The Milwaukee Bucks have a chance to re-establish themselves as the premier franchise in the NBA. As of now, the Bucks are a fun team full of nice dudes...who won one championship in the last four years when they had a legitimate chance at taking home the trophy in all four of them. Having been bested by the Boston Celtics last postseason, the Bucks are already getting overlooked by national stories and media moguls who are filling the summer-long void with manufactured content like trade rumors, Pro-Am footage, and...schedule analysis.
What? No, I don’t know what “irony” means, get outta here.
In any case, the Bucks’ path begins anew in October, and the regular season is almost as much of a slog as the month of August on the NBA calendar. So let’s go through the major takeaways we can glean from the Bucks’ regular season schedule and see what stands out.
Home for Halloween
The Bucks start things off on the road against Philly, but then will enjoy a six-game homestand that brings us all the way through the end of October. This stretch represents an opportunity for Milwaukee to immediately rack up some wins; the schedule includes the Rockets, the Nets (who are still mired in some serious Kevin Durant drama), the Knicks, the Hawks, and the Pistons twice. No NBA team is a pushover within the first 10 games of the season, since everybody wants to set the tone and get off on the right foot. Still, the Bucks have a distinct talent advantage over every other non-Brooklyn team on this list which, when combined with presumptive home court advantage, sets the stage for a 5-2 (or better) start.
Under the Radar in November?
After a November 4 national TV matchup against Minnesota, the Bucks will play the rest of the month with only one other widely-broadcast game (November 18, against Philly), with both contests airing on ESPN. There’s an NBA TV game in the mix near the end, but every other game on the docket (10 out of 13) will be televised locally or on NBA League Pass. There’s a good mix of home and away during this month (7 home, 6 away), but there’s a six-out-of-seven home game stretch before and during the week of Thanksgiving, and the slate of opponents to be faced at home is generally stronger than the away games. Overall, it’s not out of the question for the Bucks to be expected to win 9 or 10 of these contests, which when combined with the opening slate paints a pretty picture of Milwaukee near the top of the Eastern Conference standings by the time December begins. But don’t take my word for it, here’s what NBA.com’s John Schumann has to say:
If you take opponent point differential per 100 possessions from last season and adjust for location and rest, the Bucks have the easiest first 20 games. Their longest homestand of the season (six games) is Games 2-7, and six of their first 20 are against the Pistons (x 2), Rockets, Thunder (x 2) and Spurs.
Some of those teams (not the Spurs) should be better than they were last season. But the Bucks still have the most home games (13) in their first 20, and they have three more rest-advantage games (4) than rest-disadvantage games (1) in that first six weeks.
Curiously, Milwaukee plays two national games against the Sixers by this point in the schedule, and both games are happening in Philadelphia. Given the aspirations of both teams and the friendly(?) relationship between both fanbases, this could lead to some itchy Twitter fingers as winter approaches.
Winter Road Warriors in December
The friendly schedule up until this point takes a turn against Milwaukee’s favor, as ten of their fifteen tilts at the end of the 2022 calendar are away from home. While any of their games could be considered “winnable” games (they are a Finals contender when healthy, after all), the burden of travel and continually shifting from one location to the next often catches up with you. This stretch of games includes five straight on the road through the Christmas holiday (including a late afternoon showing against Boston on December 25), so whatever ground is gained earlier in the schedule stands to be lost as Milwaukee will likely perform closer to 0.500 in December than anyone cares to admit.
New Year, Same Story in January
Just like in the month preceding, the first period of 2023 includes a fair amount of travel for the Bucks. The biggest stretch runs from January 4 through January 29, were Milwaukee plays eight road contests compared to five at home. There’s also a lot of attention given nationally during this stretch: four of these thirteen games are slated for broadcast on ESPN, TNT, or ABC. This is a continuation of a trend I observed in the schedule: through the end of January, the Bucks have twelve national TV games on the books (not counting NBA TV, because it’s NBA TV. Not everyone has access to it, and no one enjoys the broadcast experience on NBA TV). Eight of those 12 games are road games for Milwaukee, meaning the Bucks will have to deal with the hostility of the home crowd and the nonsense imposed by national broadcasts (longer TV timeouts, more production staff buzzing around the court, etc.)
There’s no reason to assume that these (perceived) slights are intentional, but it also stands to reason that the Bucks will simply have a higher degree of difficulty during the months of December and January, and that can sometimes manifest itself in the team’s win-loss record. Good teams don’t make excuses, so you won’t hear them talking about it...but I will! This is also the month in which we could expect newcomer Joe Ingles to suit up for the team, but given his (ahem) experience and the Bucks’ overall level of caution when ramping guys up upon returning from injury, I don’t think we can expect to see him until towards the end of this month, and more likely than not to be during a home stretch.
Hoping For Good Fortune in February
This month is already shortened on the NBA calendar because of the All Star Break, which usually is a welcome respite for a team with significant postseason ambitions. Beyond that, things are pretty tight for Milwaukee in February; their home-away split across these 10 games is an even 5-5, and the slate of opponents might be the toughest of the whole year. Seriously, check this out:
Who’s the worst team on this list? Maybe Brooklyn, if their roster implodes? Perhaps the Lakers, if they don’t reinvent themselves under new head coach Darvin Ham? Possibly Portland, who has been forced to retool on the fly for the past few years? No matter what, this stretch will be a huge challenge for Milwaukee to navigate, and everyone will be tuning in to see it with seven of their ten contests broadcast nationally.
Marching Through the End of April
March features a pair of shorter Western Conference trips, a sign of the league’s attempts to minimize travel as much as possible when building out the schedule. It’s also the longest month of the Bucks’ season, with sixteen contests booked (and nine of them on the road). March also features one of the dreaded “five games in seven days” stretches (of which Milwaukee has two for the year): March 4 against Philly, March 6 at Washington, March 7 at Orlando, March 9 against Brooklyn, and March 11 at Golden State. Of course – of course – this directly leads up to the Bucks’ one visit to Sacramento, the only game I’m able to attend in-person all season long. They won a tough one last year during their visit, and I can only hope that we get to avoid any DNPs this time around. If I have to watch 30+ minutes of Serge Ibaka and Joe Ingles, I swear...
April includes the beginning of the NBA playoffs, and as such there are only five games on the slate. This is the point in the season where teams generally jockey for position in terms of playoff seeding, and the Bucks have four of their final six games against likely postseason opponents: March 30 against Boston, April 2 against Philadelphia, April 5 against Chicago, and Game 82 on April 9 at Toronto. Considering the tough stretches the Bucks will go through after their “easy” start, my guess would be that we do not see Milwaukee punt on games during these final few weeks. December, January, and February will be tough enough that the team might need every win it can get in order to secure an advantageous spot.
Overall, the Milwaukee Bucks can only play who’s in front of them on any given night, so it’s (mostly) pointless to project how the team might perform this far out from the regular season. There are still too many loose threads that need to be tied off before knowing how things will play out, but we can at least set some general expectations. The Bucks will get things underway next month, and they have every opportunity to get off to a fantastic start to the 2022-23 regular season. Where will things go from there, after that advantageous opening quarter of the season? Who knows? What do you think will happen by the end of the schedule? Let us know in the comments!