In many ways, the Brooklyn Nets were the perfect opponent for the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. Through 20 games, the Nets look like a $100 million dumpster fire of a team primed to pay an additional $87 million in luxury tax for the right to exist in their undeniably imperfect form. They are the best reminder that you can't buy or deal your way out of a poor plan or a weak core of talent to become a contender in the NBA. That's not how the NBA works. With the Bucks stuck in the cellar of the Eastern Conference looking up at the Nets, the message should be clear for Herb Kohl and company: A panic trade will only lead to more panic.
Brooklyn's veteran roster was cut short by injuries for the game, and their surprisingly porous defense (they ranked dead last in the NBA in defensive efficiency coming into the game) looked like a good matchup for an often overwhelmed Bucks offense. Just run the old guys right out of the building and let everyone in the NBA laugh at Brooklyn for another day.
Unfortunately, that's now how things went down. The Nets prevented the Bucks from playing in the open court by controlling glass and scoring well in half court sets. Consquently, the game was played at a snail's pace (an estimated 81 possessions for each team, compared to the league average pace of 94.1). The guy at the center of it all for Brooklyn was Brook Lopez.
Lopez unleashed his full arsenal of graceful post moves, flat-footed jumpers and bank shots, and aggressive drives to the rim en route to a game-high 32 points on a meager 13 shots -- good for 89.7% True Shooting. He dominated Milwaukee's frontcourt for the entire 40 minutes he spent on the floor. The Bucks tried everything, and by "tried" I mean "failed at."
Lopez gave Brooklyn's offense a kung-fu vibe, as he waved on every next guy Larry Drew threw at him and dispatched Ekpe Udoh, John Henson, Miroslav Raduljica, Ersan Ilyasova, and the anonymous string of Bucks zone defenders with ease. Larry Drew didn't have any solutions, but at least he acknowledged the issue after the game (via Andrew Gruman of FOX Sports Wisconsin):
"We really had no answer for Lopez," Bucks coach Larry Drew said. "Just his size down low, we couldn't play him one on one because he's just too big.
"You have to do some things to keep him off balance on the block. If you try to play him one on one and you don't have the strength or have the size, he'll just gobble you up."
Deron Williams donned a suit on the bench due to an ankle issue, but Brandon Knight (10 points on 3-12 FGs, 3 assists, 3 turnovers) was unable to make much of his opportunity to go against backups Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor. Khris Middleton played some solid man-to-man defense on Joe Johnson (15 points on 14 shots), but Khris gambled to help on Lopez in the post a few times and left Johnson wide open for the pair of threes he did hit. Brooklyn players not named Lopez combined to score 58 points on 61 shots, and Kevin Garnett looked particularly timid taking the long jumpers he's been shooting confidently for years, but Brook provided more than enough to overcome a Bucks squad that lacked energy.
The good news from the game, aside from the obvious, was that John Henson looked like he may have found his groove on offense. The lanky Tar Heel followed up his best and most complete performance of the season on Friday (18 points and 17 rebounds against the Wizards) with another solid game on Saturday (18 points and seven rebounds). His defense can't be called great considering Lopez's outburst, but Henson played with energy and focus on both ends for most of the night. Like last season, Henson looks his best when he's playing at center -- because he's crafty around the rim but can't credibly stretch the defense as a high screener in pick-and-roll -- but if the young man keeps playing like this it's an excellent problem for the Bucks to have when Larry Sanders returns.
Nate Wolters and Giannis Antetokounmpo each played roughly a quarter worth of nondescript basketball, but the duo did connect for a nice drive-and-dish to close out the first quarter as Nate broke down the perimeter defense and Giannis slashed from the left wing to the rim for a pretty finish in traffic.
The highlight of the local TV broadcast came when Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin discussed the $50,000 fine slapped on Jason Kidd for this:
During that conversation, Paschke and McGlocklin spotted Kidd on the Nets' bench drinking from a water bottle with a pop top and called it a "sippy cup." And hey, he didn't spill a single drop of his drink in Milwaukee on Saturday. Sippy cups really do work for Kid(d)s!
The first winning streak of the season for Milwaukee will just have to wait.