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Extended Forecast: The East is Getting Crowded Again

Fortunately, We Get the “Second Tier” This Forecast

NBA: Miami Heat at Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks and Heat Are Part of a Road Trip This Forecast
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Hi Milwaukee Bucks fans! As I recap the previous forecast, I want to keep in mind that (most) of these teams were not supposed to be this bad at this point in the season, and that they have been disappointments, so losing a couple of games was not a huge deal. With that said, we started off with a really bad game one against the Bulls, after blowing a double-digit lead to end up losing in overtime. Without Jrue and Khris, and almost winning is a tall task on its own regardless of who we play, but it still was a rough loss with the lead we had. We then bounced back against a Timberwolves squad that was also shorthanded. Following that, we had a two-game series against the Wizards, in which we started off with no Giannis, which was a large reason why we couldn’t handle the Wizards. In game two, Giannis and Jrue were back, the Bucks won and Giannis put up 55 points. They then went on a quick trip over the border to narrowly escape with a victory over the Raptors. Finally, against the lowly Charlotte Hornets, I won’t say anything besides Thanasis played.

Julie’s 2022-23 Prediction: 5-1 (28-11)
Buck’s 2022-23 Record: 3-3 (25-14)

I’m now three games better than the Bucks, and I really thought this stretch could possibly even have been 6-0. This is starting to be worrisome, and the Bucks need to start figuring things out. Middleton coming back will hopefully help, but losing to teams like Charlotte at home isn’t what we want to see.

As for the next forecast, I always get jealous this time of year, when we are in January dealing with the normal haphazards that the Wisconsin winters bring, especially this year already, but even more so when I look at the Bucks’ schedule and see what is coming up. The Bucks are going on a four-game road trip out East, and after starting off at the Madison Square Garden, they head down to warmer Atlanta and finish off with two games and three days in Miami. I personally don’t want to be within 300 miles of Ron DeSantis if I can help it, but being in that weather at this time of year has to be good for the Bucks as they (hopefully) start to heal up as we draw closer to the All-Star break.

Speaking of injuries, I’ll get those out of the way for the Bucks. All I see right now is that Khris Middleton will be out until at least January 9th, and maybe the trip in Miami is a good time to bring him back? Either way, I’m not concerned about not having the All-Star version of him back until after the break, and that’s still a month away. It’s about what I expected, and I know he played seven games, but that was more like having Khris from 2017 (when he returned from a hamstring tear) than 2022.

After the road trip, the Bucks come home for a back-to-back with a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee game against Indiana, and then a quick turnaround to play Toronto at home. We then have three days off before having to play in Cleveland against the Cavaliers to close out the forecast. Here are injuries for the other teams:

New York will be without RJ Barrett, and Atlanta has Clint Capela deailng with a calf injury that may cause him to miss the game. Miami has been a walking hodgepodge of “who will play today” as seven players are currently on their injury report, and that doesn’t include Jimmy Butler or Victor Oladipo who have missed a ton of time. Nikola Jovic (not Jokic), Duncan Robinson and Omer Yurtseven will for sure be out both games, however. Daniel Theis has missed all season so far for Indiana, and Jalen Smith is dealing with an injury too. Toronto should be without Otto Porter Jr. again, and Cleveland should be relatively healthy, but have five players currently questionable as of Friday, January 6th.

At New York
Monday, January 9th
630PM on Bally Sports WI

The Knicks are not the same team that we beat twice earlier in the season, as we saw when they rattled off their winning streak that had the national talk show people finally thinking something of quality was brewing in New York. Now, they’ve come back down to Earth lately, and that is partially because of injuries to Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett, but it’s also because the Knicks are mediocre.

The reason I say this team is not the same one is because I had the Knicks as the clear losers of the division prior to the season. I did say they could be the best of the last place division finishers, and the Atlantic has proven to be the best division, but I thought missing the playoffs was likely. Now, not so much. With Julius Randle playing up to the standards he set for himself two years ago, there just isn’t a lot of “fat” on this roster to trim. After their “big three” of Randle, Brunson and Barrett, they have an assortment of moderately talented young players with different skill sets, as well as a veteran backup point guard in Derrick Rose. The only “fat” left here is Evan Fournier, who has barely played since mid-November and seems to be a mistake of a contract as he’s earning $18 million to be stuck on the bench.

Overall, I would say that the Knicks have put themselves in a good position to be a postseason pusher year in and year out, but unless Barrett turns into LeBron James in the next two seasons, I don’t think we can expect real contention from this group as is. The Bucks are the better team still, with or without Middleton, and Giannis seems to dominate Madison Square Garden as well. Bucks should win this one.

At Atlanta
Wednesday, January 11th
630PM on ESPN & Bally Sports WI

I remember the days of constantly playing the Hawks, and I was grateful that was over because the Hawks were one of the teams I thought of as among the better in the East. But now, with the problems between head coach Nate McMillan and star guard Trae Young, the Hawks have fallen in the standings and let the barely .500 MIami Heat take over the division heading into the New Year. I’m truly baffled at how this team is this bad, and I feel like they will yet again make another late season push.

They aren’t this bad because of injuries, with only Bogdan Bogdanovic as not available for more than 10 games at this point in the season (and they’ve been worse since his return). DeAndre Hunter is having a breakthrough season, and the youngsters on the bench have been solid, especially AJ Griffin and Onyeka Ogonkwu. I think the problems with the Hawks comes back to Young and McMillan, as well as Young’s ability to mesh in the back court with newcomer Dejounte Murray.

Those two have the ability to be among the best back courts in the East with Cleveland and (healthy) Philadelphia, and they still are up there, but they need to play better together if this team wants a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs. But with where they have been recently, I’m not worried about this team whatsoever for the first time this season.

At Miami (Twice)
Thursday, January 12th
630 PM on Bally Sports WI

Saturday, January 14th
Noon on ABC

Miami is the best team in the Southeast Division, at least until (if?) Atlanta re-awakens, but either way that doesn’t really say much about them. They aren’t the same team as last season when they surprised (me) by going 54-28 and became the Eastern Conference regular season champions. Depth and availability have seriously taken the potential from this team, like I predicted, and dropped them out from the true contenders in the East.

Jimmy Butler has missed over a quarter of the games played so far. Victor Oladipo hasn’t been himself and hasn’t been available. Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Butler are all playing over 35 minutes when healthy, which shows that coach Erik Spoelstra doesn’t trust the likes of Haywood Highsmith and Dewayne Dedmon to consistently play quality NBA minutes (hint of sarcasm here). The Heat basically have a primarily six-man rotation, and then rotate amongst the edges of the bench the rest of the time. This is what happens when you put together a roster of only 14 NBA contracts, and give one to Udonis Haslem and others to players who have barely played (Oladipo) or haven’t played (Omer Yurtseven).

Knowing our history with the Miami Heat, aside from the postseason two years ago, the Heat are probably going to get one of these games from the Bucks. But I will say that the Heat sweeping us is much less likely than the Bucks sweeping the Heat in Miami, especially if Miami is missing certain players.

Monday, January 16th
130PM on Bally Sports WI

Well, I’m going to take it easy on myself with this team and say that Indiana might actually be a quality basketball team. Nobody thought that, and I still think there is a chance the rug gets pulled out from under them, but it is getting less likely with every win that goes by. I thought Myles Turner and/or Buddy Hield would be gone by now, and that Tyrese Haliburton would have to be Luka Doncic-ing with a weaker cast to get this team to 30 wins.

I’ll give credit where credit is due though. Benedict Mathurin has faded slightly, but has still been sensational as a rookie. Rookie teammate Andrew Nembhard also was a home-run selection, considering the later selection he was taken with. Jalen Smith, despite barely playing in Phoenix, was worth the money they gave to him. Even the Malcolm Brogdon trade wasn’t a total loss, with Aaron Nesmith starting over 20 games and scoring around 10 per game. Literally everything has gone right for the Pacers.

How will they match up with the Bucks now that we know that Rick Carlisle has gotten the most out of this squad? I will still say that I think the Bulls are actually the better team, but they are playing worse, if that makes sense. I think we should be able to beat this team, especially at home after a four-game road trip.

Tuesday, January 17th
630 PM on TNT & Bally Sports WI

We narrowly escaped that victory on the 4th, thanks to a late Grayson Allen three-pointer, and not having Jrue Holiday and Khris MIddleton for long stretches is really starting to take its toll on this team. But, luckily we were able to walk out with a win, and continue to keep pace with the rest of the East. It still feels really weird to say it that way after the start to the season we had.

As demonstrated in the first meeting, the Raptors when healthy are really just an eight-man rotation, but all eight of those players are very solid. Pascal Siakam should be an All-Star, and the other four in the starting lineup are averaging at least 15 points per game. They all play solid defense as well, or have had solid defense in the past, and their head coach has been known for his ways of being able to “slow” Giannis. I mean, he is one of 13 players to get a 30-20-10 game, and did it against Toronto, but that’s still the verdict after the Raptors’ 2019 title run.

All of these games are winnable, and all of these games are losable, it’s that simple. Should the Bucks win a home game heading into having three days off? I think so, but again, don’t be surprised if Toronto sneaks through like they almost did last week.

At Cleveland
Saturday, January 21st
630 PM on Bally Sports WI

The Bucks wrap the season series up with the Cleveland Cavaliers to close out this forecast, and the last time out they got dominated by the Cavs, with the first two games going the Bucks’ way. Cleveland has proven to be one of the top five teams in the East time and time again this season, and with the Donovan Mitchell acquisition, they seem to have the right pieces in place to make a deep run into the playoffs. I personally would trust all but 1-3 players on this team to play quality minutes for the Bucks, which shows their quality of depth.

The main difference between the Bucks and Cavaliers right now is the star power favoring the Bucks. Giannis, Middleton and Holiday are three of the four best players (with Donovan Mitchell) between the teams at this moment, but after that one could argue (could) that Cleveland has the next best three (Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley). After that, you have Brook and Bobby, and then it really becomes semantics on who is better following that. Do you want Joe Ingles or Cedi Osman? Would you prefer Robin Lopez or Serge Ibaka? Pat Connaughton or Caris LeVert? And so on.

I think this comes down to what kind of a game does Giannis have in him? Having a rare three days off in between games should immensely help him be more productive, and i think it also depends on if we get Middleton back and back to being “All-Star” Khris instead of “one point more than Grayson Allen” Khris. Both versions, especially the first, are better than “Jordan Nwora and/or MarJon Beauchamp plays instead of” Khris, but we still need Khris to play like the All-Star by the postseason. Not right now necessarily, but once we get to April. I think the Bucks win if the stars shine.

Julie’s Prediction: 4-3

I’m being a bit pessimistic this time for two reasons, and one of them is so that I can get my overall record back closer to the Bucks’ overall record. But the other reason, and the reason why this prediction I’m making might actually come true, is that the East is starting to get crowded. Up until Christmas, the East was the Bucks and the Boston Celtics, with everybody else in the rearview. Now? Cleveland, Brooklyn and Philadelphia have caught up, some have passed us at one point or another, and the rest of the East looks better too.

Aside from Cleveland to end the forecast, these aren’t even the best teams in the East, and yet they are all in the East. New York is playing good basketball, Atlanta is dangerous and has defeated us twice this year. Miami is always a threat to win a game or two, and same with Toronto. Then you have Indiana, who I still want to see how they do against the Bucks (assuming they have Giannis and Jrue) before I put out my final verdict on if they are frauds, but the record at this point speaks for itself. We need to stay above .500 as the season wears on in small stretches like this, and that’s what I believe what we will do. What do you think? Vote and comment below.


What Will the Bucks’ Record Be in this Forecast?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    6-1 or 7-0 (Show the East Who’s Boss)
    (9 votes)
  • 23%
    5-2 (Realistic Assuming Full Health)
    (18 votes)
  • 27%
    4-3 (Julie’s *Correct* Prediction)
    (21 votes)
  • 22%
    3-4 (Hopefully This Won’t Hurt in the Long Run)
    (17 votes)
  • 14%
    2-5 or Worse (Before You Select This Option, Remember That It’s 2023, not 2013)
    (11 votes)
76 votes total Vote Now