The Bucks are technically still alive in the playoff picture, in the same way the Timberwolves are technically still alive in the playoff picture for the 2011-12 season. The Bucks trail the Pacers by three games. Milwaukee plays six more games, including tonight, and the Pacers play four more. But the Bucks are in Florida for the Magic (27-11 at home) tonight and the Heat (28-10 at home) tomorrow night, while the Pacers host the Wizards (3-35 on road) tomorrow night.
The forces of time, circumstance, and (most importantly/unfortunately) basketball are conspiring against the Bucks.
No Magic Act. Before the season, we envisioned a team with a top-five defense -- and after the offseason retooling -- an average-ish offense.
That team is the Orlando Magic.
And neither the Magic nor the Bucks are all that thrilled about it.
While the Magic (3rd) and Bucks (4th) are very similarly dominant defensively, the Magic (14th) are an average offensive team while the Bucks (30th) have faded back behind the Cavaliers once again as the worst offensive team in the NBA.
Thus, the difference of 17 wins, the difference between a four seed and the lottery.
Season series. The Bucks are 1-2 in the season series against the Magic. The major caveat is that the one time Milwaukee beat Orlando, the Magic were missing Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson, and Mickael Pietrus. Which is to say, they weren't really the Magic at all. That was the game when Andrew Bogut dropped 31 points on Marcin Gortat and company despite making 5-16 free throws as Stan Van Gundy went to the Attack-an-Andrew strategy. Bogut has made more than those five free thows once all season -- he made 7-10 in the famous tip-win.
Orlando has won the last two matchups. They won 97-87 in Orlando back in early January in a game that was never too far out of reach but never in doubt. And on St. Patrick's Day Eve, the Magic needed overtime but ultimately (predictably)beat the Bogut-less Bucks by a 93-89 count.
Howard's offensive ascent. Whereas Andrew Bogut still almost never shoots from outside nine feet from the hoop -- and even the vast majority of those in the five-to-nine foot range are hooks -- Evan Dunlap at Orlando Pinstriped Post points outthe improved jump-shooting of Dwight Howard.
Specifically, Howard has improved his facility in taking jumpers from the wings after receiving the ball with his back to the basket. In prior years, if a defender managed to leverage him a few steps out from where he'd like to catch, Howard didn't have many options; he could turn, face, and fire an iffy jumper or try to drive a longer to the basket, opening himself up to strips from help defenders. Now? He can turn, face, and fire a markedly more reliable jumper, in addition to driving the lane.
In 74 games, Howard has shot 38-of-92 (41.3 percent) on such attempts. To be clear, we're only talking about a very specific type of jumper here: ones he shoots following a post-up when he faces up.
Orladon't care? The Magic, it would appear, do not have a whole lot to play for. You can glean that from looking at the standings, where they are nicely nestled in as the four seed in the East, situated 5.5 games behind the Celtics and 4.0 games ahead of the Hawks. Or you can infer that by seeing that they just embarrassing lost in Toronto on Sunday night. The Raptors are not the worst out there, and in those rare instances when Jerryd Bayless is actually playing some ball, Jerryd Bayless can really play some ball. But this Toronto team? This is a team that could not be bothered to beat the Bucks in any of their three meetings thus far.
Yet while the Magic do not have playoff seeding to play for, they have not had the type of season that excuses them from trying everything in their power to get on a roll going into the playoffs.
We in that Sunshine State. From John Hollinger's latest power rankings (where he slotted the Bucks 21st), the Bucks will be the 14th team this season to go into Florida for a back-to-back . And according to Hollinger, only the Jazz, Mavericks, and Blazers have managed to accomplish the double-dip feat of defeating both.
Malik Time. J.J. Redick (strained lower abdominal) and Chris Duhon (sprained right thumb) are out indefinitely. And Gilbert Arenas (flu-like symptoms) missed the team's game on Sunday. So the Magic are a bit thin. Not superskinny like they were they fielded a jayvee team when they came to the BC earlier this year when a good portion of their team was suffering from food poisoning. But thin.
The Magic played an eight-man rotation against Toronto on Sunday. And one of those men was Malik Allen.
Agent 33.5 %. As noted, Gilbert Arenas missed Orlando's previous game due to illness. And Magic fans probably were not overly crestfallen by the news. After all, the big-name acquisition is shooting 33.5 % from the field 46 games with the Magic. Once one of the silkiest scorers of this century -- witness this video --- Arenas does not seem to do all that much all that well anymore. But there is some evidence that Magic fans have probably been a little too hard on Arenas.