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Out Of Our Element: The Bucks, The Bubble, and Flipping The Switch

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Milwaukee is 2-4 in the Orlando bubble.

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

At this point in time, there are two camps across Bucks fandom, as is tradition. On the one hand, you have the “regular season nihilists” who firmly believe that the remainder of the regular season doesn’t matter to the Milwaukee Bucks, it never mattered, and in hindsight it will not have mattered. The schedule is an obligation, ticking of checkboxes before the real season starts.

On the other side, you have the “I’m not saying they’re in trouble, but...” crowd, who recognize that the regular season is not as important as the playoffs, but who are witnessing meaningful basketball contests being played, and the Milwaukee Bucks getting played in them.

Where’s the truth of the matter? Are the Bucks cooked, or are they just warming up? As with most things in life, the answer is probably somewhere in-between. Few people are happy with the results of the season restart up to this point, but the journey doesn’t end when the regular season does; it ends when the post-season ends.

People are exceptional at connecting dots and identifying patterns. It happens to be a defining characteristic of our species’ evolution. But a fair amount of the analysis and #takes being lobbed back and forth online is trying to fit the evidence we see into a framework that simply doesn’t exist right now.

Imagine, if you will, an outdoorsman. Someone who camps, hikes, hunts, and fishes, who is attuned to nature and simply understands the environment around him. He probably has a beard, and a utility vest, and has a strong nickname like Rocky or Oak or something. If you plop that guy in the middle of a forest, he’s probably going to be fine, because he understands the environment. You could even quiz him on the details around him and expect to get accurate answers; these tracks are from a deer, these berries are poisonous, and so on.

Now take that forest and scoop it up, roots and all, and dump it in the middle of a sterile warehouse complex in Florida.

Our trusty outdoorsman is probably going to be a little out of sorts, isn’t he? After all, that seemingly endless horizon he’s accustomed to has been replaced with drywall and plastic. Sure, the leaves and grass that are in front of him are technically the same as they were before, but they’re getting light from a lamp, not the sun. It’s the same, but it’s remarkably different, disturbingly so, and it almost feels like the old rules don’t apply anymore even if there’s nothing to say they aren’t still in place.

We, Bucks fans, each of us is that outdoorsman.

Of course, the play we’ve seen from the Milwaukee Bucks is concerning. Losing games is not the hallmark of a dominant juggernaut that is getting set to lay waste to all challengers. Giving up nearly 50 three point attempts per game is startling, as is committing over 17 turnovers per contest. We talked about the funk that the Bucks found themselves in last week, and things don’t seem to have gotten much better.

But that judgement only applies if we are choosing to keep the same perspective we had under normal circumstances, which were thrown out the window in March due to coronavirus. That judgement assumes that the goals from back then carry over, unchanged, to the present, where the setting is different, the environment is different, and it’s a full four months later than anybody expected this to be happening...after a lengthy period of wondering if it was going to even happen at all.

I find myself frustrated with the team’s performance and still confident that they’re going to perform as we expected them to all along once the playoffs arrive. I grow more and more alarmed with every missed rotation, slow closeout, lazy entry pass, or wayward jump shot that I see...while also maintaining the view that these games are a part of a much longer strategy, a plan to fully ramp the team up to optimal performance when they’ll need it most.

It is, quite frankly, a strange place to be. It may prove to be foolish to carry such a naive view of the team’s lackluster performance, just as it may prove to be foolish to give in to the short-term negativity borne of the team’s unimpressive bubble outings. At this point, we just don’t know, and one of the choices is to maintain the faith. To believe in Mike Budenholzer, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and the teammates they’ve brought with them to finish what last season started.

Two games until the playoffs begin. Everybody, as far as we know, is healthy. Trust the Bucks, or at least give them the opportunity to let you down, rather than assume it to be a foregone conclusion.