Five months ago, the Bucks beat the Cavaliers in Milwaukee under very different circumstances than today. Milwaukee's starters were Nate Wolters, O.J. Mayo, Caron Butler, Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders; barring an unforeseen appearance from Mayo, none of them will play tonight. Similarly, Mayo and Gary Neal will not combine for 51 points, and the Bucks will not reach .500 with a win.
All of which is shorthand for November being a really, really long time ago. Milwaukee's 109-104 win on November 7 moved the Bucks to 2-2 on the season while offering a surprise to a Cleveland team that at the time had ambitions of 50 wins and home court in the first round of the playoffs.
Post-mortem. If we want to reconstruct the demise of the 13/14 Cavaliers, a lack of ambition would not have been our starting point. The signings of Jarret Jack (to a rich man's backup deal) and Andrew Bynum (on a high-risk/high-reward/mostly-nonguaranteed deal) before the season signaled Cleveland's intent to leap out of the lottery dregs it had occupied since LeBron James' departure in 2010, and owner Dan Gilbert continued to double-down throughout the season even after Mike Brown's team had looked beyond repair. Bynum and a protected first rounder were shipped to Chicago for the expiring deal of Luol Deng, while Spencer Hawes was acquired from Philly for a song (read: a second rounder). But rumors of bad chemistry--namely between star guard Kyrie Irving and former fourth overall pick Dion Waiters--have haunted the team all season, and dreams of a defensive renaissance under Mike Brown never materialized.
After winning six games in a row leading up to the trade deadline (to improve to 22-33), the Cavs have since limped to a 10-14 mark despite obvious reinforcements and the continued frailty of fellow playoff hopefuls in Atlanta and New York. Strange days in Cleveland, indeed.
Playing for...pride? The Bucks' 104-102 loss to a Pacer team resting all of its starters on Wednesday doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of a lost season, but it's the kind of defeat that underscores just how fundamentally incapable of winning games the current squad seems to be. Injuries are certainly a part of the story: the Bucks have nominally had only eight guys available for the past couple games, though it's not clear whether certain guys are really injured.
But the bigger problem is that it remains unclear how the Bucks would expect to win games if they did have everyone at their disposal. They don't play fast, and they don't have proven halfcourt scorers. They've managed to rank slightly above-average offensively since the all-star break in spite of that, which might have won them some games if they didn't have the worst defense in the league.
All of which is to say that this is a team in need of a shakeup, a shot in the arm, and every other metaphor for CHANGING BASICALLY EVERYTHING. It's not to say there isn't some young talent to work with, but getting the most out of them is seemingly some years and a world away.
So as we count down the final four games of the season, we'll understandably be thinking more about the upcoming draft and possible new ownership than the ugliness that has become standard fare on the court.
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