People like collecting things. Some like collecting stamps (guilty as charged), others like collecting scrap metal, and more besides gather trading cards, coins, art, cars, you name it.
The Bucks? They like collecting tie-breakers over damn near every team in the Eastern Conference.
With 23 games left to be played Milwaukee sits atop the East having won the season series over the Toronto Raptors (3-1) and Boston Celtics (2-1) while being in position to do the same against the Indiana Pacers (2-1 with one game left) and Philadelphia 76ers (1-0 with two to go). At their current pace the Bucks will clear the hurdle for the conference’s top seed with relative ease, but it never hurts to have a little insurance, and so far the Bucks are collecting plenty of it on their rampage through the regular season.
More important than the guarantee of a higher-seed in a tie is the unquantifiable benefit of having soundly beaten all your probable playoff opponents before. These players are professionals so the post-season should be nothing more than a clean slate, but it is human nature to look back at what came before for reference in order to deal with what’s ahead.
When the East’s other top teams look back at the year that was what will greet? A pile of losses, the occasional victory, and a lot soul-snapping dunks, three-point barrages, and an opponent with few historical equals.
Good luck with that.
We’re starting this week’s slate of articles the way we normally do: By finding a piece so inflammatory that you won’t be able to help yourself and comment about your takeaway.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe gave Middleton the “Lowe” treatment and went deep on Khris Middleton as he comes off his first All-Star selection and into the free agent market. There are lots of notable anecdotes from Khris’s difficulty with injury early in his pro career and struggles to prove he deserved a spot first in Detroit’s rotation and then Milwaukee’s.
The whole article is a strange mix of puff piece and shot across the bow. I wouldn’t say it necessarily puts Middleton in a super flattering light with quotes such as, “‘People expect [me and Giannis] to be more buddy-buddy, but it’s not like that,’ he says. ‘We’re friends. We respect each other. We need each other.’” Still, it’s compelling and another collection of data points when it comes to evaluating Middleton’s future in Milwaukee.
Oh, and it includes the most John Hammond story ever involving exit interviews. Must-read for that alone.
Bucking the Trend (Cleaning the Glass)
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One of the most interesting aspects of Milwaukee’s league-leading defense is the sheer number of threes they give up. Paradoxically, however, the defense remains more than afloat; it thrives.
Much of that hinges upon the dual principles of making shots in and around the paint nearly impossible and making very sure that threes allowed are coming at a higher proportion from below-average opponent shooters. When those two combine you get a scheme that can absorb body blows without ever coming close to toppling over.
Ah yes, the debate that never ends. What really constitutes a “most-valuable” player in the NBA of 2019?
The names and faces have shuffled a bit since the start of the season and now, entering the year’s final third, the race for league MVP has narrowed to James Harden, our Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a somewhat-distant third Paul George.
At heart is an argument as to whether you award a guy with unbelievable near-solo offensive output or a more holistic two-way star. We’re all a little biased here at Brew Hoop, so you know which way the debate goes here, but the national discussion still seems at an impasse. I’ve got faith that winning and all-around contributions will keep media voters honest in the end, but it’ll be far closer than any of us are comfortable with.
The Top 25 NBA Players of the First 60ish Games (The Ringer)
A fun little exercise in tracking the ranking of the presumptive top-25 players in the league which includes Middleton at #22 and Giannis at, no surprise, #1.
I think Danny Chau’s point that Middleton is just another in a line of Budenholzer-type “stars” who can do a lot while being elite with a few skills is well taken. While Khris lacks the size and strength of an Al Horford or Paul Millsap he makes up for it with a wider array of fluid offensive capability.
Now let’s see how a Mike Budenholzer All-Star translates to the playoffs, shall we?
The Social Media Section
The Big Ragu is going global
Milwaukee Bucks rookie Donte DiVincenzo is close to getting the Italian passport, Italian Basketball Federation president Gianni Petrucci told Sportando.— Emiliano Carchia (@Carchia) February 23, 2019
Not sure if he can get on time for the next FIBA Basketball World Cup in China
This is certainly a mood
The Bucks Twitter account has gotten a lot sassier and the change is sincerely welcome
Unwelcome vultures! Start. Your. Engines! (It works the other way, too)
You thought it about. You know you did. If you’re a Warriors fan and watched the All-Star Game, you couldn’t help but imagine it.— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) February 19, 2019
Giannis to Warriors in 2021?
It’s possible. Here is how.https://t.co/KRRjamJ6HU pic.twitter.com/4YIishN8QE
The D.J. Wilson v. Christian Wood v. Nikola Mirotic for most fashion-forward Buck fight will be epic
DJ wants YOU to help spread the Bucks gospel
Aw, how nice of Sterling to head to Charlotte and support his teammates over the weekend
Sorry T-Wolves, Ja has spoken
You just jinx yourself talking to the GOD this way... your CURSED NOW!!! You won’t win a championship for the next 30 years... AND KAT IS LEAVING!!! Apologize and I’ll lift the CURSE!!! kiss of death... https://t.co/RzUn4vKx2Y— Ja Rule (@Ruleyork) February 24, 2019
Riley’s 2018-2019 Weekly Prediction Record: 36-23
You know, I just realized that if my predictions were a team in the Eastern Conference we’d be sitting pretty as the six seed ahead of the Brooklyn Nets and just behind the Boston Celtics. Neat-o!
Anyways, the Bucks held true to form last week and added another pair of needed home victories just ahead of a difficult stretch of road games. Not only will the team be away from home, but they’ll be playing five games in seven days.
On the upside they start the trip out on an almost guaranteed W in Chicago tonight against the Bulls. Then they’re wheels up and on their way to California to play the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday and Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. Afterwards a short flight to Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz on Saturday finishes the week.
I was bullish while recording our weekly Brew Hoop Podcast (speaking of, we’re setting up a network!) and stated Milwaukee would go 3-1. Now I’ve let it sink in and... still think 3-1 is doable, though I’ve moved my loss to the game against LA because A) LA nightlife remains undefeated and B) LeBron & Co. are careening closely to do-or-die territory.
So get your kicks in tonight against the Bulls and make sure you get some good sleep; we’re all going to need it this week.