukee Bucks rolled to a 125-108 win over Cleveland, the team announced some unfortunate injury news for starting point guard, Eric Bledsoe.
Bucks PR revealed that Bledsoe has suffered a right fibula avulsion fracture in yesterday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. In a case of friendly fire, teammate Wesley Matthews crashed into his teammate with his knee making forceful contact to the shin of Bledsoe.
Bledsoe is averaging 15.0 points and 5.7 assists on the season in just 26.7 minutes per game, while once again playing a major part in the league's best defence to this point in the season.
Eric Bledsoe sustained a right leg injury on Friday night. After a MRI and exam, it showed a right fibula avulsion fracture.- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 15, 2019
He is expected to be sidelined for approximately two weeks and his status will be updated as appropriate. pic.twitter.com/UrLMKlgBEd
The Milwaukee Bucks have won 18-straight games, the second-longest winning streak in franchise history. They are in the midst of their best start to a season in franchise history at 24-3, but will now face a difficult stretch of the schedule without their first-team All-Defensive team guard.
What does the loss mean for the Bucks? Let's take a closer look.
Given the Bucks went into the game against Cleveland without Bledsoe, we have a one-game sample to the hypothesis which direction Mike Budenholzer may go with the Bucks starting five.
Against the Cavs, second-year guard, Donte DiVincenzo slotted in the opening group and did not disappoint with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in just 25 minutes.
At 6-foot-4, DiVincenzo isn't lacking for size at the guard position and his extrodinary sense for the ball on the defensive end allows him to cause chaos for the opposition. Despite only playing 21 minutes per game, the former Villanova star leads the Bucks in deflections per game at 2.6 and ranks third in the league for deflections per 36 minutes with 4.4, only trailing Jrue Holiday and Kris Dunn.
Donte + Giannis in transition 🔥 pic.twitter.com/BxFll0BaMw- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 15, 2019
The three-point shot remains a work in progress, though he has seen marked improvement from his rookie season. DiVencenzo is up to 35.3 percent from beyond the arc in 2019-20, after hitting just 26.5 percent of his attempts last season.
Perhaps most importantly, he has Budenholzer's trust, after starting 10 games this season prior to the game against Cleveland, as he replaced Khris Middleton who missed extended time with a thigh contusion.
Based on what we know, you should expect George Hill to remain with the second unit, and DiVincenzo to start the game on the floor.
With Bledsoe slated to miss two weeks, it would be reasonable to suggest his availability may be in question for the rest of 2019.
With that in mind, let's take a look at four huge matchups that the Bucks will face in that period, and how Bledsoe's absence will affect their number one ranked defence.
v Dallas - December 16
The intrigue around this contest has now been thrown into question after Luka Doncic severely twisted his ankle early in the Dallas Mavericks game against Miami tonight. While the x-rays were returned negative, the status of the MVP contender would have to be in major doubt for the game against Milwaukee in two days.
Needless to say, the loss of Bledsoe will be softened if Doncic is ruled out.
v Lakers - December 19
IF Milwaukee manage to get through Dallas on Monday, they will head into this game at Fiserv Forum with the intent of matching a franchise-best winning streak of 20 games. Standing in the way of that record will be LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers, who currently hold a 13-game road winning streak as this article is written.
You could certainly make a case that the guard position is the least important when facing this iteration of the Lakers, with Rajon Rondo, Alex Caruso and even Kentavious Caldwell-Pope manning the 'point-guard' position in the lineup at times.
While the Lakers currently hold the 4th ranked offence in the league efficiency-wise, they rank 24th in the league for three-point attempts, as the focus of their offence is within the three-point line. The Lakers rank 3rd in the league in points in the paint and will come up against the league's best paint defence, anchored by Brook Lopez, who is flanked by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
The Lakers were a scary proposition before the loss of Bledsoe, but on paper, it's not the worst matchup to lose a defensive-minded guard.
v Indiana - December 22
Former Milwaukee Buck, Malcolm Brogdon missed the first meeting between these two teams with back soreness, but will be not doubt anxious to play well against his former squad.
Brogdon has cooled off a little after a blistering start to the season but is still averaging a career-high 19.5 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 59, which is only slightly down on his 61.4 percent mark a season ago.
Brogdon's savvy ability to get into the paint and score at the rim will be tested by Milwaukee's elite rim protection, though there's no doubt Bledsoe's physicality at the point of attack will be missed in this one.
v Philadelphia - December 25
In a major disappointment, Bledsoe could possibly miss the first meeting between the two potential Eastern Conference Finals squads.
Milwaukee and Philadelphia don't exactly like each other, and a healthy rivalry has been slowly bubbling away through the rise of Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. For Bledsoe, the game would mark the first time he has returned to Philadelphia since being ejected early in their late-season meeting last year for throwing the ball at Embiid in what a Philly radio believed was "the most violent act" he'd seen in years.
Once again, matchup wise, the Sixers much-publicised struggles with spacing the floor mean that perimeter defence is not exactly at a premium against Brett Brown's squad.
With a combination of DiVencnzo, Hill, Matthews and Pat Connaughton rotating through the guard spots, the Bucks should feel comfortable about their perimeter stoppers.
Can the streak continue without Bledsoe?
While that answer is most certainly sitting on the fence, the reality is that what the Bucks are doing right now is historic. For Milwaukee, they have only been in this territory once and it was way back in the title-winning season of 1970-71.
🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 15, 2019
While the upcoming matchups don't present the point guard challenges that James Harden and the Houston Rockets, or Dallas with Doncic, or even Portland with Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum present, they are most certainly elite teams and after all, this is the NBA, anything can happen on any given night.
Though they do have Antetokounmpo, and as long as he's on the floor, you would be a brave man to bet on the streak ending.