Race to the Bottom: The last time the Bucks played the 76ers, it was a matchup of the two worst teams in the NBA, one the Bucks took 116-106 behind big nights from Khris Middleton and Brandon Knight. Their ranks in the standings haven't changed, but the rosters have. The Bucks remain beset with injuries and ditched two rotational guards at the trade deadline. The 76ers used the deadline to continue gouging their roster, shipping out Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, among others. Milwaukee's moves were focused on cleaning up the balance sheet and clearing out the locker room. Philadelphia's were focused on, well, on beating Milwaukee down the ladder.
The ultimate goal for both of these teams this season is claiming the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. The Bucks haven't had any trouble losing games, and really, neither has Philly. But the Sixers are pulling out all the stops, and they've cut the roster down to the point where casual fans might have a hard time recognizing more than three or four players. It's not going to be pretty, but this was clearly a goal-oriented season for Philadelphia from the word "go", and that goal was to burn it all down.
The Bucks had different plans, but they've managed to outdo even the deliberately-awful 76ers in the Battle to be Bad. And with Larry Sanders out for a good portion of the remaining schedule, the next few months are going to be far less about establishing any sort of continuity on the court and much more about seeing just what everybody is capable of after any sense of urgency evaporates.
A Hot Knight in February: One guy who's really been showing what he's capable of lately? Brandon Knight, for whom the month of February seems to have had the exact opposite effect as it did on his predecessor.
Brandon Knight in the month of February: 8 games, 22.4 ppg, 6.9 apg, 3.1 rpg, 2.4 to, 52.4% true shooting.— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) February 24, 2014
To do that while the team continues to crumble around him is undeniably impressive. Nate Wolters has played quite well since rejoining the starting lineup, keyed in large part by his improved three-point shooting (38.5% in his last 10 games). But more often than not, Knight is the guy making Milwaukee's offense go on those rare nights when it goes anywhere at all. He's been more deliberate in his forays to the rim, and while his turnover numbers are still a bit volatile, they're offset by added free throw attempts and assists.
Knight's still far from the elite level some of his young contemporaries have already reached, and it does seem strange to praise him for his role in orchestrating the league's second-worst offense. Still, he's done more than enough to prove that he's not the biggest problem. He desperately needs somebody else to take some of the pressure off--the Bucks' lack of interior scoring or secondary shot creation remains as glaring as ever. Wolters rediscovering his shot could really help open things up, but the two of them alone aren't going to fix Milwaukee's scoring deficiency. For now, it's nice to be able to say Knight is playing really well. If the Bucks can find another efficient scorer to put next to him, his numbers could improve even more.
Lottery Implications: The 76ers are currently 4.5 games "back" of the Bucks for the worst record in the NBA, but they're coming on strong. Philadelphia has lost 10 straight games, while the Bucks are a blazing-hot 2-8 over that same stretch. ESPN's Playoff Odds currently project a 15-67 final record for Milwaukee, while Philly checks in four games better at 19-63. In the fight for the most ping-pong balls, every loss counts.
New Faces, Old Problems: Newcomers Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien made their season debut against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday and quickly set about doing the things each is known for. Sessions shot the ball sideways (1-5 FG) and did his best to make up for it with 6 trips to the stripe in 23 minutes. Adrien, the prototypical undersized power forward, gobbled up rebounds--11 in just 18 minutes of floor time. Sessions is sure to get plenty of playing time in the Bucks' razor-thin backcourt rotation (though he probably shouldn't get more minutes than Wolters), but Adrien's role moving forward is less clear. Are the Bucks really best served playing him just 6 fewer minutes than John Henson? Can they even afford to take time away from Ersan Ilyasova, whose value is in desperate need of even artificial inflation? Adrien has a nice reliable skill, but he's 28 years old. Everybody knows what he can do. The name of the game is long-term value, and the 27 games left to evaluate everybody are going to disappear like that.
Nah, who am I kidding, the next 27 games are going to feel like 200...AT LEAST GIVE US MARCH, WORLD. WE NEED THE WARMTH.