Milwaukee Bucks, you're scaring us.
Losing by 10 points to a Kevin Love-filled Minnesota Timberwolves team in November is one thing. A Love-less 107-98 loss with eight games remaining and a shot at the seventh seed is another story altogether.
Context is everything; in life, conversation, sports, even drinking.
In that sense, the Bucks first loss to the Wolves was merely a fire drill, jolting at first, but ultimately innocuous. Wednesday night's defeat, however, is going to burn for at least another two weeks.
Early season road losses to Lottery teams are entirely forgivable. Teams are still learning their own strengths and weaknesses and the general pressure to win a single game is relatively low.
But dropping a game to the same team, missing its best player, on your home court, with a disparity of motivation favoring the Bucks? That's embarrassing, to say the least.
"I haven't seen us play that sloppy in a while," coach Jim Boylan said. "It's a tough one for us to swallow right now at this point in the season. I'd like to see us playing a little more our game rather than playing the way we played tonight."
For all intents and purposes, the Bucks are done simply chasing a playoff spot. Win the games they're supposed to, and there's a good chance Milwaukee moves up and avoids the Miami Heat.
We expect to see the Bucks motivated by this prospect, focused on the task at hand, eager to solve their defensive problems, and starting to find themselves clicking as an offense.
Wednesday night, we were treated to the reality that, for all their offensive firepower (sporadic as it may be), the Bucks are still just as capable of losing to sub-.500 teams as they are of beating playoff teams on any given night.
Ersan Ilyasova. Turkish Thunder was the only thing in between the Bucks and an early death. Ilyasova scored 11 of the team's 23 first quarter points, finishing with 29 (27 through three quarters) on 12-21 shots and adding 12 rebounds (8 offensive). As is tradition, Ersan's career-high fourth straight 20+ point game came on a collection of slow-mo jumpers and Ben Bernanke bailout-inspired putbacks. Ilyasova may actually be playing above his pay grade right now, which is funny only in the context of his dismal start to the season.
Mike Dunleavy. March was not kind to Dunleavy (7.4 ppg, 37.2% fg, 42.9% 3fg, 3.8 rpg), but in two April games, it appears the Bucks' only reliable shooter at the three spot is getting his groove back (15 pts, 52.2% fg, 44.4% 3fg, 5.5 rpg). Wednesday night, Dunleavy looked like his usual self, never stepping outside of his comfort zone, and showing patience when searching for good looks at the basket.
Marquis Daniels. Daniels (2 pts, 1-4 fg, 2 rbs, 1 blk) deserves a lot of credit for his defensive play of late, but he's even less valuable than Luc Mbah a Moute on offense. If I'm foreshadowing Daniels' contributions, then something needs to change. Unfortunately, that change is not going to happen until the offseason, and its name is definitely not Tobias Harris.
20. The Bucks flipped possessions in the Wolves' favor 20 times, netting Minnesota 24 points. This includes a pretty uncharacteristic (OK, totally characteristic) eight fourth quarter turnovers. Boylan was rightfully perturbed about the team's ball-care skills.
"Focus. Stop throwing high-risk passes. Stop throwing one-handed cross-court passes. Get back to the fundamentals of the game," Boylan said. "Pass with two hands. See your target, deliver the ball. Stop throwing high-risk passes in transition. Real nice, simple easy plays. Tonight we were kind of winging that ball all over the place."
61.5% 3fg. The Wolves average 5.37 made threes per game, and they eclipsed that total early in the second quarter. Overall, the team shot 8-13 from beyond the arc.
"They're not a great three point shooting team. ... We were getting down and helping, and our defense wasn't functioning the way it should in that situation," Boylan said. :Whoever is going to help on Pek, someone else has to help him. We talked about it at halftime, made a little defensive adjustment ...but still they found their way around the basket."
5. Milwaukee was frustrating in transition (just five transition points), making bad bounce passes, clumping together like cat litter, and handing the ball back to Minnesota on more than a few occasions. The Bucks often offset their half-court limitations with quick points, but tonight they were far too sloppy in that area to have more than a fleeting chance at victory.
Perimeter defense. Post defense. Pretty much all of it, actually. There are so many Minnesota numbers I could put in this section, including, but not limited to their 58 points in the paint, 15 fast-break points, 33 assists, and 52.4% shooting overall. All of these stats circle back to the same narrative we've carried over the past few weeks: Milwaukee is not playing good defense against bad offenses.
Don't call it the runs. An Ellis jumper, followed by a Ricky Rubio three. An Ilyasova three, followed by an Andre Kirilenko dunk. An Ersan putback off a missed Dunleavy three, followed by a straight-on Derrick Williams jumper. These are just three of many scoring trade-offs that prevented Milwaukee from reeling Minnesota in down the stretch.
"Every time we tried to make a move, we turned the ball over," Boylan said. "Get a stop, get out in transition, we were somehow unable to get a good shot. It was a very, very sloppy game, by us today."
Motivation. You can bet that the Bucks know their current playoff situation, yet they lacked a sense of urgency and energy from the tip to the final whistle. Either Milwaukee is content with the eighth spot, resigned to the decapitation awaiting them in Miami, or going through the motions knowing the futility of their situation. Do any of those options sound enticing?
"I thought the whole game for us was pretty much slow, not a great performance for us offensively," Boylan said. "I think we missed 10 point blank layups in the first half alone. The ball wasn't going in the basket for us, and you combine that with eight turnovers in the fourth quarter, and some missed shots."
Fast-breaks. Minnesota isn't particularly successful defending fastbreaks (23rd in NBA), but that didn't stop the Bucks from executing theirs with poor spacing, too-early/late passes, and a reckless lack of cohesion. Boylan did credit the Wolves' length for forcing a few quick-hit turnovers, but this was as much a lack of focus as it was Minnesota's defensive effort.
Three Two Good
Still in the playoffs. That's really all we're waiting for at this point, right?
Monta Ellis' fourth quarter. The Bucks may have lost six of their last eight games, but that hasn't stopped Ellis' hot streak as time works against them. Once again, he was pretty much the sole offensive option against a short clock, driving with regularity and sprinkling in a few quick jumpers. Those are the goods and bads of Ellis in all quarters, so why not see them magnified when we hit the zoom button on individual possessions?