Milwaukee started the night like it was Game 1 of the first round, an upstart club vying to for a playoff upset on the court of a conference power, a title contender. And Orlando played the rest of the game like a rather upset conference power, a title contender on their home court, like it was Game 1 of the first round.
The two-night Florida Formula followed a strange pattern for Milwaukee: lead by a lot early, lose by a lot late. And vice-versa.
A night after going down 11-0 before ultimately going way up 97-81 in Miami, the Bucks went up to Orlando and went up 18-6 before ultimately going way down.
Andrew Bogut epitomized Milwaukee's hot-brief-start and cold-long-finish by scoring eight points in the first six minutes followed by two more in the last 42 minutes of the game.
And as well as the Bucks have played on the second night of back-to-backs this season (now 6-5), it just wasn't going to work tonight. Not with this being the third game in four nights. Not with Carlos Delfino getting blocked (3) more times than making shots (2). Not with Brandon Jennings (2) scoring as many points as Dan Gadzuric.
Not the signature road win tonight. And given the circumstance? Not to my surprise.
Charlie Bell. The "Wade stopper" wasn't the "Carter stopper" on this evening, but at least he contributed offensively, burying 3-5 triples as one of the few in-form Bucks.
Charlie tied for the team lead with 13 points, and that will tend not to work unless a lot of players score 13 points, a lot more than two. But that's not really Charlie's fault.
Andrew Bogut. Taking the matchup transition from Joel Anthony to Dwight Howard in curiously smooth stride, Bogut started the game by showing virtually his entire offensive arsenal -- in the first five and a half minutes. In that time he swished a running hook, nailed an 18-footer, made a hook, and totaled eight points as the Bucks raced to an 18-6 lead.
Trouble was, he didn't show much else thereafter. After starting 4-4, Bogut made just 1-7 the rest of the way, as Dwight Howard asserted himself as the NBA's preeminent big man with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks.
For Bogut, 10 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, but something of a disappearing act.
The rest thing, maybe?
Kurt Thomas. I almost went with Luke Ridnour, which would have been fun because then all of Three Bucks would have shot 5-11. Alas, this space is for Thomas, who sank a few of those jumpers, which could go in quotations because they really involve very little jumping, per say.
But he is still in this league because he makes those jumpers, and because he knows how to position himself defensively in the post, even if that proved irrelevant against Dwight Howard. With Elson out for six weeks, Thomas becomes a bit more important, so it was good to see a decent performance.
56.2 % - 47.4 %. Orlando shot better, much better, on threes (.562) than Milwaukee did at the free throw line (.474). Oh, dear.
2. The Principal scored two points tonight. Coincidentally, he is averaging 2.0 points per game in the last six games. All starts.
+3. Andrew Bogut (+1) and Brandon Jennings (+2) played 27 minutes each and combined for a +3 differential. Neither were on their game tonight, but neither were in the game for the final 5:15 of the second quarter which included the scoreless last 4:30.
Gadzooks. A happy, Groundhog's Day birthday to Dan Gadzuric, who turned 32 tonight. Skiles gave him the present of playing time, something he gets more than once a year but not more than once a week these days.
And he topped it off with a follow-slam off a Luke Ridnour miss in the fourth quarter. Nice.
Poof, it's a magic act. Some teams, near oceans, the Bucks just can't get enough of: Golden State, Miami, New Jersey. Others, they just get too much of, like Orlando.
Fortunately, no more Magic this season.
Sked. Next: @New York, Indiana, Detroit, @New Jersey, Houston, @Detroit, Charlotte, @New York, New Orleans (sans Chris Paul) @Indiana, @Miami.
If Milwaukee has designs on a playoff run, this is the time to make that run.
Q2. The second quarter, rather than the second half, was the problem tonight.
It was the third quarter that felled Milwaukee in its first two losses against Orlando, but they just couldn't wait that long to to crash and burn tonight. Milwaukee scored 10 points in the second quarter, made one field goal in the final 6:49, and didn't score in the final 4:30 before halftime. I mentioned in Three Numbers that Bogut and Jennings were out of the game for that scoreless span, but it was still pretty bizarre to see Warrick, Ridnour, and Delfino miss and miss considering their recent forms.
The Magic won the second quarter by 17 points, and they won the game by 17 points.
Points... points. We didn't enter the season with the highest offensive expectations for the team's point guards, but that all changed not slowly and very surely as Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour became the two most pleasing surprises and two of the team's top three scorers.
Jennings (17.5) and Ridnour (11.3) entered the night combining for 28.8 points per game. But they came into the fourth quarter with four points together, and while Ridnour hit a couple threes late and finished with 13, it was a bit late for that.
Jennings managed an NBA-low two points this evening, shooting 1-7. Until he starts playing defense like Mbah a Moute, he cannot start playing offense like Mbah a Moute.
Bringing out the best in Vince. In January, Vince Carter averaged a surely shabby 8.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists on 28.4 % shooting from the field. Maybe it's just the new month, maybe it's just the Bucks who continue to bring out the best in Vince.
Carter directed the decisive, destructive 27-10 second quarter like a real pro and went into the halftime locker room with 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, and one toothy grin. He didn't do much after the break, but he didn't really need to, the Bucks were already broken.