Lo, the All-Star Break is here, and with it comes a time of rest, relaxation and reflection for a Milwaukee Bucks team still reveling in the weight of the championship rings upon their fingers. Through ups, downs, and all-arounds, this season certainly hasn’t gone the way I’d say most Milwaukee fans would’ve hoped. Thanks to injuries to their primary big man, occasional absences for their Big Three and trotting out some of the most lineup permutations in the league, the defending champs haven’t entirely resembled their championship selves. Still, this is a team with the resume to prove that these 82 games mean far less than the 16-28 that can follow in April, May and June. Let’s look back on our preseason predictions and see how we’re doing.
Best Case Scenario
“In a word: repeat. The Milwaukee Bucks won their first title in 50 years last season, and they plan to run it back by running it back with (most of) last season’s championship roster. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a perennial MVP contender, the players around him fit his game like a glove, and the hard-won grit developed in the forge of the 2021 NBA Finals carries over. Forget a superteam, they’re a super team.”
Kudos to Mitchell for providing all the beautifully written predictions we’ll be working off of today. And everything Mitchell said remains spot on even 60 games on. This year, and this team, is entirely playing for the postseason. That could be construed in two ways: biding their time to “flip the switch,” or, loafing their way through some January games against the Pistons. Both may be true at the same time, and losing Brook Lopez has forced their defense to play far out of Bud’s typical drop coverage. However, the Bucks big three remain intact, they have a +14.6 differential in lineups with those three on the court, and Giannis is once again an MVP contender.
Worse Case Scenario
Fatigue undermines the Bucks’ title defense before they can actually defend it. With the NBA returning to an 82-game schedule, the Bucks are both coming off a deep postseason run and at the tail end of a shortened offseason. Giannis is already dealing with knee soreness (enough to keep him out of practice), and Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday both lost recovery time in their gold medal effort in Japan this summer. Losing to Brooklyn would be a disappointment, but what if they aren’t healthy enough to even get to Brooklyn in the postseason?
This has been the largest culprit for Milwaukee’s disappointment this season, and while Mitchell didn’t mention Brook Lopez in his preseason blurb, his absence has loomed large over a team that’s worse at defending the rim, worse at defensive rebounding and worse at punishing teams inside. He isn’t a member of the Big Three, but he’s squarely their Big Fourth IMHO, and nothing is certain when it comes to back surgery. While its marquee players have missed time, they’ve been around for a majority of the games this season. Fingers crossed they can make it through to postseason play intact.
Most Likely Case Scenario
Milwaukee will tread lightly at the beginning of the season, knowing that it’s a marathon and not a sprint to get where they want to go. Pundits and casuals alike will see an underperforming Bucks team and proclaim that their ring was fake, and Milwaukee will take it all and smile. In due time, the team’s excellent strength & conditioning team will get the players into playoff shape, and the reigning champions will somehow enter the postseason as an underdog. Again.
I might have to make Mitchell my bookie, because this was spot on. The opening to the season featured the most absences between Khris Middleton and Giannis missing game due to COVID-19 and Holiday having lingering injuries. They’ve looked stronger as of late though, and while Bucks fans themselves seem mildly concerned with an underperforming team, I don’t see all that many media members sounding alarms that the Bucks could be frauds. Not isn’t that the antithesis of “most likely.”
Excitement for Rest of Season
I can’t say I’m thrilled about the rest of the regular season, but the Bucks are in a position where we have plenty of marquee matchups still remaining on the schedule. That could translate to more losses than we would like, but jockeying for the top spot in the East should go all the way down the wire, and Milwaukee is squarely in that tussle. There are plenty of tests along the way to sharpen this team’s antlers for Playoff time, including Brooklyn (twice), Chicago (thrice), Philly, Phoenix, Golden State, Utah, Memphis, Dallas and Cleveland. If that, a potential Giannis MVP run and an ensuing chance to repeat in the postseason doesn’t have you hype, I’m not sure what will...
Updated W/L Prediction
In the preseason, Mitchell predicted:
- Record: 51-31
- Seeding: 2nd
As of today, I’m not straying too far from where our fearless leader went. I’ll go:
- Record: 50-32
- Seeding: 3rd
And if you’re looking at any wagers you’d like to make for the rest of the season, I know it may jinx us, but the Bucks at +700 to win the title seems kinda juicy. Especially given it’s the same odds as Philly and significantly worse odds than Brooklyn, Phoenix and Golden State. It seems Vegas doesn’t have as much faith in the reigning champs as I do.