Fear the Deer. You could make a good case that Brandon Jennings' fourth quarter barrage in Wednesday's win over the Heat was his most memorable performance since that whole 55-point thing more than two years ago; at a minimum it felt like the Bucks' most (only?) significant statement since they won back-to-back-to-back playoff games against the Hawks in 2010.
That might seem weird when you consider that the Bucks had beaten the Heat on the road just 10 days earlier, but the context is important. The Bucks have always been capable of the odd gem here or there, but coming back to beat Miami for a second time in two weeks just felt like much more of a statement--in no small part because it came as part of a 6-2 run that has come in spite of Andrew Bogut's latest injury and the ongoing Stephen Jackson distraction. No one would have been too mad with the Bucks for laying an egg against the league's fiercest trio, especially after LeBron James' ridiculous 24-point first quarter. Many teams have done it. But the Bucks didn't let an early hole discourage them and instead reminded the Milwaukee faithful how fun it can be to watch an energetic, unselfish team put it all together. Oh, and that Jennings guy added to the fun, too.
Considering all the positive buzz the game seemed to generate, I'd love to think Wednesday's game could mark a turning point in how the city views this year's squad. But with 45 games remaining and seven teams ahead of them in the East, the Bucks also can't afford complacency now. The Bucks have given Milwaukee plenty of false starts and teasing spurts of excitement over the past two decades, but the excitement has mostly been fleeting. Considering the opponent and positive developments of the last two weeks, the Bulls' visit to the BC tomorrow night will draw plenty of eyeballs, which could make tonight's game in Detroit something of a trap. Unfortunately the Bucks aren't good enough to sleep walk their way to road wins, and the Pistons provided enough scares in the teams' first two meetings this season to show this isn't a gimme. The Bucks still have everything to prove--especially on the road, where they're still just 3-9.
Finishers. A year after finishing dead last in the NBA in fg% at the rim (57.9%), the Bucks have rocketed all the way to ninth with a healthy 66% this year. Though they're no more athletic on paper this year than a year ago, the Bucks' improved transition game and consistent ball movement have done wonders for their offensive flow and efficiency, as evidenced by the fact that they also rank fifth in percentage of assisted at-rim field goals (60%), compared to just 47.0% last year (26th).
Maxed Out. Jason Maxiell started in Wednesday's 99-96 road loss in New Jersey, leapfrogging previous starters Ben Wallace and Jonas Jerebko for the coveted title of "dude who tries to play with Greg Monroe." Not that the Bucks have been a model of consistency in that regard--Ersan Ilyasova, Jon Leuer and Luc Mbah a Moute have all started for the Bucks at PF thus far, though it appears that Mbah a Moute may have once again solidifed .
Luc and Mike. Speaking of Mbah a Moute, it''s no coincidence that the Bucks' defense has finally started to come together since the Prince's return to the active roster. The Bucks have allowed a whopping 12 fewer pts/100 possessions with Luc on the floor this season and are 6-2 since he returned from a prolonged absence with knee tendinitis.
Interestingly, the same can be said of Mike Dunleavy, who made his return from a groin injury at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago, the same night as Luc. Though lacking in athleticism, Dunleavy hasn't prevented the Bucks from defending with him on the court: Milwaukee is similiarly 12 pts/100 better defensively with Mike on the court. Dunleavy has scored in double-digits in five of his last six games and made 7/14 from deep in the last five, bringing his true shooting% up to 56.4%. Not bad for a guy who couldn't seem to buy a jumper two weeks ago.