Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Every holiday season you get a couple gifts you'd rather just put back in the box. Which Bucks games this season do we wish we'd never unwrapped?
An unreasonably fuzzy bathmat. A 6th pair of socks. Things that stick to walls when you throw them (over age 14). Savings bonds (under age 14). Mostly any movie starring Cedric the Entertainer. Some gifts--often the kind that make you announce out loud exactly what they are as you unwrap them--just don't quite hold up against the high standards of your carefully-crafted wish list. Sure, you act gracious and thrilled, grinning through a clenched jaw and posing for pictures with this thing that might never escape its packaging, all the while scanning the box or bag to make sure the receipt is accounted for.
Thankfully, there's always the returns and exchanges counter. That glorious bastion of hope, where the less-than-coveted holiday spoils are magically transformed into other things that you simply have to have. It's a wonderful safety net, the return counter, comforting parents who just aren't sure whether you like shirts like this and grandparents who just aren't sure how old you are anyway.
Alas, there are no returns in the NBA, and the gifts each team sells its fans are (almost) always non-refundable. But what if we could send back those gifts, those games that didn't leave us satisfied? Oh that Bucks fans could exchange an unwanted franchise-worst scoring performance for another jaw-dropping feat of brilliance.
Well, that's just what we're going to do. We're sending back four of the Milwaukee Bucks' losses from this season. But this customer service associate isn't making it easy, so we'll have to be very clear about what went wrong. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn something along the way. At least we can probably get a Bucks desk calendar or something in exchange.
Return #1: Bucks 98, Bobcats 102
Reason for return: Worked for the first 41 minutes, then just howled and spewed smoke
The Bobcats entered this game a surprising 4-4, albeit against relatively weak competition, and most everybody was talking about how they weren't the worst team on the face of the Earth anymore. But the Bucks were exceeding expectations as well, coming in 6-2 with road wins in Boston and Philadelphia under their belts. And for most of the game, Milwaukee was in control. Then things went sideways: Milwaukee made only 3 field goals over the final 7 minutes and committed 7 fouls, letting Charlotte erase an 11-point deficit and walk away with a 4-point win.
This was a collapse on both sides of the floor, as the Bucks forgot how to make shots themselves and how to defend opponents without just whacking them on the arms. Maybe Milwaukee relaxed too early, or maybe the Bobcats just let loose. Either way, the Bucks weren't prepared for the raised intensity, and now that Charlotte is in freefall, this loss looks pretty awful.
Return #2: Bucks 81, Hornets 102
Reason for return: Appears to have been smashed by a tall guy with lots of hair
If the Charlotte loss took some time to reveal its inauspicious nature, the Bucks' flop in New Orleans looked awful from the moment the final horn sounded. New Orleans had lost 9 of their previous 10 games and was missing first-overall pick Anthony Davis, but that didn't stop the Hornets' frontline from torching the Bucks for 43 points on 24 shots. Robin Lopez missed just 2 of his 10 attempts, while Milwaukee's offense struggled to shoot or even hang onto the ball. Larry Sanders recorded 7 blocks in this contest, but the interior defense struggled mightily beyond that noteworthy box-score tick.
Return #3: Bucks 99, Spurs 110
Reason for return: Looked like it would be totally awesome, was actually totally lame
Hard to consider even an 11-point loss overly disheartening when it comes in San Antonio, but this was just another night where Milwaukee let things get away from them. The Bucks held a 6-point lead at halftime, and while the Spurs fought back to tie it by the end of the 3rd-quarter, it felt like Milwaukee had a good shot to steal away victory. It wasn't in the cards, though, as San Antonio opened the 4th with a 16-2 run, led primarily by bench players like Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter. Especially tough to take, considering Milwaukee has relied on its bench to outplay opponents for much of the year. This game just wasn't what we expected in like 17 different ways.
Return #4: Bucks 82, Cavaliers 94
Reason for return: Only one puzzle piece actually had a picture on it, the rest were just splintery cardboard
Monta Ellis was quite good, everybody else was pretty much terrible. And it's not like the Cavaliers were great--they shoot under 30% on 17 3-point attempts and just over 43% in total. But Milwaukee couldn't figure out any reliable way to score other than giving the ball to Ellis and just standing back. On this night, Ellis gave his best effort and turned in a nice night: 27 shot attempts is almost always too much, but when he can turn them into 37 points, it's easier to swallow. Milwaukee surely missed Beno Udrih's steadying presence on this night, as his absence necessitated heavy minutes for the starting backcourt despite Brandon Jennings' ineffectiveness. Oh yeah, and before this, the Cavs had lost 11 of their last 12 games.
Consider this: if the Milwaukee Bucks had won even 2 of these 4 games, they'd be percentage points behind the Atlanta Hawks for the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. If they'd won 3 of the 4, they'd hold the 3rd seed outright. There's still a lot of season left, but the Bucks need every win they can get before the multitude of injured All-Starsreturn to their respective East squads.
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