If a foray to Florida seemed like a spectacular respite for a flailing Bucks team, it’s rapidly turned into a nervous nightmare following the distressing loss to the Orlando Magic last night, 112-96. They’ll take on a Miami Heat squad who, after a win over the Mavericks on Thursday 99-95, strung together back-to-back wins for the first time since early December.
Since we rarely discuss insight into the team psyche to begin a preview, the team’s first four-game losing streak of the season seems like a prudent time to shine some light in that dark, rarely illuminated or corroborated corner:
Bucks held a 35-minute team meeting after loss to Magic to talk over issues during 4-game skid.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 21, 2017
Yes, if any time necessitated a team only meeting it would probably be after a loss to someone from the dregs of the Eastern conference in a blowout continuing the horrendous stretch of play from the bottom of this Bucks roster. Luckily, Jabari Parker flashed some assertiveness for the first time in a while, posting 25 points, six rebounds and six assists. Giannis Antetokounmpo managed 17 points and 14 rebounds, albeit on a poor 6-17 night from the field and Malcolm Brogdon had a bounceback game with 16 points, including a strong 4-6 showing from deep.
Peer through that silver lining, and you’re left with an opaque wall of sadness. The Bucks’ bench squad was an abjectly terrible group, with Greg Monroe, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry finishing -28, -25 and -29 on the night respectively.
Interestingly, all of the Bucks’ starters had positive plus-minuses sans Giannis, and the inverse was true for Orlando, where only Elfrid Payton posted a positive plus-minus. The starters’ recent ability to get out to fast starts is a welcome change from the early portion of the year:
Weirdest part about Bucks' 4-game losing streak: starting 5 has finally been getting off to really good starts (+22 in 59 min).— Frank Madden (@fmaddenNBA) January 21, 2017
That hasn’t translated to any sort of success. In fact, as Frank mentioned above, it’s translated to defeat. The Bucks were slaughtered in the paint by Orlando, who finished 22 points ahead at 58-36. With Milwaukee’s recent reticence to launch from deep, if they’re not dominating the interior battle, their chances of winning plummet to Mariana Trench levels. Milwaukee is reeling at the moment, the personification of that wacky out-of-focus Mr. Krabs meme. A win tonight against the Heat could present a temporary band-aid for their larger issues. A loss may split the gash ever wider. Here’s a final tidbit from that team meeting courtesy of Charles Gardner:
Jabari Parker said he spoke up in team meeting for first time and "was getting thrashed." But said at least he gave his perspective.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 21, 2017
After a win over Dallas on Thursday, Miami is basking in a two-game winning streak for the first time since consecutive wins against Washington and Orlando on December 12th and 14th. Their wins against the Mavericks and Rockets came directly after a strong showing for the Bucks in a win over Miami, 116-108. The final score belies what was really a dominating performance for Milwaukee during most of the game.
Their last tilt featured a bevy of Miami’s B-squad, with Rodney McGruder and Luke Babbitt starting. That will be the same case tonight, and although Giannis struggled somewhat with the defending guards of Miami in McGruder, Dion Waiters and the bulk of James Johnson, he’ll assuredly be motivated following an average performance against Orlando. Goran Dragic (32 points) and Tyler Johnson (23 points) buoyed the Heat in their win against the Mavericks, and neither were particularly effective against Milwaukee last week with only 19 and 14 points respectively.
The Heat’s depleted roster and 2nd-worst defense in the league could offer Milwaukee an opportunity to get their defense back on track, but Miami’s 11th-ranked defense gave Milwaukee fits during the Heat’s 96-73 win back on November 17th. Miami’s surprising win against Houston and just average defeat of Dallas could portend that they’re due for another loss, but Milwaukee can’t take anything for granted at this point. Even without Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, Miami made a late push against Milwaukee last game. If Dion Waiters is somehow able to body up Giannis on the block again and Miami doesn’t finish -19 on the boards this time, well, Milwaukee may have another dogfight on their hands.