With tomorrow’s matchup in Cleveland, the is sun at last setting on the NBA regular season. The Milwaukee Bucks are once again headed for the postseason with a credible claim to return to the NBA Finals. That they are considered contenders with very little argument is still an unfamiliar place for Bucks fans to be, but now we’re about to return to very well-traveled ground.
The games matter again.
In all seriousness, the regular season is not meaningless. Not totally. The games decide who is admitted to the playoffs, in what order, and legitimate data can be extracted to inform what to look for in a specific series matchup. But the regular season is not something to be won; Bucks fans learned this the hard way. The regular season is something to survive, to endure, to simply get through on the way to the postseason…or the offseason.
While the regular season pales in comparison to the postseason, it doesn’t stop us from caring about it. As reigning NBA champions, the Bucks don’t necessarily have as much to prove as their 29 counterparts, and that lack of pressure has resulted in a downright pleasant experience within the fan base this year. There’s still enough to get riled up about, like uneven media coverage, poorly-informed narratives, debates about awards (both who earned them and who deserves them, which are not the same thing!), and we’ve unquestionably gotten riled up about all of it. But it hasn’t really mattered.
That’s about to change.
With the playoffs comes the pressure that the players and coaches have to perform under, and fans simply have to exist within. It’s obviously harder for them than it is for us…but we’re not them, are we? We can’t control the outcome, we just watch and cheer and argue amongst ourselves, taking the pressure on willingly in order to participate in this madness. And it is madness; you knew that “fan” is short for “fanatic,” right?
And “madness” is the word that comes to mind when I see the various threads of conversation that have permeated certain sects of Bucks fandom, all focused on playoff seeding. For weeks now, opinions have popped up that involve watching the scoreboard and hoping for a particular result between two teams that are not the Milwaukee Bucks. And truly, I get it. I just got done talking about the relative-pointlessness of the regular season, and how getting back to the Finals is the real and true goal. Why take a harder road when an easier one leads you to the same destination?
Giannis wouldn’t agree. I don’t agree either. I want the hardest path. I want, as the kids say, all the smoke. Give me Brooklyn in Round One. Give me Boston. Give me Toronto. Give me Philadelphia. Give me Miami. Give me Phoenix, or Golden State, or whoever makes it out of the West. Give me anybody; give me everybody!
The Milwaukee Bucks are not a team that needs to navigate the playoffs; the Milwaukee Bucks are the team everyone else needs to navigate around. The Bucks don’t need to play with their seeding; other teams need to avoid them. They are not “in danger,” they are the danger.
And if they go down (like Walter White eventually did in Breaking Bad), then so be it. They go down swinging, on their terms, marching straight into the fight rather than trying to find a way around it.
So yes, there is a ton left to settle in terms of who plays who, and where, and when. Maybe it matters, hindsight will tell us if that’s the case. But for now, the only thing I want is victory, complete and total, and it doesn’t really matter to me who’s in the way.