Playoff hopes for the Milwaukee Bucks are dwindling after Thursday's loss to the Boston Celtics. However, that was on the road — a place the Bucks have dipped fiercely in terms of performance this season — and starting a five-game home stretch can either give the Bucks another dosage of hope, or kill it for good.
The first of the homestand begins against the .500 Detroit Pistons, a team they'll need to hurdle in the Eastern Conference standings. Following tonight's game, the Bucks will welcome Houston, Indiana, Minnesota and Oklahoma City to the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The Bucks showed resilience against the Celtics, crawling back from an 18-point deficit and cutting Boston's lead to four with under a minute to play. In the end, Isaiah Thomas went to work for the Celtics and it was more of the same for the Bucks with defensive breakdowns overshadowing a good shooting fourth quarter from Milwaukee (60.9 percent). Still, the fact that they didn't let the game get too out of a control like earlier in the season is a positive sign. Plus, the growing play of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo is fun to watch.
Parker finished with a team-high 22 points and six rebounds, his third 20-point effort in the last four games. It took Antetokounmpo 12 shots to get only 14 points, however he went to work elsewhere, grabbing seven boards and dishing out eight assists, nearly recording his second-straight triple-double. Since the All-Star break, Parker is averaging 22 points on 50.7 percent shooting with 9.8 rebounds. Antetokounmpo is averaging 19.5 points on 52.4 percent shooting with 10.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists in that same time frame.
Five players finished in double-figures for the Celtics, who were led by Thomas' 27 points and seven dimes. Former Marquette star Jae Crowder added 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
The Pistons are 2-2 since the All-Star break, where head coach Stan Van Gundy shipped out former Bucks Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova for another former Milwaukee player, Tobias Harris. To discuss Detroit's playoff hopes in the East, plus the transactions the team made, we set up a Q&A with our friends over at Detroit Bad Boys. Here's a transcript:
BH: At 29-29, what's the confidence level among fans/bloggers/media that the Pistons can sneak into the playoffs? What specifically has to change from this point on?
DBB: Pistons followers have been on an absolute rollercoaster the last few weeks, from losing streaks, to injuries, to the voided D-Mo trade with the Rockets. So it's safe to say, after a mostly positive first half of the season, serious pessimism was beginning to permeate the game threads on DBB in just about every respect - from whether or not the Pistons would make the playoffs, to whether the core pieces SVG has assembled can ever develop into a contending team down the line. After a couple of better performances recently, I think the sunshine is starting to shine through a little more again, especially because so far (though in an exceedingly small sample size) Tobias Harris seems to have fit very nicely into the rotation.
I'd say Pistons followers are probably slightly more confident overall than just a straight statistical analysis of playoff odds would be (I believe the FiveThirtyEight model has the team at a 40% chance of making the playoffs). Mostly because the team has shown an ability to compete with the best in the league, it's been inconsistency that has plagued them. But the core talent seems capable of playing well above .500 ball if things click.
The Pistons are built around a pair of simple formulas. Defensively, Drummond's rebounding + athletic perimeter defenders. The effort and execution have wavered, particularly against penetrating guards, but the defense is still fairly effective and ranked in the top 10. Offensively, Reggie Jackson attacking off pick and rolls + lots and lots of threes. The Pistons are a team that wants to bomb teams from deep to open up the paint for Jackson and Drummond, the only issue has been, well, the guys taking those threes haven't been able to actually hit them. Aside from obvious things like, "no more injuries please, basketball gods!" The main thing that would help the team make a run at the playoffs is a couple of wing players starting to consistently make open threes, and SVG figuring out new ways to create a bit more offense outside the cornerstone Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond pick and roll to give opposing defenses other things to worry about.
BH: I think everybody expected Van Gundy to ship out Jennings, but why such a short stint with Ersan?
DBB: It was absolutely nothing personal, Ersan was clearly a player SVG trusted, and was a reliable performer on both sides of the court. The issue with Ersan was his age. If he was 23 instead of 28, I highly doubt SVG sends him packing. But the Pistons have made a concerted effort to get as many key contributors on the same age timeline as Andre Drummond as possible, with the hope that enough of them develop in unison to eventually blossom into a cohesive team capable of contending throughout Andre's prime. Ersan was a productive player for the Pistons, but there was little doubt the organization viewed him as a placeholder.
BH: In general, how would you assess the moves he's made since taking over?
DBB: Logical. There's been a straightforwardness to SVG's moves that make them easy to understand. I might be somewhat in the minority amongst Pistons fans, but IMHO the D-Mo trade before it was voided was actually the first move he made that I felt didn't make sense from a long term perspective. His least successful move - signing Jodie Meeks, can be blamed largely on just bad luck. Setting aside the head scratcher of a move of sending out Jonas Jerebko for Tayshaun Prince, Stan's trades have been impressive. He snagged Reggie Jackson for spare parts. He picked up Marcus Morris (and a free flyer on Reggie Bullock, who has been terrible, but was worth a look), for essentially nothing. He drafted Stanley Johnson, who Pistons fans are very high on. The Harris deal is a calculated risk, but one that I believe most teams would happily take in the Pistons position. It's certainly possible the pieces never come together, but I think on balance Stan's moves have positioned the Pistons to have a chance at climbing their way back into the East elite.
BH: What are your super super super duper early impressions of Harris? Can this be a fit?
DBB: He's looked like a very good fit so far. Harris has been efficient and decisive in his decision making, off-ball cutting, and shot selection. He definitely could be a strong long term fit, as he seems to slot naturally into the oversized ball handler from the SF/PF position, just as SVG deployed Hedo Turkoglu back in the day, but with more springiness to slice through defenses without the ball as well. Much will depend though on whether Harris can consistently make threes, he's at about 32% for his career, but last season it spiked up to 36%. The Pistons offense can't take off until they can put multiple players on the court who are are capable of knocking down threes at a high rate consistently. If Harris can do so, the rest of the offensive skills he brings to the table would make him a significant piece of the Pistons future.
On the Pistons: Detroit Bad Boys
|15/16 NBA Season|
|February 27, 2016|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Reggie Jackson||PG||O.J. Mayo|
|Kentavious Caldwell-Pope||SG||Khris Middleton|
|Tobias Harris||SF||Jabari Parker|
|Marcus Morris||PF||Giannis Antetokounmpo|
|Andre Drummond||C||Miles Plumlee|
|15/16 Advanced Stats|
|95.6 (16th)||Pace||94.2 (24th)|
|105.0 (18th)||ORtg||103.8 (25th)|
|104.1 (9th)||DRtg||108.3 (24th)|