One of the main storylines of the Bucks’ season has been their emergence as an Eastern Conference behemoth sometime soon. Games like Friday night’s 116-111 home court loss to the New York Knicks are a reminder that soon ≠ now. While the Knicks made a few substantial runs, Milwaukee was able to beat them back and maintain control of the game until the fourth quarter, where the Bucks were outscored by 18 and faltered a number of times in the final five minutes.
But the sun rises again, and the Bucks have another game against another member of the Eastern Conference’s Tier of Mediocrity. Don’t believe me, just ask Frank Madden:
Daily reminder that East is funky: after tomorrow's matinee vs Wiz, Bucks will either be 5th or 9th in the playoff standings.— Frank Madden (@fmaddenNBA) January 8, 2017
Despite the Friday night loss, the second Knicks game showed encouraging signs for the future, including some highlight plays from Jabari Parker, the continued development of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s jump shot, and the wide-ranging impact of Greg Monroe. In the short-term, though, there are still a number of concerns for any fan that chooses to view this season as a season for the Bucks to make major noise.
Chief among Bucks fans concerns is the team’s late-game offense. Two highly-visible examples were a pair of crucial possessions in the fourth quarter, one that resulted in a Giannis turnover (coughed up the ball while trying to break down Lance Thomas off the dribble), and the other that resulted in a BADLY-missed corner 3 from Mirza Teletovic (who received the ball on an inbounds pass that nearly resulted in a 5-second violation), as he fired off balance while tightly-covered, and with 22 seconds remaining on the shot clock).
While disappointing, losses like this are an inevitable part of the process of a team still developing its identity, strategy, and chemistry. After all, failing to close out a game late in the fourth quarter can be more instructive than succeeding, since the loss should sting enough to look back and identify what caused the letdowns. In this writer’s view, one of those should be Giannis’ failure to capitalize on mismatches (seriously, don’t take the jumper if you’ve got Ron Baker covering you). It wasn’t the only one, but it stood out to me.
Another concern is the Bucks’ relative lack of depth at either guard spot, with Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, and Jason Terry playing heavy minutes without any traditional guards to spell them. The issue has forced the already-creative Jason Kidd to get even more creative, playing Michael Beasley as a nominal shooting guard for short stretches.
This concern may soon be resolved, as Matthew Dellavedova appears to be ready to return from his hamstring injury:
Matthew Dellavedova went through Bucks' practice on Saturday and said he will play Sunday against Wizards.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 7, 2017
This is good news! Running through games with only three actual guards is tough, even for a team as weird as the Bucks. And for some (read: most) fans, the follow up to Delly’s return is even better news:
Coach Kidd said Malcolm Brogdon will start against Wizards and Dellavedova will come off bench.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) January 7, 2017
For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed the #BrogRoe pairing, and recognize that the combination of Brogdon and Moose on the second unit is part of what has made the Bucks so competitive this season. It’ll be worth watching to see if Delly can recreate the same type of comfortable chemistry going forward.
Other Bucks on the injury report are Miles Plumlee (finger) and Khris Middleton (hamstring...but for how long?).
When we last saw Washington, the two teams split a home-and-home series, and top Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal
got petty had expressed some discontentment with how the Bucks had won the first of their two games:
“We felt like they whupped us badly but also just [being] up 20, 30 points and you keep one of your star players in to try to get his numbers, we kinda didn’t like that,” Wall said. “We kinda took that personal.”
Added Bradley Beal about Antetokounmpo’s 39 points [on December 24th]: “I noticed it but he still didn’t get 40 so it still didn’t matter. He was a point short in my book.”
After exacting revenge against the Bucks on Boxing Day, the Wizards have gone 3-2, with wins against Indiana, Brooklyn, and Minnesota while dropping games to Houston and Dallas. While they’ve been generally on the upswing lately (nine straight wins in D.C.), they’re still currently stuck in the 9th seed between Chicago and New York (hey, those guys!)
Ian Mahinmi continues to be sidelined with a knee injury, and will not see any action against Milwaukee. This is the fourth and final regular season game between the Wizards and Bucks this season; Washington currently leads the season series 2-1.
UPDATE: Giannis will not play today:
.@Bucks without Giannis today. Coach Kidd says he's out with illness. First game the Greek Freak has missed this season.— Sophia Minnaert (@SophiaMinnaert) January 8, 2017
Obviously, any time that the Bucks’ best player misses is a blow, and the crowd is certain to miss watching a presumed All Star starter do his best. At this point, fans can look to Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe, and Michael Beasley to pick up the scoring slack, and...well, everybody else to do everything else. Hope Giannis feels better by Tuesday!