How hot have the Bucks been of late? Consider that two nights ago Scott Skiles characterized his club's 100-87 home win over the Wizards as "a step back." Realistically, he was right.
And while Skiles has never been one to get too excited about wins, there's a big difference between saying something like that because you want your players to expect better and saying it because you know they do. There's a word for that kind of thing: progress.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that on Skiles' 46th birthday his players not only beat the Wizards in Washington, but did so in dominating fashion. The Wiz are most definitely a rag-tag bunch right now, a group that has looked more interested in getting theirs than playing team basketball. But 28-point road wins aren't gift-wrapped for you in the NBA either.
Happy now, coach?
"It was just that one game. We have been sharp for a long time and I thought we weren't as focused as we've been in recent games. We were still able to come out with a win.
"The guys took it to heart. They did an awful lot of things right tonight."
As for the game, there wasn't much ebb and flow to this one. The Bucks brought defensive intensity early and never allowed the Wizards to settle into any real rhythm, as not even the red-hot Andray Blatche (5/16 fg, 13 pts) could get much daylight, a couple nice moves against Bogut not withstanding.
Leading the way was Bogut, who set the tone with 10 points in the first quarter en route to a 19/10 night that also featured four assists and five blocks in just three quarters of action. With the game tied at 11, it was Bogut who fittingly keyed an 11-0 run that broke the game open with six quick points. Brandon Jennings--still passing much better than he's scoring (2/7 fg, 4 points, 9 assists, 1 to)--found Bogut for a rim-rocking alley-oop in transition and then fed Bogut for a one-handed flush on a backcut.
As usual there was no letdown when the Bucks' second unit made their appearance in the second quarter, and a nine point first quarter lead became 15 by the break. And the Bucks hadn't even hit their stride yet. In the third it was John Salmons getting it done, stroking a couple early mid-range jumpers and finishing off a 12-point quarter with a three that gave the Bucks a 78-55 edge. The Bucks' lead then allowed Skiles to rest Jennings, Salmons and Bogut in the fourth, a nice luxury considering Cleveland will be in town Saturday night.
Andrew Bogut: 30 min, 19 pts, 8/14 fg, 3/4 ft, 10 rebs, 4 ast, 5 blk, 2 to
Bogut was outplayed on Sunday by Al Horford and was only so-so on Wednesday, but he got back on track tonight with a stat-stuffing line against the athletic but raw JaVale McGee. After dropping in a hook on the Bucks' second possession, Bogut did most of his offensive work by moving off the ball and letting his teammates (particularly Jennings) find him for easy buckets.
Defensively it was more of the same, and I mean that in a good way. Bogut blocked five shots for the fifth time in nine games, a span in which he's swatted two shots in every game and averaged 3.9 bpg overall.
John Salmons: 33 min, 17 pts, 5/13 fg, 1/4 threes, 6/7 ft, 5 reb, 5 ast, 1 stl, 1 to
The new guy just keeps doing his thing. The Bucks didn't need a monster scoring night from Salmons, but he again generated scoring chances by getting to the line and did more than just score, too.
Carlos Delfino: 38 min, 19 pts, 8/14 fg, 3/8 threes, 6 rebs, 2 stl
You'd have figured Delfino's burn would get cut with Salmons around, but the new guy's minutes have mostly come at the expense of Charlie Bell and Jodie Meeks. Which is a good thing considering how well Delfino's been playing since the new year. Delfino has averaged over 35 mpg since Salmons arrived and has cracked double-digit scoring and at least five rebounds in each of the last five games.
27-10. One of the teams shared the ball tonight, the other did not. But while the Bucks are seventh in the league in assist margin--they average 21.5 apg and allow 19.5--it's not often that you see one team rack up nearly triple the assists of their opponents. Just as impressively, the Bucks turned it over just 10 times compared to 14 for Washington.
19. The Bucks held the Wizards to 19 or fewer points in each quarter, which is a testament both to the Bucks' depth as well their effort over 48 minutes.
6. Combined with Chicago's loss last night, the Bucks are now sixth in the East and a full game ahead of the Bulls in the standings, with Toronto just half a game ahead for the fifth spot. It's also worth noting that the 9th place Bobs are 2.5 games back, but for the moment the Bucks' playoff credentials look pretty damn legit.
Road Warriors. Since February 1, the Bucks are 8-2 on the road, and have won by 16 or more points in five of those games. These are the Milwaukee freakin' Bucks we're talking about. What the hell is going on here?
The Committee. At the beginning of the season I often bemoaned the fact that the Bucks never knew where their scoring would come from. Ironically, their best scorer from the first couple months has been completely ineffective over the past two months, but it says something about Jennings' development as a point guard that the Bucks are playing better than ever. Bogut and Salmons offer solid go-to options in the post and on the perimeter, and every night it seems like at least a couple of complementary players step up to carry the rest of the load--Delfino, Ilyasova, Stackhouse, Ridnour, Mbah a Moute, et al.
Move it. The Bucks are first and foremost a defensive team--they're 5th in defensive efficiency and 23rd offensively--but it's refreshing watching them click on offense because it is such a pure team effort.
The week ahead. Well, it's not bad per se, but it will be challenging. So let's call it an opportunity for the Bucks to prove themselves. Milwaukee has done as well as could be hoped beating up on the dregs of the NBA, but the degree of difficulty goes up significantly with Cleveland (Saturday), Boston (Tuesday) and Utah (Friday) visiting the BC in the next week.