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Rapid Recap: Bucks 96, Pacers 103

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NBA: Indiana Pacers at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

In Friday night’s pursuit of playoff seeding advantage, the Milwaukee Bucks stumbled to another loss, this time against the Indiana Pacers, 103-96.

The game started ugly (which is not a good match for Pride Night) and chippy (FIVE technical fouls in the FIRST QUARTER), probably in part because both teams knew that only a single game separated them in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bucks have largely been seen as falling short of expectations this season, while the Pacers are a major surprise and have blown past their projections. On a night where the Philadelphia 76ers (who won), Washington Wizards (who lost), and Detroit Pistons (who lost) also played, keeping pace for the postseason would be beneficial for the Bucks. Alas...

It was Khris Middleton who led the way for Milwaukee, with 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals. Giannis Antetokounmpo was frustrated by the Indiana defense for much of the game, and ended up with 24 points (on 6/18 shooting), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks. Eric Bledsoe struggled from the field, contributing 15 points (on 3/11 from the field), 7 boards, 6 dimes, 2 assists, and 2 blocks, and raised every eyebrow in the world with this pass:

Seriously, how?

Jabari Parker showed flashes of his scoring acumen with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists (in limited minutes). Outside of Parker, the Bucks’ were limited by a short bench and foul trouble, and Jason Terry, Sterling Brown, and Thon Maker (who played a suspiciously small amount relative to Tyler Zeller) all had little to offer.

For the Pacers, Victor Oladipo set the pace (get it?) with 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Lance Stephenson blew in (get it?!) from off the bench and put up 16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Myles Turner put up 13 points and 9 rebounds, and Bojan Bogdanovic had 14, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists.

Stat That Stood Out

Four. The number of consecutive losses the Bucks have suffered against quality teams, including three of their Eastern Conference counterparts. After a 9-3 stretch preceding the All Star Break, the Bucks are now 1-4 since the extended downtime, and things could not look worse. Whether it’s giving up open threes, or failing to box out opposing big men, or forcing up contested jump shots, or any other sort of suboptimal basketball practice, the Bucks are doing nothing to help themselves in the short- or long-term at the moment.

This stretch should not be a surprise. The aforementioned hot streak, which coincided with the beginning of the (Smokin’) Joe Prunty Era, came against teams that did not present a significant challenge. The Bucks find themselves now in the middle of a stretch of teams that do, and it looks more and more like Milwaukee is simply not up for that challenge.

There are a number of contributing factors here. Jabari Parker is still coming back from an injury and has not fully hit his stride. With Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova injured, Eric Bledsoe is the team’s only healthy point guard, forcing players like Jason Terry and Sterling Brown into roles they may not be best suited for. Giannis is beat up, and has been for some time now. The list could go on.

But there’s a fine, fine line between “contributing factors” and “excuses.” Sooner or later, this Bucks team needs to prove that it can compete against higher-level competition. If they can’t, then our expectations (which were reasonable to begin with) are far too high, which has troubling implications for the franchise for the foreseeable future (which only lasts a few more weeks).