And things are suddenly not looking so well. But looks can be deceiving.
After ripping apart the league for most of the last month, the Bucks have now dropped two straight devastating road games. Two road losses that have left them dangerously close to dropping down to seventh in the Eastern Conference. These were two road losses that were difficult to swallow. Road losses in which they led each game in the fourth quarter. Two road losses that saw the Bucks shoot themselves in the proverbial foot in those fourth quarters.
Two road losses that make me think they’re closer to where they want to be than we’re realizing right now.
Right now, it’s natural to be in that “this iodine on our wound stings an awful lot” phase after these losses. The wounds are fresh; it’ll take a win over Phoenix or at least wins over Chicago and New Jersey for the stinging to wear off. And don’t get me wrong, I think Milwaukee needs two out of those three at minimum. No matter what, losing more than two or (at most) three games in a row at this time of the year, with the conference so bunched together from five to nine, is unacceptable. But for right now, I’m at least taking solace in the fact that the Bucks actually played well in these last two, all things considered.
I mean, they led both games in the fourth. Execution down the stretch of each game wasn’t strong. In the final two minutes of the Cleveland game, with a two point lead, Milwaukee proceeded to shoot four three-pointers and turn the ball over twice in seven possessions. Not great decision making. In a three minute fourth quarter stretch in Charlotte, Milwaukee turned the ball over on five of six possessions – all while allowing just two points. In addition, Charlotte got three offensive rebounds in the final minute. Again, this wasn’t pretty.
But there’s upside here. This is the Bucks shooting themselves in the foot and that doesn’t happen frequently. Milwaukee ranks fifth in the league in total turnovers and first in offensive rebounds allowed. Is it worth fretting about what ultimately undid Milwaukee in these games when it’s not likely to be their downfall throughout the rest of the regular season and playoffs? I think probably not.
So I’m not getting too upset right now. I’m just going to blow on my wound and hope the stinging stops.
It was the John Salmons show once again. Even an (accidental) elbow to the head courtesy of Stephen Jackson that sent Salmons to the trainers room and in a bit of a frenzy (well, at least for John Salmons – he gets emotional about as often as most lamps) didn’t slow the Bucks guard. Salmons had 28 points (12-22 FG 2-4 3FG 2-2 FT) for the second straight night and more often than not, became the Bucks only offensive option. Milwaukee constantly found themselves relying on Salmons to make decisions and force the issue as the shot clock was winding down. He came through often enough for them to hang in this one, but not often enough for them to win. This simply isn’t going to cut it come playoff time, perhaps for a stretch here and there, but Milwaukee will absolutely need to get more out of other positions.
- Like the point guard position. Luke Ridnour wasn’t on and neither was Brandon Jennings. Ridnour’s been a very good shooter this year, but it was obvious at the end of this one that he wasn’t going to be getting in the lane and making any plays any time soon. He’s had the runner this year and been able to get that pretty frequently, but he can’t really break anyone down. At least not like Jennings can. But Jennings has looked ultra-hesitant for most of the last six games (except Memphis). Milwaukee needs him to help Salmons by penetrating and dishing or just finding a way to finish. Against Memphis, Jennings was 6-9 at the rim. That’s what Milwaukee wants to see.
- To be fair, it wasn’t all Salmons Friday. Andrew Bogut had another double-double (19-12), always nice to see. Unfortunately, he was just 8-16 from the field, not one of his finest efforts. I’d say the Bobcats defense does that to people, but they play Tyson Chandler and Theo Ratliff at the five. So I really would have liked to see a better percentage inside.
- As always, the Bucks were unable to match the opposition’s free throw numbers. Charlotte shot 20-27 from the line, while Milwaukee hit on just 10-15. That’s not too big of a difference, at least nothing the Bucks aren’t used to, but the Bucks have to hit threes to make up this difference. Milwaukee was just 6-20 from deep, the worst offender being a possibly still woozy Carlos Delfino at 2-8.
This game was everything it was advertised from a defensive perspective. Two physical teams paying with intensity turned up. Larry Brown got the heave early and the Bucks looked like they had a chip on their shoulders for the majority of this one. I guess that’s just what happens when you’re guys are taking blows to the face.
- Andrew Bogut’s defense was all the rage on ESPN’s Daily Dime Live Friday night. Is he better defensively than Dwight Howard? Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t (he probably isn’t), but he’s pretty good. He was at it again against the ‘Cats, finishing with seven blocks and at least two charges by my count.
- Stephen Jackson has really hurt the Bucks in the past, and he hit another big shot to give the ‘Cats their victory. But he took 28 shots to get his 32 points. It’s hard to fault the Bucks for their defense on him in this one, but you can never fall asleep on a guy like Jack. He’ll shoot.
- A small example of how good the rotations for each team were? Milwaukee: 17 assists to 16 turnovers. Charlotte: 17 assists to 17 turnovers. Everywhere the ball went, a defender went. The teams also combined for 22 blocks and tons more contests.
So, yes, there are no moral victories anymore. But really, there kind of are. At this point, Milwaukee just wants to be playing well heading into the playoffs and hang onto the fifth or sixth seed. I wouldn’t say they’re playing poorly, but they aren’t quite at their best. Defensively, they’ve played pretty solid these last two games; it just comes down to a few possessions here and there that need to be ironed out. Even so, that might be nit-picking. Milwaukee is never going to play the perfect game, but they need to pick their spots in which they get the yips a little better. Can we go back to those slow starts again?
Now Milwaukee has to play a Western Conference powerhouse on the second night of a back-to-back. At least they’re off the road.