The Bucks won comfortably last night. The Packers are playing in a playoff game this afternoon. It's an exciting time.
It's factually accurate to say that the Milwaukee Bucks have still lost five of their last seven games. They still have two very difficult games in front of them: at Atlanta and home against San Antonio. But against the New Jersey Nets last night, Milwaukee looked like a brand new team. They were almost comically effective on the offensive end, hitting better than fifty percent of their shots from every zone on the floor and getting to the free-throw line again and again (40.3 FTR).
Shooting percentages near sixty aren't the norm for any team, and we certainly can't expect those kinds of numbers with regularity, but having concrete proof that this team can make shots is pretty comforting. After an emotional burnout on Friday against the Heat, this had to feel good.
Whatever Goes on at Halftime. This season, Milwaukee has an average point margin of minus-0.2 in the 3rd quarter, but in their last 3 games they're plus-6.3. We've lauded (albeit with little excitement) the Bucks' incessant knack for hanging around in games, and now it seems they've taken it a step further. Despite the harrowing schedule, the offensive letdowns, and enough injuries to keep Johns Hopkins busy, the players have been resilient. Credit Scott Skiles, credit the locker-room leaders (whoever they are), credit whoever you want: Milwaukee is coming out with energy after halftime.
Defensive FG%. Over their last three games, Milwaukee is holding opponents to a Milwaukee-esque 45.7% shooting from the field, besting their already excellent 48.4 Opp. FG% season average. What really stuck out was how well the Bucks defended LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Heat shot only 33% within 10 feet, and the Big 3 combined for their worst collective shooting performance of the season, with LeBron and Wade missing 10 of their 13 shots at the rim. The concern is, despite limiting their opponents to such poor shooting, Milwaukee's defensive efficiency hasn't been much better than usual in the same stretch. Now, with their "average" defense already one of the best in the league, that's not a huge issue, but why hasn't it been even better in light of those defensive FG% numbers? A potential answer below.
Fouling and Free-Throws. Despite the reputation most Scott Skiles-coached defenses have for being exceedingly foul-happy, the Bucks are averaging a middle-of-the-pack .227 PF/Poss on the season. Over their last 3 games, though, that number has been bumped up to .248. Granted, two of those games were against the Magic and the Heat, two of the most adept teams in the NBA at drawing fouls. That doesn't mean it isn't important. Milwaukee's defensive FTR is already a below-average 31.7, and it's been even higher than that recently. After a five game stretch where Milwaukee excelled at keeping opponents off the line, they gave up an atrocious 50.0 FTR to the Heat in Miami, followed by 42.9 and 36.0 marks against Orlando and Miami in the rematch, respectively. Despite holding their opponents to poor shooting from the floor, Milwaukee needs to avoid bailing players out by sending them to the stripe. Thankfully, the Bucks won't see Wade and James again until April.