MILWAUKEE - You follow pretty bad teams, and you pick out good things in losses. You follow pretty good teams, and you pick out bad things in wins.
Andrew Bogut started and played 28 reboundless minutes before finishing with two boards, Brandon Jennings scored five points (raising his two-game output to eight), and defensive genius Luc Mbah a Moute got pulled early because he couldn't stop his man.
(And the Bucks cruised to a win over a team that had beaten them twice in as many tries this season.)
See? It's all relative. Know that the race to the playoffs won't be as exciting next season. Once you know you follow a pretty good team, you expect more.
And you have to know first. Timeline is important here.
Put this game -- a rather one-sided 13-point victory -- at the front of the schedule. Halloween, maybe the first of November? It becomes a shimmering achievement, a real reason for hope. Now? It's a win, a relief to have beaten those pesky Wizards, though it sort of just happened, and we are on to the next one.
This is how it works. It's all perfectionism for those of us watching, writing, reading about the team early in the morning, late in the evening, and really early in the morning.
And for those of us even closer, even more invested in the team, like Scott Skiles:
We got a win tonight, we are happy, we'll take it. We took an overall step back. Our overall intensity wasn't what it needs to be.
This game wasn't drab, but it certainly wasn't spectacular. The Bucks won the first quarter, won the second quarter, and won the game in the third quarter. Yet another crushing defensive display clinched it, as Milwaukee held Washington scoreless for more than five minutes and forty seconds during the third.
John Salmons and Jerry Stackhouse, and John Hammond for that matter, starred again. With them, the Bucks were able to overcome mediocre games by three of the most important starters (Bogut, Jennings, Mbah a Moute) to not only win, but win easily. Without them, I shudder to picture the possibilities.
So enjoy this, that you follow a pretty good team.
Ersan Ilyasova. A bit of everything from Ilyasova.
With Luc Mbah a Moute struggling on (and giving three inches to) his defensive assignment, Ersan was the first sub of the game at about the six minute mark of the first quarter. And he didn't do much to necessitate going back to the bench, so Coach Skiles gave him about 33 of the final 42 minutes of the game. The sixth man of the game finished second in minutes among all players.
He is a better passer than the straight assist numbers suggest, but it's been almost two months since Ilyasova had more than three assists in a game, so his four first-half dimes understandably jumped off the statsheet.
Ersan indeed created a lot of offense, scoring 19 points of his own in addition to a career-high six assists, which led all players. Active on the glass with 10 rebounds, and this was one of his best all-around games of the season.
He was really active, changed the tempo of the game a little bit for us.
John Salmons. Salmons took part in his first full practice with the team just yesterday, according to Scott Skiles in the pregame chat.
Fortunately, practice didn't hurt him a bit. After not blending in, but actually leading the team through much of his first seven games with Milwaukee, the shooting guard delivered another ace performance against Washington.
He was the jolt of points again, scoring 22 to lead his new club for the fourth straight game, and he pitched in with a nice bit of work on the defensive end too.
Consider: Salmons was the one Buck to play the entire third quarter, in which the Bucks held the Wizards to 12 points. He was plenty busy on the offensive end, but retained requisite energy to play some great team defense, pick off a pass, and draw a charge in that quarter.
Hopefully this isn't a Jenningsian start to his Buck career that is bound to take a downtown right around playoff time.
Carlos Delfino. 'Los had the outside touch tonight, christening March with a 3-5 effort on threes that really helped Milwaukee run away with this one. He led everyone with 11 rebounds as part of a pleasantly efficient evening that was somehow quiet despite also leading everyone in court time with 37 minutes.
3. The frontline of Bogut/Mbah a Moute combined for three rebounds in 53 minutes.
21. Milwaukee forced 21 turnovers, or Washington committed 21 turnovers, or some combination of both. More turnovers (21) than assists (18) for the Wizards.
16. The Bucks racked up 16 fastbreak points compared to six for Washington.
Straight shooters. With the exception of Brandon Jennings, the Bucks shot the ball with precision.
Really. Take out Jennings' 2-12 / 1-6 / 0-1 line, and here are the team's shooting splits: 52.9 % FG, 53.8 % 3PT, 88.9 % FT.
Even with Jennings, the Bucks had a fine night tossing the ball in the basket, and they had a nice balance scoring in the paint (21/36 for 42 points) and out (17/38 for 44 points).
Twelve. This marked the third time in seven games that Milwaukee held an opponent to exactly 12 points in a quarter. They turned the trick in the fourth quarter against the Knicks, punctured Miami's offense five days later, and this time they only waited three nights to suffocate Washington in a game-ending 21-12 third quarter.
Granted, New York, Miami, and Washington have offenses more frightful than fearsome, but Milwaukee brings out the worst in opposing offenses.
Bench. Ersan's commendation earned high placement in the story, but Jerry Stackhouse (13 points) and Luke Ridnour (9 points 6 assists in 15 minutes) played very well and that trio made up for three starters not exactly on their games in this game.
THREE ONE BAD
Jennings' shot. Is Jennings' shot shot? I would be far more surprised to watch him go 7-15 than 2-15, and the 2-12 night really didn't seem out of place at all for him right now.
Brandon has shot above 40.0 % once in the last 16 games, and it's not like above 40.0 % is much.
That one accurate night was a 6-9 effort in 19 minutes in a blowout home loss to Houston.
So, coincidentally, in this 16-game stretch, the one game in which he shot the ball accurately was also the one in which he played the fewest minutes and the one his team lost by the most points.
Skiles tends to stick with Jennings, the rookie played twice as much as Ridnour tonight, and the team succeeded with him on the court. His defense was on point, and though he didn't take very good care of the ball (six turnovers), he also made some nice passes, including a Nashian dribble-around-until-someone-cuts-for-an-easy-hoop early to Delfino for a layup.
Early on this year, people got the impression that all he could do was score. Now, it seems that (5 points tonight) is about all he can't do.