Wednesday, February 29, 2012

State of the Bucks - 2/29/12

Welcome back from our hiatus, and the NBA All-Star break, to another edition of "State of the Milwaukee Bucks." We kick off the second half of the NBA season with a special Leap Year edition, because hey, it's not every year you get to enjoy February 29th.

So what have you missed since our last Bucks report? When we last saw you, the Bucks had been 5-5 in their last 10 games, but were coming off a tough home loss to the Orlando Magic in which the Bucks couldn't hang on to a 4th quarter lead. Following that game, Milwaukee slid into the All-Star break losing 5 of their next 6 games, extending their home losing streak to 6 games. The only win came on the road against a struggling New Jersey Nets team, and while they had some hard-fought battles that fell short, they also had plenty of embarrassment. It's still hard to look back at the home loss to the (at the time) 5-23 New Orleans Hornets. That was certainly the epitome of disappointment for this team.

The Bucks saw all the highs and lows in their first game back, but took a nail-biter against the Washington Wizards last night. The win boosted Milwaukee's record against the Eastern Conference to 10-11 and an even 8-8 record at home.

The patented "One Bad Quarter" strikes again! A 2nd quarter 22-point lead for Milwaukee evaporated into a 2-point deficit near the end of the 3rd. Instead of the option of coasting through their return game, the Bucks were stuck having to battle the rest of the way. The difference between the Bucks team in the 3rd vs. the Bucks team for the remainder of the game was stunning. Throughout the 3rd quarter, there were stretches of minutes where Milwaukee couldn't find the basket. They were incredibly active in the first half, and perhaps they ran out of steam a bit. Fatigue can be an epidemic on this team. Again, it took the length of a quarter for Washington to orchestrate a 24-point swing in their favor. And it's easy to see how the Bucks really take frustration as a group.

The 4th quarter began with the Bucks up 3, and they played the back and forth game until the end, which ended up as a thriller. Facing a 1-point disadvantage in the final minute, Brandon Jennings drove to the basket but missed the floater, but the shot was soft enough to have a light bounce off the rim, allowing a put-back by Ersan Ilyasova in the closing seconds. A costly travel call voided the Wizards only attempt at a game-winning shot.

There were double-doubles all around; Jennings and Drew Gooden both had one, and Ilyasova had his 4th in the last 5 games. It was a well-rounded game for a team that scored 67 points in the first half. The shooting hit disaster level in the 3rd quarter, but it wasn't a bad night on the court as the Bucks hit 45% of their shots. The Bucks have attempted more shots than their opponent in the last 9 consecutive games. Of those 9 games, Milwaukee had the lower shooting percentage in 8 of them, and they went 3-6 in those games. Quantity doesn't always equal quality.

It was the defense that lapsed against the usually up-tempo Wizards. The results on the hustle board fell in Milwaukee's favor, taking the battle in rebounds along with steals and turnovers, which they so commonly do this season. Rebounding hasn't always been their strongest suit. In their 20 losses this year, the Bucks hold a -126 advantage in rebounding, while they are a simple +6 in their 14 wins.

Thankfully this one ended up as a win. If this has been a loss, fans would have rightfully been upset. A lot went right, while a lot still went wrong. But instead, it just becomes another win, what will mostly be considered a "formality" win as they look back on this later in the year.

So what does the rest of the week hold in store? The Bucks hit the road for a fun little Atlantic coast trip, hitting up Boston tonight, followed by Atlanta and Orlando in the next 4 days. Those three teams combine for a 58-44 record and Milwaukee already sports a 0-3 mark against those teams. It will be the Bucks first matchup with Boston this year. Before next Wednesday's report, the Bucks will come back home to begin a 3-game home stand starting with Philadelphia.

Thanks for tuning in. Hopefully the All-Star break treated you well, and if you're checking in for some Milwaukee Bucks tidbits, you're probably equally excited for the approaching college basketball tournament. For the near future, we'll be combining the Wednesday and Sunday Bucks report into one solid, meatier Wednesday edition. And if you are a vegetarian, we'll find something fun for you as well!