Let's try that again, shall we?
Short of an asteroid striking the Bradley Center, Wednesday's home opener couldn't have gone more wrong for the Bucks, as an amped-up home crowd was treated to offensive offense, defensive calamity, and a thoroughly dispiriting 122-97 final margin to, you know, the Knicks.
Fortunately, one night does not a season make, especially considering that the Bucks were missing Giannis Antetokounmpo (suspended), Jabari Parker (knee) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring). I'm not sure any of them could have saved the Bucks from a generally terrible night all around, but if the Bucks needed a wake up call they certainly got it out of the way early.
The good news is that Giannis will be back in the starting lineup after enduring the pain of watching Wednesday's affair from home, though Giannis alone won't be able to turn around a defense that lacked, well, everything on Wednesday. Greg Monroe got his wires crossed on the game's very first possession, and in many ways that summed up the night defensively.
And it wasn't just the new guys either. A first half play that saw Khris Middleton and Jerryd Bayless run into each other at the elbow while a Knick got loose on the baseline also seemed par for the course, as the Bucks struggled in the trenches (19 offensive rebounds allowed) and the open court (19-8 deficit in transition). Blame the Bucks' sloppy offense for the latter problem; Michael Carter-Williams' notoriously loose handle was responsible for six of the Bucks' 18 turnovers, as Milwaukee's generosity helped the Knicks to a 25-14 advantage in points off turnovers.
More promising was Greg Monroe's 22-point, 14-rebound debut, though it was also obvious that the Bucks' new center is still finding his legs in the Bucks' defensive system. Less encouraging was what we saw from MCW, who scavenged his way to a respectable box score line (20 points, 5 rebs, and 4 ast) but didn't provide any other indication that he's moved past the shooting and turnover problems that plagued him last year. Meanwhile, Greivis Vasquez reminded us (and MCW?) what he could do with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Let's keep an eye on that subplot, eh?
The Defense Rests?
Overall it's difficult not to be at least somewhat concerned with the Bucks' shoddy defense of late, particularly given how central it was to their success a year ago. After ranking among the league's elite last season, they ranked 27th in the preseason and have been utterly destroyed in each of their last two official games -- Wednesday's 122-97 decision to the Knicks and the 120-66 game six loss to the Bulls last spring. Kidd's Bucks hadn't conceded 120 in any of their previous 43 games, which makes this either a worrying trend or a scary coincidence. Either way it's one that has to be turned around sooner rather than later.
Part of it is likely a matter of integrating the team's new faces-- especially ones that aren't known for their defensive chops -- though it's also worth noting that the Bucks' didn't seem to face a steep defensive learning curve a year ago. Milwaukee ranked seventh in defensive efficiency in October-November last year, and most of the roster has now had a year to acclimate to Sean Sweeney's system. It won't get any easier once Jabari Parker returns -- something Gus Johnson and Marques Johnson implied could happen as soon as Monday (?) -- but the immediate problem is stopping the Wizards tonight.
Wizards Scouting Report
While the Knicks improved notably over the summer (they have NBA players now!), Friday figures to be an even stiffer test with John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Wiz riding into town fresh off a narrow opening night win in Orlando. After a sloppy start, Wall and Beal carried the Wizards in the fourth quarter, with Wall's floater with 12 seconds left providing the final 88-87 margin. Randy Wittman seems intent on opening up his offense after finally realizing the benefits of three-pointers and small ball in last year's playoffs, so be ready to watch Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden embrace their inner green light from distance tonight. That could be good for the Bucks, or it could be very, very frustrating.
Tonight also marks Jared Dudley return to the Bradley Center following his trade to Washington back in July. I'm actually bummed I can't be there for this -- here's hoping Duds both gets in the game (he DNP'ed in Orlando) and gets the standing ovation he deserves after his memorable season in Milwaukee.
As for matchups, the Beal-Middleton matchup figures to be one to watch. They had a nice duel when the Wizards were in town a couple weeks ago, and it's worth noting that Middleton has had some of his best games against the Wiz over the past couple years. His career-high 30 points propelled the Bucks to a crucial home win over the Wizards last March, while his previous career-best of 29 points came in Washington back in December 2013. Those nights were a far cry from his 4/15 shooting performance on Wednesday, as Middleton looked good from deep (3/6) but struggled mightily inside the arc (1/9). That story is basically the opposite of his preseason (few threes, but lots of twos), so hopefully we'll see the best of both worlds tonight.
The Wizards are expected to be missing Alan Anderson and Martell Webster. I predict they'll be OK without them.
The news is less promising for the Bucks. Mayo, Rashad Vaughn (shoulder), Tyler Ennis (shoulder) and John Henson (sore Achilles) all missed Thursday's practice, so the Bucks will likely be shorthanded once again tonight.
Vaughn hurt his shoulder in the final preseason game in Minnesota, but he was still one of the few bright spots on Wednesday, providing a shot in the arm to open the fourth quarter and finishing with 10 points including a pair of threes -- the first Bucks rookie since Brandon Jennings to crack double-digits in his debut.
Meanwhile, Henson -- coming off a terrific preseason -- curiously played just 10 minutes despite the Bucks' getting beaten up inside. That raised some eyebrows during the game, though maybe it shouldn't have. Kidd has yet to show any appetite for big lineups, and Monroe's 35 minutes left few scraps for Henson and Miles Plumlee. Tack on foul trouble and Henson not playing particularly well (perhaps due to injury) and there you have it. I have no idea what Henson's minutes will look like this season, but there's a good chance they won't align with a guy who just signed a $45 million extension.
|2015/16 NBA Season|
|October 30, 2015|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||John Wall|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Bradley Beal|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Otto Porter|
|Chris Copeland||PF||Kris Humphries|
|Greg Monroe||C||Marcin Gortat|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|101.9 (16th)||ORtg||90.2 (28th)|
|128.2 (30th)||DRtg||89.2 (3rd)|