MILWAUKEE -- Five straight last place finishes in the division, and this is a good time to point out how refreshing and novel it is to quite reasonably expect the Bucks to beat the Pacers, Pistons, merely any team in the Central.
And even with Milwaukee traveling back from New York on the second of a back-to-back, even with Indiana in good form coming off a pair of convincing wins, even with Andrew Bogut returning after the fright of a migraine, the Bucks very rightly beat the overmatched Pacers. Just as expected.
Bogut led Milwaukee early, combing through Indiana's defense for 10 points in the first six minutes, propelling the team to another early lead. If last night was No Bogut, No Problem for the Bucks, then tonight was Bogut, Problem for the Pacers.
The Bucks built the lead all the way up to 18 early in the second quarter, but proved stubbornly determined to let the Pacers come back and hang around thereafter. You never really got the sense that they were in danger of losing, Indiana lacked any inventiveness after all, but it was one of those nights when it was frustrating to look at the scoreboard because you always felt Milwaukee should be up by more.
And such is the type of discontent that arises when you not only expect the team to win, but you expect them to do it with gusto. Nonetheless, the win now means the Bucks are in a virtual tie for the final playoff spot in the East. And if they beat fellow division opponent Detroit at home on Tuesday, the Bucks could be in playoff position soon. Just as few expected.THREE BUCKS
Luc Mbah a Moute. Offensive dynamo (standard introduction, henceforth) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute popped in a season-high 18 points on 7-9 from the field and 4-4 from the line, along with 11 rebounds.
An offensive night for the ages, and a defensive night as usual. Danny Granger (14 points on 5-14 shooting, -19 differential) carries a heavy offensive burden on a bad team, and that's frustrating enough. Even more frustrating is having The Principal pawing at your dribble, screening your vision of the hoop, denying your basketball stardom each and every trip down the floor.
Andrew Bogut. Andrew gave the Pacers a head full of headaches early on, recovering from a migraine in speedy, superior fashion. After leaving the game against the Knicks and undersized center David Lee, the Aussie returned to face 7'2" Roy Hibbert. A young'n, but a good one by most indications.
Yet 'Drew topped his season average for points in the first half alone with 17 on a variety of hooks, runners, jumpers, power spin-moves, dunks, and -- hold up, is Bogut developing a legitimately, relatively diversified offensive arsenal? Outlook good.
Not enough touches or shots (2-5) in the second half for the team's best player, but a mighty fine comeback in all with 21 points and eight rebounds on 9-15 from the field and 3-3 at the line.
Jerry Stackhouse. One of the best nights yet for Stack, who hit the boards and hit from outside. Cross your fingers and don't hold your breath about him repeating the outside shooting display (3-6 on threes) again soon, but they fell in tonight.
The rest of the bench was largely ineffective, as Skiles rode the starters for a vast majority of the night, but Stack really excelled in the sixth man role, notching 14 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes. More on Stack in Good.
0. The starting backcourt didn't commit a single turnover in 64 combined minutes, and they totaled 12 assists together. Neither Brandon Jennings (2-10) nor Charlie Bell (3-8) shot the ball straight, but they did plenty.
9. Milwaukee's starters combined for nine steals and everyone had at least one, led by Carlos Delfino's four. A fair amount of Pacer sloppiness made this possible, but the Bucks were anticipatory, active in the passing lanes, aware of their defensive surroundings.
3. The Pacers were credited with an easily countable three second chance points compared to 13 for the Bucks. Milwaukee pulled down 10 offensive rebounds while Indiana had just four.
Cooking at home. Milwaukee has now won seven consecutive at the Bradley Center, the team's last home loss dating way back to Dec. 26 against the Spurs.
Bobblehead Brandon. But he only scored five points, and his likeness doesn't sport the supercool high-top fade, you think to yourself and neglect to comment below.
Casual fans or national types might not realize this, but you do: Jennings hasn't been a big-time game scorer for a while now. After scoring 25+ six times in the first three weeks of November, he has scored 25+ twice in the ten weeks since.
And that's fine. He is 20, not even all that close to 21, and he is continuing to pass and take care of the ball (7 assists, 0 turnovers) with enchanting regularity.
Plus, J.J. Hardy's game-winning hit in extras on his Bobblehead Day a couple years ago is a pointed case study in why Bobblehead heroics are not always the best the sign for promising young athletes in this city.
Jump. Shortly after starting the fourth quarter with a corner three, Jerry Stackhouse and Roy Hibbert got into something of a tiff, nothing terribly threatening, like most tiffs. The 15-year vet certainly wasn't backing down from the second year pro, irrespective of the fact that he gives eight inches and sixty pounds to the center.
And to illustrate that point, Stackhouse proceeded to win the jumpball against Hibbert. While not as fascinating as VC over Yao, notable nonetheless. And that was just a part of the signee's strong fourth quarter in which he scored six points.
Not for your viewing pleasure. A bit unfortunate this win wasn't televised locally, and it's not the first time this year the Bucks have impressed playing in front of only the paying crowd.
On a positive note, the lack of on-air coverage along with it being a Saturday and Brandon Jennings Bobblehead Night provided plenty of reasons to make a trip to the Bradley Center. And a surpisingly robust, surprisingly charged 18,717 fans took note.
Warrick? Hakim checked into the game and within thirty seconds grabbed a rebound, attempted to dunk from the outskirts Milwaukee County, and got to the line, where he made one of two.
Not a bad start, except it wasn't the start at all. It was nearly the end of the third quarter when Hakim first checked into the game, and while Ersan went nuts in New York the night prior, Skiles tends to be right about these things, and the Bucks won -- Hakim seemed to deserve more than three minutes, particularly coming off three good games in a row.
Indy. Indiana lived down to many of my expectations, they started A.J. Price and Brandon Rush in the backcourt, an affront to starting backcourts worldwide, the team looked like a sad lot, not as bad as New Jersey but a sad lot, and there just haven't been many inspiring moments from the opponent when these two have hooked up this season.