MILWAUKEE -- At least they aren't peaking too early.
You want to be playing your very best basketball going into the playoffs. The logical extension, the Bucks have concluded, is that you also want to be playing your very worst basketball not going into the playoffs.
And they are doing a swell job on both of those accounts.
First, because Milwaukee has now lost four in a row, and granted that is something they have proven capable of doing already (five straight, even) this season, but this time it is even worse. This time the losses all came to losing teams. This time the defense was about as bad as the offense (which remains terrifically bad), and this time the Bucks gave up on the game early in the fourth quarter. Against the Pistons. Without leading scorer Rodney Stuckey. At home. And that was a reasonable thing to do, because the Bucks had lost each of the first three quarters, and then they lost the fourth too.
And second, as enormously lame as the bottom of the playoff picture in the East is, where currently two sub-.500 teams in Philadelphia and Indiana reside, the Bucks are not only on the outside looking in, they are in 10th and now just a game in front of Detroit for 11th. Speaking of that number, the Bucks are now 11 games under .500, the furthest this sinking ship has sunk yet.
So much happened in between the following two anecdotes from the game, but really, so little happened in between the following two anecdotes from the game:
On the first play of the game, sixteen seconds in, Andrew Bogut drew a shooting foul on Ben Wallace. He made both free throws.
With 3:58 to go in the fourth quarter and the Bucks trailing 80-70, Scott Skiles called for a hack-a-Ben-Wallace strategy. Wallace airballed the first three throw, and made the second.
Now, to briefly describe what happened after each of those two plays. Bogut neither made nor took another free throw in 37 minutes after that first play of the game. And the Bucks scored eight points in final 3:58, after Earl Boykins missed an open layup as time expired. As such, it would not have mattered if the Pistons had not scored a single point from the time the Bucks intentionally fouled and put Wallace at the stripe with three minutes and fifty-eight seconds remaining.
So, no, the Bucks are not peaking too early in the year. But they might just be self-destructing too late in the year.
Andrew Bogut. Bogut had his way with Ben Wallace andearly on, comfortably spinning either direction on his hooks, netting 14 points by halftime. But he was just 2-7 for four points in the second half. And he was hardly thrilled post-game:
We had a crappy night offensively. But we're just not playing pro basketball at the moment. Talent doesn't win games in this league, we are a talented team. We've had injuries, big deal, every team has injuries. It's getting to the point where there is no excuse for how we played tonight, no excuse whatsoever.
Asked if it's a matter of effort:
Effort, everything, being ready to play, being ready to start the game, being ready to come off the bench, defensive mindsets, defensive breakdowns, not knowing our offensive sets. I mean this is February now. Myself included, everyone. We all need to learn the plays, we all need to have the defensive mindset. We need to come in focused and ready to play. Obviously with Coach Skiles, some guys sometimes don't get a lot of minutes that they'd like, but then all of a sudden they will get thrown in and play 30 minutes. So if they are not ready for that, I don't know what to tell guys. We need to professional product out there, and we are not doing that.
Asked to comment about the team's recent defensive problems:
Reading the scouting report. Guy's tendencies. If a guy is going with his left hand, he's going left, he is going to go left. So we are having those breakdowns... Rip Hamilton is going to come off a double-stagger, he's going to pump-fake and then try to get you in the air. We are just not playing smart basketball. Maybe yeah we are playing hard, but we are not reading the scouting reports, we are not playing smart basketball.
On motivation, or lack thereof:
There's not much a coach can come in here and say before a game, and get us ready to play an NBA game. If you are not ready to play, I think we all need to re-evaluate where we are at the moment, and come back and play hard. But are having too many mental breakdowns. I'd say that is a part of playing hard is reading the scouting report. Know what players' tendencies are, know what their strengths are and weaknesses are. Offensively, know our sets. It's February, and we are having breakdowns in sets, and that's an absolute joke.
Asked how his knee was feeling:
It was okay. It was 50-50 to go tonight, and I tried to give it a go. I definitely wasn't feeling great, but I'll get some more treatment tomorrow and see how it is Monday.
After the media crowd dispersed I switched the topic a bit and asked Bogut if his virus has been getting better.
Yeah, just a little. I still feel it some days. But it's better than what it was two or three weeks ago. But still I keep catching little colds and flus because my immune system is down. But hopefully it will get better.
. A strange one for Corey, who did not make or attempt a free throw despite playing 33 minutes. The only games in which he failed to make a free throw this season prior to tonight were when he played fewer than 15 minutes. And that was a reflection of his tendency to shoot rather than drive tonight. He shot 7-12 (.583) from the field, and that is more than acceptable, but only two of those attempts were in the painted area. Moreover, both of this two shots in the paint were on the fastbreak in the first quarter. So he was not getting to the rim in the half court. But he was making jumpers (5-10 including 1-1 on threes), and no one else was.
. Managed to tie for third on the team in points, with eight, despite playing just the final 8:49 of the game.
4. Free throw attempts (and makes) by Bucks starters (two each by Bogut and Delfino) in a combined 149 minutes. Because when their jumpers aren't falling (starters made 9-30 or 30.0 % from outside the paint), at least they are attacking the rim.
40-23. The Bucks outscored the Pistons 40-24 in the paint. But Detroit hit their jumpers, namely Tayshaun Prince (5-9 on jumpers), Tracy McGrady (5-9), Richard Hamilton (7-14), and Will Bynum (2-3).
12. The starting backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Carlos Delfino combined for 12 points on 18 shots in 55 minutes. Jennings missed all three of his threes while Delfino made 2-6 from deep but missed all five of his two-pointers.
Two horrendous losses to Detroit down. Just two more to go. Sure, Milwaukee has now suffered not one, but two unimaginably horrific losses to the Pistons this season, but they are only required by NBA scheduling mandates to do so twice more, on March 1 at the BC and April 8 at The Palace. Mark your calendars, gluttons for punishment.
Cheer up. Completely reasonable to assume that at the Super Bowl on Sunday evening they will show a giant Bucks logo on the jumbotron to try to encourage Packers fans to cheer. Because the loudest the Bradley Center got tonight was when they showed the Packers logo during the game in the third quarter (followed, in order, by Seniorgee and a t-shirt toss).
Give me a break. A fastbreak. That is what I asked for earlier this week. And after three more lame, slow-paced losses against typically-fast teams (Clippers, Suns, Warriors) out west, the Bucks noticeably pushed the ball right away against the Pistons. Early on, Andew Bogut was outletting and Corey Maggette was finishing, and the Bucks racked six fastbreak points in the first quarter alone. By halftime, they had 11 fastbreak points, already eclipsing their season average of 9.8 per game. They finished with 19 on the break. So this whole thing could have been a lot worse. Because...
Halfcourt offense. The relative success in transition only magnifies the brutality of Milwaukee's halfcourt offense. The Bucks made 8-9 (.888) from the field on the fast break, meaning they made 23-70 (.328) from the field in the halfcourt.
Defense. The Bucks could not stop a team whose leading scorer active for the game was Tayshaun Prince (14.7 ppg). Detroit's 89 points don't sound like a ton, but they got them efficiently, shooting 51.5 % from the field. And as Jeremy at Bucksketball noted after the game, that made them the fourth straight opponent to make at least half of their shots from the field against the Bucks.
About the four-game losing streak.
Too many players. Not enough players. After a 2.40 PER earned Garrett Temple another 10-day contract, and the rest of the troops sans Mike Redd and were healthy enough and willing and able to play, the Bucks were faced with the unusual decision of which healthy and willing and able player to put on the inactive list. Skiles opted keep Temple active and put Brockman on the inactive list.
Probably did not matter, anyway.
Actually did not matter, anyway.
Because Skiles went with a eight-man rotation through the first three quarters, despite borderline disastrous results. John Salmons, Keyon Dooling, and Luc Mbah a Moute were the only three reserves that Skiles called on for three quarters.
It took the Bucks scoring 15 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half before he had seen enough, and brought in Chris Douglas-Roberts, Earl Boykins, and Larry Sanders with 8:48 remaining (he subbed in Garrett Temple with 1:51 to go). Not that these guys shot hot (they combined for 3-11 from the field) or changed the game (they were outscored 9-8). But before the game, Skiles talked about wanting to find the right combinations of players. And this game offered no insight, aside from that there might just not be any right combinations, or right answers.