Six weeks into the season and 15 days into a brutal December schedule, the Milwaukee Bucks are still hanging around -- but they're not out of the woods just yet. Milwaukee kicks off a four-game Western road trip in Phoenix tonight hoping to steal at least one game before returning home December 23 against the Hornets, though it won't be easy.
The young Bucks figure to have their hands full against the Suns, Blazers, Kings and Clippers between now and Christmas, though the sad state of the East means that they're hardly in danger of dropping out of the hypothetical playoff picture anytime soon. Currently sitting in the sixth spot and three games ahead of the ninth seeded Magic, the Bucks look poised to survive December even if they do finish the month under .500.
Don't count them out of tonight's contest either. The Suns have dropped five in a row, and the absence of 13-14 most improved player Goran Dragic (back) will certainly help the Bucks' cause against a Suns team that hasn't quite hit the 48-win stride we saw from last year's team. Through 25 games, the Suns' defense has been slightly below average while their offense only slightly above average, which in the hyper-competitive West has translated into a 12-13 record overall and just a 6-6 record at home. Even with Channing Frye departed for Orlando, the Suns still play fast and attempt a ton of threes, while on the defensive end they force plenty of turnovers. Otherwise...meh. The good news for Phoenix is that the West is a seven-team conference at the moment -- the 17-8 Mavs are somehow seeded just seventh, but they're a full five games ahead of the eighth seeded Suns.
The bad news? Anthony Davis' Pelicans are only percentage points behind the Suns in the standings, and the hard-charging Thunder figure to be a lock for the playoffs if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can stay reasonably healthy from here on out. That leaves precious little margin for error in Phoenix the rest of the way, and puts the pressure on Hornacek to get even more from his still-young team.
PGs for days. No team would want to lose a player of the caliber of Dragic, but there may not be another team that can manage through the absence of a point guard better than the Suns. Phoenix can still roll out $70 million man Eric Bledsoe, former 20-point scorer Isaiah Thomas and first round pick Tyler Ennis at the point, so don't feel too badly for them. Bledsoe's numbers are down slightly from a year ago, but he's still damn good (18.1 PER, 56% true shooting, career-best 6.0 apg) and liable to go off on any given night. The same goes for Thomas, who only leads the Suns in PER (20.5) and actually scoring more per minute than he did as a starter for the Kings last year.