Even the wildest optimist in Bucks Land couldn't have predicted this kind of start out of the All-Star break. Milwaukee rallied for a cagey victory over the Toronto Raptors on the road last Friday, and then ended the week getting bested in the most frustrating manner possible to an always-dangerous New Orleans Pelicans unit led by Anthony Davis.
A week like that has felt like the story of the season, though surely the Raptors win is a definite feather in Joe Prunty's cap now that he's had a bit of down time with a team he only took the helm of a few weeks ago.
There's plenty of time for the wheels to simply fall off, but for the first stretch of this season that possibility feels unlikely. The issue is, of course, you can #NeverTrustTheBucks. Having Giannis Antetokounmpo helps, but the emergence of other contributors up and down the roster also expands the horizon for this team and must continue to happen for sustained success to be possible.
Hopefully the good vibes return soon.
The more things seem to change, the more they stay relatively the same. At least, that's an appropriate maxim for the Bucks since handing Joe Prunty the reins.
Milwaukee's scheme has seen little adjustment on either end of the floor, and the biggest statistical shift has been a marked decline in the number of personal fouls per 100 possessions (from 23 to 19).
Notably, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, two of the NBA's most-played players, have seen their minute loads drop into 15th and 17th places respectively. With the return of Jabari Parker, Prunty can afford to stagger his firepower and give his lead creators more rest. That incremental approach may prove a gigantic boon after a few more months of play deep into the playoffs.
Where Will the Bucks Finish in the East? (Bucks.com)
I tend to agree that a four-seed finish to the regular season should be hailed as a great success, and a first-round playoff victory a highly-sought-after cherry on top. To get there, the Bucks will have to pass the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers while keeping the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat an arm's-length back.
Can the Bucks do it? Probably, especially if they avoid falling into a real slump before the end of the regular season. Any playoff series will be fun and competitive, but it sure would be a whole lot more fun and a whole lot more competitive if the Bucks know they'll get four cracks at an opponent in front of a raucous Bradley Center crowd.
Phew, okay, I can put away my crippling anxiety regarding his desire for sun and surf year-round. When you think about it, is there really that much of a difference between LA and Milwaukee?
According to Giannis, he loves how, quote, “...how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”
Checkmate, exciting cities.
In reaction to this news, I'll just drop Ersan's career line as a Buck:
10.7ppg/6.0rpb/1.1apg on 37% shooting from three and 44.7% overall.
So far this season he's had pretty comparable numbers, and he certainly wouldn't be the worst veteran free agent pick-up in the latter stages of the season. Someone like Sean Kilpatrick would have to be moved to open up a roster spot for Ilyasova, but the Bucks may feel that extra options in the forward rotation is more valuable than sparing guard help.
Besides, Ersan's family still resides in Milwaukee. Could end up being a perfect match!
Once Hawks buyout is complete, forward Ersan Ilyasova plans to work toward finalizing agreement with the Philadelphia 76ers, league sources tell Yahoo.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 25, 2018
You may know them as “Squad 6”. Or maybe the “Clutch Crew”. Or maybe “Cream City Clash”. No matter their title, the group of superfans has become a sort of institution at Milwaukee home games.
Forged in the fires of failure, the fan group was founded for the 2009-2010 season and has gone through countless iterations and sponsors. It has been party to a number of memorable Bradley Center moments, and is infamous for helping lead the charge on the “24-1” t-shirts in the leadup to Milwaukee's snapping Golden State's undefeated season.
Are they truly the NBA's rowdiest fan section? Maybe, but it is heartening to know that no matter the day of the week, no matter the state of the team and state of the game, when the Bucks are home there will always be “Mil-Wau-Kee” chants raining down from at least a cadre of fans.
From the Social Media Realm
You ready for some Monday motivation? Jason Terry has just a speech for you (credit to Reddit user “justinsuperbuck”):
That not enough? How about a Bucks-centric dunk compilation courtesy of @DavidDunn21 (aka Teutonia World)?
Here's a cool little graphic that emerged in the aftermath of the OT victory over the Raps:
Here are the Bucks' defensive matchups against the Raptors last night. Giannis was mostly on Serge Ibaka, but he had some time on every Toronto player. Eric Bledsoe was almost exclusively on Kyle Lowry. pic.twitter.com/xylV2lEL3j— Positive Residual (@presidual) February 24, 2018
The Bucks officially submitted their proposal to host the 2022/2023 All-Star Game to the NBA league office last week (via Bango on a Harley), and they included the Champagne of Beers to put the bid over the top:
Mascot @BucksBango dropped off this package at NBA offices in NYC, with a note from team president Peter Feigin, to submit the Bucks candidacy for the 2022 & 2023 All-Star Games. pic.twitter.com/S4SkV0vYqZ— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 23, 2018
ah yes, the— Mitch Vomhof (@mitchvomhof) February 23, 2018
champagne bottle of High Life is the detail that will definitely put this one over the edge https://t.co/iOgImC4jgV
Since both their names have been floating in the zeitgeist, we bring you an in-depth report on the relationship between Ersan and Brandon Jennings from a man on the scene:
I had a drink once with Brandon Jennings at Trinity, the bar right off Water Street. It was right after Ersan got paid, so like 2011 or 2012. I ask Jennings what his thoughts were on that. Brandon told me he was worth double. True story. #BUCKS— SITH LORD (@SithLordAR) February 22, 2018
And finally, Rashad Vaughn is on the move:
Free agent Rashad Vaughn is signing a 10-day contract with the Orlando Magic, league sources tell Yahoo.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 20, 2018
This week offers fans a good preview of a number of potential playoff match-ups: Things get started Tuesday with the Washington Wizards in town before heading to play the Detroit Pistons in Michigan on Wednesday. The Bucks then return home to finish the week against the Indiana Pacers Friday and the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday.
That group, sans Miami, encapsulates every team sitting from the four-spot on down in the Eastern Conference, and any one of them could climb their way to a first-round series against the Bucks. Milwaukee has seemingly had Washington's number on multiple occasions this season and Detroit isn't impressing, so I'll pick those two as wins, but expect losses against the Pacers and Sixers if only due to mean regression.
The race is officially on for playoff positioning, and the Bucks, by hook or by crook, find themselves in envious position. It is cliche to say that they hold their fate in their own hands, but post-season success just feels like a very real possibility this season. Let's strap in and see what happens.