Nobody hangs around like the Bucks!
It doesn't make for much of a marketing slogan, but if the 10/11 Bucks have a defining quality, it's their ability to look like a bunch of high schoolers on the offensive end and somehow manage to...uh, I don't know, not get killed. High praise, I know.
On the positive side, defense is obviously part of it, as is the Bucks' unwillingness to roll over--even when those of us watching from home are ready to write them off. These are good things. Then again, using a chorus of bricks to lull the opponent into a false sense of security could also be described as a major part of the Bucks' secret. Just ask the Orlando Magic.
A day after watching their South Beach rivals use a late surge to clobber the plucky Bucks in Miami, the Magic looked ready to blow out the Bucks before halftime. Dwight Howard went to work with nine points in the closing minutes of the second to give the Magic what looked like a rather unassailable 49-33 halftime lead. Sixteen points isn't that much by NBA standards, but with the Bucks hovering around their usual 30% shooting mark, it was once again difficult to figure out how they would score enough points to make up the deficit. The Magic defended well and forced a ton of difficult shots--it's not just the Bucks stinking offensively--while Howard gave Bogut nothing easy inside and then took advantage of the Aussie's foul trouble by doing both the Superman thing (see picture above) and the finesse thing (mid-range bank shots!) against the overmatched Jon Brockman and Larry Sanders.
Still, these are the Bucks. They might be a banged-up, clueless bunch offensively, but pushovers? Not a chance.
The Bucks' second quarter troubles carried over into the third, and within minutes Skiles seemed out of ideas for what to do with his struggling club. After Bogut picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in the first three minutes of the third, Skiles rolled the dice (read: he said "eh, screw it") and played Bogut the entire third, but it's not like the Bucks' captain was having any luck against Howard anyway. The Magic put Bogut on the line whenever he came close to the hoop, and Bogut rewarded them by missing eight of ten freebies--an unfortunate flashback to his 5/16 night against the Magic last month. John Salmons was also struggling, making just 2/10 from the field to start the game, and things finally bottomed out with a Ryan Anderson breakaway dunk and foul that extended Orlando's lead to 71-52 with just 39 seconds left in the third.
Of course, it could have been worse if Orlando had been making their open shots, but with the Bucks incapable of even hitting free throws (15/32) it didn't matter too much. Instead, it was a lot of Howard (28 points on 9/16 shooting, including 7/8 to start the game) and a balanced effort from everybody else--five Magic players scored between 10 and 13 points.
You couldn't fault the Magic for looking a bit content going into the fourth, but the Bucks finally woke up and gave them something to think about--because that's what the Bucks do. Corey Maggette and Earl Boykins each scored 10 in the fourth as the Bucks suddenly couldn't miss a jump shot, drawing within five points on Salmons' tough running jumper with four minutes left. It didn't actually seem like the Bucks could come back, but there's something slightly redemptive (and amusing) about watching your team play like crap for 40 minutes and somehow still get back to within five points of a damn good basketball team. The Magic didn't respond quite as emphatically as the Heat last night, but consecutive buckets from Hedo Turkoglu restored Orlando's double-digit lead and assured the Bucks' unlikely comeback remained just that.
Corey Maggette. Maggette was in full chucker mode from the outset, but on a night like this it's hard to say he was disrupting anything. He scored the Bucks' last six of the first quarter, then re-entered the game with the Bucks down 15 near the end of the third quarter and scored 13 in the game's final 13 minutes. While there wasn't anything too surprising about his 6/8 fta in 25 minutes, it was interesting to see him do virtually all of his damage from mid-range--all but one of his field goals came from 15 feet out or deeper, and the other one was a runner from eight feet. He deservedly played the entire fourth quarter and again raised the question of why he's one of just two Bucks (along with Boykins) who hasn't started a game all year.
Larry Sanders. The Bucks' lone rookie has had a hard time earning consistent burn of late, so it was nice seeing the Florida native come through with a solid night despite some early abuse at the hands of Howard. Among Sanders' highlights were a sweeping lefty hook out of the post (I'll ignore that his use of the backboard was likely unintentional) and a quick first step from the left wing that saw him coast past Brandon Bass for a finger roll.
He looked out of his league trying to handle Howard on the block in the second quarter and airballed a jumper with the bucks trying to come back in the fourth, but overall he channeled his energy in productive ways (five offensive boards) without spazzing out when he touched the ball on offense. All told, 7/10 from the field is an encouraging sign from a guy who is way too long and athletic to be shooting just 38% from the field.
Jon Brockman. There really isn't anybody else remotely deserving of recognition here, but I'll give the nod to Brockness for not being demonstrably off his game like much of the rest of the team. Like Sanders, he was forced into service defending Howard for extended stretches and gave it his best shot, but there's just no way a guy his size can do much besides foul and hope Dwight can't cash in from the line.
30. The Bucks' offense has been bad all year, but their starters seemed to take things to new extremes tonight with 11/41 shooting and just 30 points combined.
47%. Something about the Magic just seems to bring out the worst in the Bucks' free throw shooting. After hitting just 23/43 in their home win a month ago, the Bucks sunk to new lows by making just 15 of 32 in Florida. Bogut was a big part of it (2/10), but 13/22 from the rest of the team isn't getting it done either.
5/22. The Magic's three point touch abandoned them for most of the night, as they started just 2/16 from three before a 3/6 finish helped finally put the Bucks away.
Digging out. If the Bucks could have combined last night's first half (51 points) with tonight's second half (54) they might have escaped Florida with a win. Instead they'll have to settle for salvaging their dignity with a strong final 13 minutes that threw a scare into one of the league's best teams. Moral victories...um, yay?
Dwight...and everyone else. Andrew Bogut's made a pretty good case for being one of the league's best centers over the past 18 months, but nights like these serve as a clear reminder that the pantheon of NBA big men has Dwight Howard at the top and everyone else way below. Bogut looked rushed in missing his first two post chances in the first quarter, and he once again struggled to make an offensive impact--an all-too-regular occurrence of late. He also grabbed just seven boards in 30 minutes, his third straight game of eight boards or less. Is his elbow acting up again? Is his back giving him issues? Is the absence of Jennings a bigger deal that most of us expected?
Drooling and the Fish. Not a good night for the starting backcourt. Keyon's been solid since Jennings went down, but there's not much to say about a scoreless night with just two assists and no rebounds in 23 minutes. Boykins wasn't much better for three quarters, though he at least had the decency to crack double-digits with a strong finish. Salmons also hit a couple key jumpers in the fourth, but it didn't come close to redeeming another tough shooting night (5/17 fg) that also featured just a single rebound and assist.
Seven under. The Bucks are now seven games under .500 for the first time this season, and they'll be expected to drop another when they host the hot hot Heat on Friday. The loss also drops them percentage points behind the 14-21 Sixers for the final playoff spot in the East, meaning the soft part of the schedule--beginning in new Jersey on Saturday--can't come soon enough.