Eventually the Milwaukee Bucks will get better, but for the moment? Well, things are still getting worse.
A day after firing head coach Brian Shaw, the heretofore struggling Nuggets got the dead cat bounce they were looking for under interim coach Melvin Hunt on Tuesday night, snapping a 10-game home losing streak (yikes) thanks to the shooting of Danilo Gallinari (26p), probing of Ty Lawson (16p/10a) and energy of Kenneth Faried (14p/13r). It's the kind of effort the Nuggets were hoping to get most nights when the season started, but so far, well, not so much.
As for the Bucks? Oh yeah...them.
Jason Kidd had hoped to have his team back on track after a spirited two-hour practice on Monday, but the Nuggets took control with a 20-4 run spanning the third and early fourth quarters and never looked back. And while Milwaukee's offensive issues are far from solved, the Bucks' defense didn't do them any favors tonight either. Denver didn't set the world on fire in terms of shooting (45% overall, 35% threes), but they limited their turnovers (13) and stiff-armed Milwaukee every time there was a hint of Bucks' life down the stretch. When the Nuggets needed a bucket they always seemed to find an open jump shot, something we're just not particularly used to seeing from the Bucks' typically crisp rotations. Overall, it was just seemed like a blah effort, one where the Bucks just never seemed to match Denver's energy and focus for any extended period.
On the plus side, a few Bucks actually provided some reason for optimism. Giannis Antetokounmpo (aka The Guy We Should Care About the Most) scored an efficient 19 points (7/10 fg, 4/6 ft and a corner three!) to go with 11 boards and three blocks; Ersan Ilyasova continued his encouraging offensive play (21 points, 9/15 fg, 3/5 threes); and Khris Middleton scored 20 to go with seven boards and a career-best six assists.
Otherwise there were more than enough mixed bags to go around. Middleton's 3/15 shooting inside the arc and Giannis' five turnovers took some shine off their lines, while Michael Carter-Williams' night could probably be best described as frustrating (11 pts, 4/11 fg, 5 ast, 4 rebs, 2 to). Denver crowded MCW's drives effectively for much of the game, and while he had a couple bright moments attacking from the post, everything the Bucks did just seemed a bit more labored than you'd like. Milwaukee did hit a good number of threes (10/24, 42%), but strangely they made a lower percentage of their twos (40%).
Denver opened the night with energy, ripping off an 8-0 run to start the game and leading 20-9 before the Bucks finally began to show some signs of life. MCW splashed a corner three, Henson added a three point play after coming in for an ineffective and foul-prone Pachulia, and Ennis added another three to help the Bucks draw even 29-29 after one.
But MCW followed his earlier three from the right side by airballing a wide open look from the left, and after leading by as many seven the Bucks' offense began to bleed bricks from both the field and the foul line. With the Bucks missing their last six shots, Denver reeled off an 11-1 run to end the first half and take a 55-51 lead to intermission.
-- Not a bad shooting night for Giannis. He hit a pick-and-pop with Tyler Ennis in the first half, nailed a pull-up in the second half, and buried a "why not?" open triple from the right corner that brought the Bucks to within 95-89 with three minutes remaining. He also scored on a couple nice post moves in addition to a tip-in and a fast break dunk to start the game. These are good things. Speaking of which, this is how you atone for a bad pass:
This is how Giannis makes up for a turnover. https://t.co/P1WtQNOJU1— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 4, 2015
-- Weird night for Middleton, who hit 3/5 triples but connected on just 3/15 inside the arc. Too many forced off-balance shots for my taste, but you can tell he's still trying to figure out just how much of the scoring load he should be assuming since Brandon Knight's departure.
-- While O.J. Mayo did not play due to a hamstring injury, Jared Dudley returned to the lineup after missing Saturday's game in Utah. Unfortunately he failed to make much of any impact, missing all three of his triple attempts and hitting just 1/6 overall in 20 minutes.
-- More evidence that the Milwaukee's current issues are broader than simply the Brandon Knight effect: The once-vaunted Bucks' bench has been outscored in each of the three games on the current road trip.
-- Zaza Pachulia labored through 13 foul-plagued minutes, struggling to match up with Denver's small starting lineup and finishing with an ugly 0-point, 0-rebound, 3-turnover line. I get that Kidd might have wanted Pachulia's passing and screening in the starting five to help ease MCW's transition, but it's time for a change. Henson started throughout the Bucks' strong run leading up to the all-star break, and at this point it's tough to argue he hasn't earned that spot back.