Milwaukee Bucks fans are used to expecting disappointment. Consistent inconsistency, if you will. But Monday night's 102-90 drubbing at the hands of the Washington Wizards looked like a team of Billy Pilgrims, randomly jumping between events and tendencies (for better and worse) that have come to define the 2012-13 Bucks.
After Milwaukee jumped out to a 24-14 lead halfway into the game, Washington took a timeout and spent the next 43 minutes passing, driving, and posting their way to an 88-66 scoring edge. The Bucks managed to close the gap to three points at different times during the third and fourth quarter, but the Wizards adequately responded with high percentage post-ups and a handful of John Wall drives.
Washington committed 19 turnovers (for 22 Bucks points), and ceded 17 offensive rebounds to Milwaukee. But even gifted with second chances and clear looks at the basket, the Bucks could only manage 37.9% shooting with 95 attempts. The defense's lack of awareness turned Washington's 30th ranked offense into the San Antonio Spurs (56.8% fg, on 74 shots).
For the most part, Bradley Beal took shots whenever and wherever he wanted (28 points, 10-7 fg, 4-5 3fg, 4 rbs, 2 asts), and Nene (21 pts, 10-13 fg, 13 rbs, 6 asts) had ample opportunities to practice his post moves and elbow jumpers against the deck chairs that comprised Milwaukee's Larry Sanders-less front court.
"Thought we had a bunch of good looks, and we just couldn't make them," coach Jim Boylan said. "We struggled from the free throw line. ... Our defense was terrible. And our inability to make our open shots kind of gave them comfort, and they took advantage of it."
Monta Ellis. Ellis scored 16 of his 24 points in the first and fourth quarters (6-10 fg) finishing with a respectable 9-21 shooting (0-4 3fg, 6-9 ft), with eight assists, seven rebounds, and six steals. As the game wore on, Ellis got more aggressive (3-3 at the rim in the final quarter), stopped settling for jumpers and started doing what he does best: attack the rim and draw a foul or defer to the open shooter when the defense collapses. I'm pretty sure he could've racked up at least five more assists if the Bucks could hit open looks.
Brandon Jennings. Jennings finished with seven points on a robust 3-17 shooting (1-7 3fg, 2-9 at the rim) adding seven assists as well. He had a fair amount of good looks, and certainly wasn't deterred when they started routinely bouncing back into the field of play. Oddly enough, even with all but one of his attempts coming from the two most efficient spots on the floor, Jennings looked like he was playing with a growing level of ambivalence. Normally he's willing to wear some emotion after a shot rims out. Monday night, he was stone-faced for most of the game.
Larry Sanders. Honestly, hearing "second opinion" in reference to Sanders' back injury scares me. The All-Star Break is going to be good for everyone.
1. Under Jim Boylan, the Bucks have lost four straight and are now 9-9 since he took over for Scott Skiles. Not coincidentally, Skiles compiled a 16-16 record before he and the Bucks "mutually parted ways." Why the choice of "1" then, you ask? That's how many times the Bucks have been under .500 this season. This team is what it is, regardless of the coach pacing the sidelines.
24. Milwaukee's 17 offensive rebounds looks like a lot, but coupled with Washington's 40 defensive boards (the Bucks had 43 total), it serves as another reflection of the Bucks' offensive ineptitude. Milwaukee produced 22 more rebounding opportunities than Washington, who created 33 rebounding chances. That 17 number looks great on paper, especially without Sanders, but in context, it's be surprising if the Bucks couldn't grab at least 15 of their own missed jumpers.
16-6. The Wizards ran early and often. The Bucks did not, and often could not. It seems too simple to say that Milwaukee's offense is severely limited when they can't get out in transition, but the lack of a true post-up threat and a consistent shooter capable of spacing the floor on every possession forces the team to rely on confusion for production. Again, it is what it is.
Three Two (Really) Bad
Jennings' finishing ability. Didn't we already cover this Saturday? Rewind to a fast break midway through the second quarter. Ellis steals the ball from a (wisely) posted up Trevor Ariza. He throws it to a streaking Jennings. With two Washington defenders closing, a trip to the charity stripe all but guaranteed, Jennings apprehensively short-arms a runner, and Ellis misses the putback dunk. Over his last 10 games, Jennings is shooting 32% from nine feet in. Until Jennings unlearns his left-hand default setting and embraces some regular contact, the speed with which he gets to the rack will remain irrelevant.
No fluidity One time, the ball swung around the perimeter, and Ellis opted for a contested three as time expired. Another time, Jennings drove and kicked to a relatively open Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who took a 20 footer with as much time remaining on the shot clock. At one point, the Bucks had three consecutive possessions thanks to two offensive rebounds, and they didn't score. Ellis took a similar shot (on a fadeaway) with 16 seconds to go, and Ekpe Udoh had a handful of post-up opportunities against Nene. These weren't all in succession, but they were all microcosms of the Bucks' all-around scoring issues.
"I think, not only did we miss open shots tonight, but we also passed up open shots. Sometimes in the rhythm of the game, the game will dictate to you when you should shoot and when you should pass," Boylan said. "I thought tonight we had a lot of shots in rhythm that we passed up. Once you do that, you set off a chain of events that throws off the entire rhythm of the possession. I was trying to convince our guys to shoot those open shots. But we struggled with that tonight."
Three Two Good
The All-Star Break is coming up. A long weekend will be good for the Bucks' psyche and physical health. Plus, it brings us steps closer to the trading deadline, which will tell us more about where Milwaukee is headed (short, and possibly long term) than any of these individual games will.
Bucks fan/media in-game tweets. Through the most extreme oscillations in Bucks performances, you can always count on the small flock of Bucks fans on Twitter for moral/sarcastic/therapeutic support.