Lessons Learned From Two Out West

We know ….

  • The Bucks aren’t great if they aren’t at full strength.

Sans Carlos Delfino against the Clippers, the Bucks couldn’t shoot the Clippers out of a zone on Wednesday night.  Charlie Bell is still ill-equipped to be a starter on a playoff caliber team and Jerry Stackhouse has shown some chinks in his armor.  When Coach Skiles sat Andrew Bogut for the majority of the second quarter on Friday night, the Bucks were again a shell of themselves, letting the Kings get whatever they wanted offensively, while relying nearly solely on Brandon Jennings’ three-point shooting to provide offense.

So the Bucks aren’t perfect.

They’re still pretty good, but they’ll need to stay healthy the rest of the way.  They simply aren’t good enough yet to survive any major blows.

  • Defense DOES take a night off

It’s hard to ever harp on the Bucks defense, but it simply wasn’t there for long stretches of the Clipper and Kings games.  The old saying went “defense doesn’t take a night off” but that’s just not true.  For the Bucks to play the high level defense they typically play, they need quite a bit of focus and intensity.  Traveling out west to play two teams a combined 40 some games under .500 isn’t the best way to get maximum focus and intensity out of a team I’d imagine.  I’m not saying it’s okay that the Bucks didn’t have their best efforts against these teams; I’m just saying I can see how it happened.  They were lucky to win the Kings game and when you look back and see that they went 1-1 in these two, it’s hard to feel too bad about them.

All year Milwaukee’s been playing their best ball when they’ve played better teams and eventually they’ll only be playing the good ones.  I can live with that.

  • Brandon Jennings is still an enigma

Eight threes against the Kings?  When he gets hot, damn, he gets hot.  Jennings showed once again that he can carry this team for stretches.  Obviously having Jennings carrying the scoring load is not the ideal situation, but his explosiveness is going to be important to keep teams off guard once the playoffs arrive.  At the very least, Jennings has shot much better over his last five games than he did over his previous 25.  This could be a sign that he’s figuring out his offense or maybe taking better shots.  Or it could just mean that he’s gotten hot again.  At this point, I’m not going to rack my brain too hard to figure out the offensive patterns of Brandon Jennings in his rookie year.  I’ll just hope he keeps hitting when he’s hot and passing when he’s not.

  • Zones are still a problem

The Toronto Raptors first confounded the Bucks with the zone defense in late January and it’s been awhile since we’ve seen it bother the Bucks again.  But the Bucks had nothing for the Clippers zone on Wednesday and occasionally struggled when the Kings went to it on Friday.  Zones make it very difficult for the Bucks to get the ball inside to Bogut, which in turn makes it difficult for them to free up shooters for good looks.  I assumed the Bucks added firepower in the last couple months made them less susceptible to the problems zones create, but apparently they can still be had.  This could be something that comes back at them come playoff time.

  • Ersan Ilyasova is important

While the rest of the Bucks bench has been struggling, Ersan had a big game on Friday.  Gritty players don’t take many days off and Ersan is no different.  He’s been getting inside and keeping balls alive all year and he was huge on Friday night.  The shocker of the night Friday was Ilyasova’s heave with six seconds left to tie the game in regulation.  Ilyasova hasn’t exactly been clutch in his two years in the league.  In fact, when I looked at his face after making it, I could have sworn he was emotionless, not because there was still work to be done, but because he couldn’t believe he made a last second shot.

But as games get more and more physical down the stretch, the Bucks may need more and more out of Ilyasova at the power forward spot.  Luc Richard Mbah a Moute just isn’t always a great matchup for opposing fours.

I Wonder

  • Have the close games helped the Bucks and who gets it down the stretch?

The Bucks have played more games decided by three points than any team in the league and fared poorly at the start of the year in these contests.  But lately, they’ve turned things around.  Many Bucks, specifically Brandon Jennings, will say that the lessons they learned earlier in the year have helped them now, but I’m not certain I buy that.  Is it any coincidence that the Bucks started winning more close games once they became more talented?

The Bucks biggest flaw all year in close games has been the lack of a go to scorer down the stretch and that was evident again Friday night.  John Salmons does his best to fill this role, but no one is confusing him with a top-tier player.  Is there any question that the Bucks would have lost Friday if Tyreke Evans were taking the Kings last layup in regulation instead of Beno Udrih?

All year I’ve been wondering if Jennings would be able to be the Bucks guy down the stretch in close games and I’m still left to wonder.  His shaky mid range jumper doesn’t inspire confidence, but his overall improved accuracy of late gives me hope.  Come playoff time, someone is going to have to step up.

For now, it’s one thing that has me wondering what will be.

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