The Week Ahead (January 4th-10th)
4 Games (3 Home 1 Road)
January 5th vs. Toronto (13-20)
The Raptors of Toronto have been labeled one of the great disappointments of this season so far. After tooling up in the off season by acquiring faded star Jermaine O’neal and handing the keys over to Jose Calderon the Raptors expected to take another step forward in the Eastern Conference this year. Unfortunately for them they have taken a huge flying leaping step back. After firing Sam Mitchell on December 3rd Toronto currently sits 13-20, virtually eliminated from contention in the Boston division. Now to be fair they did not expect to really push the Celtics for the division this year, but surely they expected to at least put up a fight. While Jermaine O’neal has shown he is no longer the JO of years past, the real trouble in Toronto has been their wing men. This is a team that at times this year has started Anthony Parker, Jason Kapono, Andrea Barginani, and Jamario Moon. Using the Player Efficiency Rating used by statistical guru John Hollinger of ESPN.com, the only one of those four who even comes off as average is Moon. All the blame in the world can be laid at the feet of the leader of the team, but a coach can only use the players he has…and the Raptors just don’t have much. The Raps have been booed at home and welcomed with open arms on the road, so this appears to be a winnable game for the Bucks. Calderon will need to be contained however as he went off for 25 in these teams first meeting this year.
January 7th vs. Philadelphia (13-20)
Competing with the Raptors for most disappointing team in the Atlantic division is the Bucks next opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers have been struggling to implement Elton Brand into their offense and coach/nice guy Maurice Cheeks was relieved of his duties on December 13th. Brand was brought in ideally to open up space for guys like ‘Dre Iguodala and Thad Young to operate, but they continue to have trouble working together. Last year the Sixers did their best work using their atheltic skills by running and getting up and down the court. Brand was thought to be the kind of player to change a system around, but hasn’t been as good as he was in past years. Collapsing on Brand has been working like a charm for opposing defenses also as the Sixers are shooting a paltry 29% from behind the arc. Things have not gotten any better with Brand out the past 8 games as the Sixers have stumbled to a 2-6 record.
January 9th vs. New Jersey (16-18)
Hometown hero Devin Harris leads a surprising Nets team into Milwaukee on Friday. With all these Atlantic teams struggling to blend together the Nets took advantage of early struggles and have surged to second place in the division. As it stands right now they are battling with Milwaukee and Chicago for the 8th and final seed in the playoff race. More importantly for them though they have a young team that is working well together. Devin Harris has been one of the top point guards in the Eastern Conference this year and is averaging over 22 points a game. Vince Carter continues to show up and do Vince Carter things, which means some lazy defense, some dunks, more threes than necessary, and game winners in Toronto. This also marks the meaningless return to Milwaukee for Yi Jianlian and Richard Jefferson’s first game against his former mates. This is likely to be the best game of the week and like almost every other Nets game could go down to the wire.
January 10th @ Minnesota (8-25)
Our neighbors to the west continue to struggle mightily. Like most teams they fired their coach this year, and like most of those teams, the Timberwolves are still crappy. At least the Timberwolves had the sense of humor to put the guy who made the mess in charge handling the players first hand, as Kevin McHale has struggled just as bad as Randy Wittman since taking over. Al Jefferson continues to be a walking double double and Kevin Love has been solid of late, averaging 12 points and 9 rebounds over his last 5 games, but bright spots are few and far between after those two. Rashad Mccants seems to be trying for the record of most shots taken in least amount of time every time he enters a game putting up almost 4 threes per game in only 20 minutes of action. In comparison, Michael Redd averages about 5 threes attempted per game in 35 minutes of action. Yikes.
Lots of opportunity for the Bucks to put a little distance between some of their lower level Eastern Conference cohorts this week. Knowledgeable basketball minds like the previously referenced John Hollinger have mentioned that the Bucks schedule early this year was about as tough as it could get, and they merely needed to hang tough until things evened out for them, well this is the evening out. 4 games in one week is difficult but three of them being at home helps out a lot and this week should show fans what the Bucks really are all about. To be successful is to take care of bad teams at home like they have done earlier with the Clippers and Bobcats, hopefully we’ll see more of the same this week.