Remember the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks? Of course you do. The puddle of bile spreading out like oil on water underneath your computer chair says as much.
Wednesday night, Bucks fans were treated to a throwback game against the Indiana Pacers, filled with listlessness, indifference, and a team of Bartlby The Scriveners. The only difference was that Milwaukee was on the attacking end.
You know that Family Guy joke about the Mets' season ending after the first pitch? That's essentially what this game felt like after a Tobias Harris cross lane step and lay-in kicked things off. Milwaukee jumped out to a 20-6 lead, and finished the first quarter with a 33-17 lead they would never relinquish on their way to a 99-85 victory.
"We played some of our best defense in the first half tonight. Some of our best offense as well," coach Scott Skiles said. "Overall, a very well played game except for the last seven minutes."
The Bucks took everything they could get, and they got a lot of penetration (44 points in the paint), pace-pushing opportunities (24 points on 20 turnovers), and help from a tired, lethargic Pacers team that all too often followed up an easy Brandon Jennings layup or Samuel Dalembert dunk with 18 foot contested jumpers.
The team's effort atrophied as the game wound to a close (Bucks scored 39 second half points), but for the most part this game was effectively over by the time the half court shot promotion began at the break.
Samuel Dalembert. Don't look now, Bill Paxton, but Samuel Dalembert has been a force of nature over the past three games, averaging 12 ppg, while shooting 75% from the field, pulling down 6 rpg, tallying 1.33 bpg, in just a shade over 19 minutes per game. After the game, Skiles commented on Dalembert's recent Dunk Contest auditions:
"(Dalembert's) another one of those guys, all he really has to do is be active and he ahs an effect on the game," Skiles said. "He can make an open shot, if he dives to the basket with energy and our guards are good at finding him, he can get a couple easy baskets. Defensively, he's good around the rim."
Beno Udrih. Since no Buck really stood out above the pack from a scoring standpoint, it's only fair to highlight the second unit captain that is fitting nicely into a leadership role off the bench. Udrih finished the game with 9 points (3-7 fg, 3-3 ft), 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals in 27 minutes, and was a crucial part of the lead stabilization effort.
John Henson. Henson saw his first action since last Wednesday, and did not disappoint, in so much as someone can "disappoint" after the white flag has been flown. Still, Henson made the most of his late-game time on the floor, scoring 10 points on 5-8 fg in 7 minutes, rejecting two shots, and grabbing one rebound. Not sure what it means, but it is what it is.
5:14. This is the length of time the Milwaukee Bucks led by single digits (i.e. the start of the game to the 6:46 mark.
1st overall, 2 seed, 75 games. The first is the Bucks' current placement in the Central Division standings. The second is their seed if the Eastern Conference playoffs began today. The third is their magic number for clinching the division. I mention these with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but Milwaukee can do some damage in the coming weeks. It's a long season, but it's never too early to build up a lead sure to be whittled away as teams get healthy.
+14 turnover margin. The Bucks and Pacers came into this game with nearly identical turnover rates (ranked 23rd and 24th, respectively). But (for Milwaukee at least) fewer turnovers haven't predicated wins. Until now. The Bucks disrupted passing lanes and double-teamed David West & Co. in the post, forcing 20 turnovers in the process. Jennings has built a reputation as the John Dillinger of point guards this season, and as long as he's playing in front of the Tube Men, the team's high-pressure tactics should suffice.
Eye testing. Sure the Pacers played with all the passion of five Ben Steins, but the Bucks deserve credit for backing Indiana into the ropes and throwing haymakers from start to finish. Even compared to the second half of last season, Milwaukee looks much tighter as a team, more comfortable playing in constantly evolving lineups and more confident getting out on the break. At the very least, the Bucks have become a must-watch for NBA League Pass aficionados.
Kill shots. The Bucks are notorious for building early leads and wilting just as quickly once the opposition hits a few shots. That hasn't been the case so far, as Milwaukee recently held off a late Sixers charge and beat the Pacers so far into submission they were liable to pull a Coach Taylor at East Dillon move after halftime. The team won't be tested again until next week (at Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, at Bulls, New York Knicks), so these dominating wins are crucial to building confidence and chemistry.
Tyler Hansbrough reading Chicken Little. I'm a huge fan of the Boers & Bernstein show on 670 The Score out of Chicago. They're divisive, outrageous, appalling, objectionable, offensive, and occasionally inhospitable. Steven Von Horn shared this bit in the Game Thread, but I thought we could take some time to appreciate something about Hansbrough that isn't as aggravating as his on-court persona.
Third World Beaters. The Pacers have one of the best defenses in the NBA, but they have been an absolute train wreck this season. Indiana now has a 5 game losing streak to their name. They've lost their best offensive player for at least a full business quarter. They haven't capped 100 points in regulation once, and they are coming off the front end of a back-to-back in which they lost to a Toronto team that scored 5 fourth quarter points. Demoralizing doesn't even describe the past two weeks in Pacers Land.
Finishing what they start. The Bucks finish inside at about the same rate that I finish Grand Theft Auto games (52.3% in the paint, 5-14 on second chance shots). Granted, the Pacers have a solid interior, but it's one thing to miss 18-foot jumpers. In-and-out layups at the rim on a consistent basis are another level of problem sure to be exposed by playoff-caliber teams.
From downtown! Not so much... Milwaukee hasn't had the best luck on three balls lately (13-55, 26.1% 3fg in last three games). Wednesday was no exception (3-16, 18.8% 3fg). Obviously they didn't need a lot of long range shooting to build and maintain their double digit lead, but slumping at executing one of the most efficient shots in the game does warrant some attention.