January and February haven’t been the strongest months in franchise history, but the Milwaukee Bucks have a chance to end the ceremonial first half of the season on a high note this evening as the head to New York to face the nine-win Brooklyn Nets.
That’s right, you read it correctly: nine-win Nets. Take the pain of watching losses pile up for the last few weeks, and expand that out to a season’s-worth of defeats. Injuries, poor roster construction, and general disinterest seem to be doing the trick for Brooklyn, but that doesn’t guarantee a victory. To the contrary, there’s a very real situation where Milwaukee comes in mentally checked out with the long break right around the corner.
With that being said, you have to figure just showing up wins you half the battle, right? Right?!?!
A two-win streak isn’t a lot, but by my calculations, it falls within the bare minimum parameters necessary to declare yourself to be on a winning streak. And, for what it is worth, the team has looked okay in those two wins, the latest being a sizable victory over the visiting Detroit Pistons on Monday night, 102-89.
It was the first time the Bucks were able to hold an opponent under 100 points since January 2nd in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Credit can’t exactly fall on the shoulders of the Bucks suddenly addressing coach Jason Kidd’s complaint about a lack of execution on the defensive end. Instead, the obvious boost came from the fact that Detroit regularly shies away from shooting a lot of three-pointers (only 21 taken on Monday) and the tendency to allow Andre Drummond multiple occasions to work in the post. Their being on the second game on a back-to-back after a furious comeback win over the Toronto Raptors Sunday evening assisted as well.
Of course, another team has to take advantage of all of that, and the Bucks happened to be the group for the moment. Giannis Antetokounmpo had an uncharacteristically quiet night with eight points, six assists and four rebounds in 37 minutes, though he did seem to have a reinforcing effect on the defense when he came back off the bench.
Thus, someone had to pick up the scoring load, and that someone, or should I say, someones were none other than Greg Monroe and Michael Beaseley. They would combine to shoot 22-28 and bring about a collective line of 48 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and six steals. Beasley was in a rhythm all evening long and seemed to have a special penchant for fadeaway jumpers, while Monroe simply continued to be a scoring presence off the bench, even showing off his passing ability in transition a time or two in pretty possessions leading to Bucks points.
If things go the Bucks’ way early tonight, expect to see a bit more from Thon Maker and Co. from the depths of the bench as well. Thon has seen semi-regular minutes as of late, and there’s nothing to suggest this evening won’t be more of the same. He’s filled in effectively during play as a big who forces opposing defenses to follow him to the perimeter, thus opening up a ton of space for the hard-charging style Giannis sports, or for off-ball action to move the offense into position. The ability to pass and execute offense, or be truly effective defensively, still isn’t fully there for him, but early signs have been promising.
On injuries, look to see Roy Hibbert in an uncertain mood as he works his way through lingering knee pain.
It is extremely difficult to get a feel for what kind of team the Nets truly are. Many before the season pegged them to be a run-of-the-mill team with Brook Lopez continuing to dominate down low and a combination of Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez ideally keeping things at an acceptable flow in the backcourt.
They even seemed to raise expectations starting the year 4-5 (including a narrow loss at the buzzer to John Henson and the Bucks in October). Since then, however, they’ve gone an astonishing 5-41, have been missing Lin for awhile due to hamstring issues, and to top things off, they don’t have their own pick in the upcoming 2017 Draft (which Boston currently has).
They’re currently in the midst of a franchise-worst 15-game home losing streak, and seem quite lost as to what can be done to alleviate the pain on the court. Looking at the stats, there isn’t exactly much to get excited about. They’re bottom-five in the league in both offensive and defensive ratings (second-last offensively), don’t exactly do a great job rebounding on either end, and turn the ball over a lot without getting many to come back their way. They’ve got the kind of profile you’d expect a nine-win team to have.
Two areas of note, however, are just how high of a pace they play at, and how many three pointers they attempt. Rookie head coach Kenny Atkinson mimics a system commonly run in Philadelphia which relies on quick pace to make up for a more well-rounded offense. A 101.4 pace rating is good for tops in the league, though that high pace means they’re susceptible to poor shot selection and allowing other teams to push into transition offense if they so choose.
And, like I earlier stated, they shoot a lot of threes. Like, a lot a lot. They average the third highest number of threes in the league (32.3 p/g), and put up an average of 38.3 attempts in the three meetings they’ve had against the Bucks (all losses for Brooklyn). Luckily for opponents, they don’t convert a lot of those shots to made buckets, but if there is any team whose defensive scheme is designed to be taken advantage of by a three-heavy team, it is the Milwaukee Bucks.
For the injury report, Jeremy Lin will be out once more this evening with a strained left hamstring, and Quincy Acy looks questionable with a sprained left ankle.