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Milwaukee Bucks vs. Portland Trail Blazers: Back Home to Stop the Skid

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

New month, new Bucks? After a frustrating weekend (to say the least), the Milwaukee Bucks will return home and welcome the Portland Trail Blazers, kicking off a short stint at Fiserv Forum before a six-game(!) road trip that stretches through Valentine’s Day.

Where We’re At

There’s a lot happening with the Bucks, and most of it isn’t good. The offense continues to produce points at a relatively high level, but breakdowns in execution and deviation from a patient approach and ball movement has sunk the team over the course of their 3-game road trip, where they went 1-2 (and the two losses were particularly ugly). The defense, though, is much worse, in large part because Mike Budenholzer is doing exactly what fans have been clamoring for: switching. The only thing is...they’re bad at it, they have limited opportunities to practice it, their personnel is not optimized for it, and they’re making this shift away from the base scheme on the fly. Friend of the site Dean Maniatt made this observation during (yet another) defensive breakdown against Charlotte:

Things have gotten to the point where Bucks fans on social media are already dusting off the old #FireKidd avatars with the visage of Budenholzer, which in my opinion is impatient (at best) and disingenuous (at worst). For months, fans have been demanding change to the schemes, change to the tactics, change to everything from the head coach...and they’ve gotten it. The offense is different. The defense is different. The Bucks have (in the aggregate) improved their personnel on offense at the expense of their defense, and yet they are being more aggressive and moving away from the conservative zone drop scheme that was part of their undoing in the last two playoffs. Milwaukee is a work in progress, and we would do well to remember that there are 50 games left in this regular season for the team to iron out the myriad wrinkles that have showed up over the first 20.

The Bucks have not been good, and not been fun to watch. They need time to work everything out, it’s as simple as that.

In Portland, their record (10-8) is nearly the same as the Bucks but places them squarely in the second tier of the Western Conference. Everything is tighter in the standings right now, in no small part because of how weirdly unpredictable games are during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (no/few fans, truncated practice availability, accelerated travel, games getting postponed, etc.). For the Blazers, health is an issue (though thankfully it’s all injuries and not illness) with Jusuf Nurkic, CJ McCollum, and Zach Collins all dealing with extensive absences, and Derrick Jones Jr. being listed as day-to-day. Their offense is still potent (hi, Damian Lillard!) but there are plenty of questions about their level of defensive talent.

Player To Watch: Donte DiVincenzo

The Bucks have been collectively struggling of late, but few players embody that struggle more than the Big Ragu. Averaging 38.9% from three on the season but only 29.8% over the last 10 games, DiVincenzo’s hot start on offense has cooled off considerably, but that pales in comparison to his struggles on defense. During this stretch of the Bucks embracing (well, for them at least) the concept of switching, Donte has struggled with communicating on the floor, passing off his assignment and assuming new ones, and overall is going through an exceptionally rough patch. There are some who are calling for him to be replaced in the starting lineup, though the already-struggling defense would likely struggle more if he and Jrue Holiday were split up. There’s no easy prescription for how things can improve, but Donte serves as sort of a barometer for the team at-large.


Game 20: Against Portland, the Bucks will...

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