The Milwaukee Bucks are the worst team in basketball this season, but eleven losses in a row suggest that the Philadelphia 76ers are the worst team right now. And if the Bucks' 130-110 win in Philly tonight is any indication, it's not even close.
Despite entering the game with 50% more wins than the Bucks, the newly-gutted Sixers looked every bit the part of league bottom-feeders on a sleepy Monday night in Philadelphia: multiple missed dunks, non-existent rotations, turnovers galore, and this:
After a defense-optional first quarter saw the Bucks grab a 30-28 lead, Milwaukee's reserves ran riot over a sorry Sixer bench in a 43-16 second quarter and...well, that was pretty much it. The Bucks' biggest quarter of the season pushed Milwaukee to an unfathomable-for-them 73-44 halftime lead, rendering the final 24 minutes little more than a weirdly disjointed formality. It was high-scoring, it was defensively atrocious, it was just what Sixer fans wanted, and it was likely a huge sigh of relief for Larry Drew and his beleaguered Bucks. Putting aside lottery implications, it was also pretty damn fun to watch the Bucks share the ball (32 assists), hit open shots and roll up points like it was the Big Three Era.
Among the highlights for Milwaukee: O.J. Mayo couldn't miss (and was frequently unguarded) en route to a game-high 25 points (8/14 fg, 7/9 threes), Brandon Knight wanted to attack at every turn (12 of his 15 points in the first half), Ersan Ilyasova was making shots (seriously: 7/9 fg, 20 pts), Giannis Antetokounmpo was providing highlight reel swats (career-best 4), and the Bucks were cleaning up most of their own misses for good measure (20 offensive boards on 36 misses).
It was basically a perfect offensive storm for the normally point-starved Bucks, who blew away their previous season-highs for points in a half, points in a game and points in the paint (60) while shooting a blistering 57% from the field and 60% from three (12/20). For all of Philly's ball pressure, they couldn't keep the Bucks out of the paint and the Bucks worked the ball diligently for open shots. Granted, none of those things will help the Bucks lock up the all-important first spot in May's draft lottery, but it should serve as some solace that the Bucks are still four losses ahead of Philly in the lottery race.
Still, don't mistake the Sixers' inability to stop the Bucks for a complete performance from Milwaukee. Philly's lineup was essentially Thad Young (28 pts, 7 ast), Michael Carter-Williams (20 pts, 5 ast) and a bunch of D-Leaguers, but Brett Brown's ragtag bunch still managed to force 23 turnovers, shoot 49% and score 110 points. And while they never got closer than the final 20-point margin in the second half, Philly kept things interesting by pressing extensively after the intermission, essentially guaranteeing one of three outcomes on every Bucks possession: a turnover leading to a Philly break (32 transition points!), a wide open Bucks jumper, or a Bucks layup attempt.
This was hardly the Bucks' most focused effort even with the ridiculous box score line it may have produced, but credit the Bucks for never giving the Sixers any daylight after the first quarter. And while we may come to rue this win if the Bucks manage to catch Philly in the East standings, for one night it was fun to be on the right side of a blowout, eh?
- Giannis Antetokounmpo was active on both ends during the Bucks' second quarter demolition job, scoring twice off pubacks and burying a three to go with a pair of spectacular blocks on the other end. He added a long two (foot on the line, dammit) and a dunk off a nice feed from Miroslav Raduljica in the second half to finish with 13 points (5/8 fg, 1/2 threes, 2/2 ft), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks. The downside: he also turned it over every possible way en route to a season-worst five turnovers: a foot out of bounds, a three second call, a bad pass, a travel, and a mugging at the hands of Tony Wroten. On the upside: Wroten's steal set the stage for this all-action sequence (note that the initial miss was not a block...but still):
HOLY MOTHER OF BLOCKS! https://t.co/OqQxS1huK8— K L Chouinard (@AnaheimAmigos) February 25, 2014
- Knight entered the night averaging 22.4 ppg and 6.9 apg in eight February games, and he looked like a guy who smelled blood in the water in the first half. Knight looked to attack on the break virtually every time he got his hands on the ball, and would have cracked 20 points again had Larry Drew not opted to rest him for most of the second half. Instead, he settled for 15 points (5/10 fg), 5 rebs, 4 ast and 2 tos in 21 minutes.
- All of the Bucks' point guards made a living driving to the rim tonight, as the Sixers offered little resistance at the point of attack and had zero help from their undersized front line. Aside from Knight's activity, Nate Wolters' 3/5 shooting featured three layups and two missed threes while Ramon Sessions marshaled the garbage time offense to the tune of 16 points (6/11 fg), 5 ast and 4 to.
- Philly has lost 11 games in a row and now has 25 games left, begging the question: could they actually lose 36 straight games? I doubt it--36 in a row is INSANE--but the 10/11 Cavaliers' record 26 straight losses could certainly be in danger. Their best chances for wins over the next six weeks figure to come against Orlando (twice in the next week), Utah (at home March 8) and Boston (twice in April). Let's hope they pull out at least one or two of those to give the Bucks more room for error (ie winning games) over the next six weeks.
- John Henson quietly hit 6/9 shots to finish with 12 points, adding a season-high-tying four assists. The downside: he also missed three more free throws, extending his slump from the free throw line to 1/12 over the past four games.