It's been a long time since being a Bucks fan was more than just a noble statement of loyalty, but the Bucks' trips to New Jersey this year should serve as clear wake-up calls as to how bad we don't have it.
Consider that the Nets have now won just four times in 52 games, keeping them on pace to
outsuck eclipse the 1972 Sixers squad (9-73) as the worst team in NBA history. And despite most experts' belief that the Bucks would toil alongside the Nets at the bottom of the East, Milwaukee now has six times as many victories as the Nets and continue their hot pursuit of Miami for the last playoff spot.
So if you're doing the math, the Nets at their current pace would have to play 312 games--the equivalent of nearly four seasons--just to win a measly 24 games. Damn. To the gang at the ever-diligent New Jersey blogs Nets Daily and Nets Are Scorching, much respect for keeping the dream alive.
Of course, the reality is that New Jersey is far more talented than their record suggests, and the word on the street was that the Nets had been pretty competitive of late...well, relatively speaking. But on display Wednesday night at the snow-covered Izod Center was a striking example of how effort, execution, confidence, and coaching make such a huge difference in a league where every team, even the Nets, has at least a couple guys of taking over games. The individual numbers tell the story: Andrew Bogut (22 pts, 9 reb, 4 blocks) outplayed a mostly submissive looking Brook Lopez, while Luke Ridnour (17 pts, 8 ast) and Ersan Ilyasova (18 pts, 6 rebs) offset the solo efforts of Devin Harris (27 pts, 9 ast).
Though the final score suggests a laugher, in truth the Nets made the Bucks' life difficult for most of three quarters before finally caving in completely in the final 15 minutes or so. Another sluggish start saw the Bucks down 10-2 in the early going and again Skiles was forced to throw his second unit in to spark the Bucks back into it.
And, again, they did. With Andrew Bogut on the bench with two fouls, Ilyasova hustled his way to eight first quarter points but the Nets still led 26-20--all in front of about 1,000 admirable fans that braved blizzard conditions and the general state of Nets basketball to make it to the game.
Bogut returned to start the second and the Bucks appeared ready to take command with a 16-3 run that included six points from Bogut. Ridnour also began to make his presence felt with eight off the bench, but the bench struggled to close out the quarter and Harris--penetrating and pulling up over Brandon Jennings for short jumpers much of the night--helped the Nets get back to a 44-44 deadlock at the half.
The Bucks then finally made their move midway through the third, as Bogut's inside scoring and Mbah a Moute's hustle keyed a 12-2 run that saw the Bucks starting to run riot over the Nets inside. On the other end the Bucks' defensive intensity also began to pay off, as New Jersey found no shots uncontested and couldn't find offense from anyone other than Harris. The fourth started with a further 10-0 run to blow the game wide open and all of a sudden the Bucks couldn't miss jumpers either--not too dissimilar from the Pistons' fourth quarter last night.
Andrew Bogut: 34 min, 22 pts, 11/22 fg, 0/1 ft, 9 reb, 4 ast, 4 blk, 0 to
Considering how much the Bucks brass has understandably been ripped for passing on Lopez in the '08 draft, there's something reassuring about Bogut once again handling the guy who could have been drafted to replace him. Bogut missed his fair share of chippies early on--Lopez's length probably had something to do with it--but in the end his touch and mobility got the better of the Nets' talented second-year.
And while Bogut's scoring has been inflated by a ton of shots the past two nights (19/43 fg), his work on the defensive end needs no caveats. Aside from holding Lopez to just six shots and nine points, Bogut rejected four Nets shots, two of them coming on a fantastic sequence in the third quarter. Yi Jianlian faced up and attempted to drive past Bogut on the right baseline, only to see his flip shot blocked by Bogut's left hand. Yi then saved it underneath the hoop to Lopez, who went up weakly and saw his shot tossed out of the paint by the Big Aussie.
Luke Ridnour: 33 min, 17 pts, 6/13 fg, 2/3 threes, 3/3 ft, 4 reb, 8 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk, 2 to
Just when Ridnour seemed to be crashing back to earth of late, Ridnour has another big game to underscore the Bucks' dilemma in thinking about trading him. Ridnour didn't shoot the lights out but was again a steadying influence with the second unit.
Luc Mbah a Moute: 22 min, 8 pts, 4/4 fg, 12 rebs, 1 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk
With apologies to Ersan Ilyasova, I'll give the nod here to the Prince, who continues his streak of fine play with a perfect shooting night and another monster night on the offensive glass. Though Yi essentially matched his raw numbers (9 pts, 12 reb), consider than Luc did his damage with 10 fewer shots and in 10 fewer minutes.
50%. It didn't start out well, but the Bucks' hot second half (50% in the third and 75% in the fourth) got the Bucks back to an even 50% shooting when all was said and done.
28. The Bucks piled up the assists again, reflecting their continued ball movement and execution.
9-1. The Bucks outblocked the Nets 9-1, which more or less summarized the story down low.
Bigs. Bogut got the best of a quality big in Lopez while Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova clearly outplayed Yi and Kris Humphries.
Finishing on a high note. The Bucks again excelled on the second night of a back-to-back and take a pretty damn solid 24-27 record into the all-star break. Would have been nice to take care of business against the Pistons, too, but in the grand scheme of things you have to say Skiles has done a fine job with the talent on the roster. Everyone plays hard, everyone plays together, and this just seems like a bunch of guys who enjoy playing with each other.
Believing. In many of the Bucks' road losses this season you could just sense that one team (hint: not the Bucks) had a lot more confidence that the outcome would go their way. But of late we're seeing the Bucks show a bit more swagger and confidence; even though the Nets kept it close for 30 minutes, you could tell the Bucks felt this game was theirs. They ended up outplaying and outhustling the Nets, and got a scoreline to reflect that.
Three No Bad
Let's just enjoy this one for a change.