“It’s always something.”
That was Coach Scott Skiles response to a question about the difficulties the Milwaukee Bucks have putting together a complete game. Recently, on nights when the offense has played something resembling a sharp brand of basketball, the defense has faltered. On other nights, Milwaukee’s allowed an unacceptable number of offensive rebounds that led to second chance points. Some nights, Milwaukee’s foul troubles have opened the door for opponents to pile on the points from the free throw line.
It certainly has always been something.
In last night’s loss to the Bulls, Milwaukee’s field goal percentage (46.1%) and the percentage they limited the Bulls to (39.6%) was nothing to scoff at. That’s a positive showing for the Bucks. But, as has often been the case, the Bucks lagged sorely behind their opponent elsewhere. Chicago shot 25 free throws to the Bucks 11 and made 22 compared to the Bucks eight. In a nine point loss, that 14 points played a pretty big role.
Just like Houston’s 22-28 showing last Monday from the line would play a part in the Bucks demise. As was the case in the game against the Bulls, Milwaukee couldn’t matchup at the free throw line with their opponent. The Bucks made just 5-11 free throws against the Rockets and lost by nine points. Again, that 17 point difference at the line played a huge role. Milwaukee wasn’t terrible defensively, they limited the Rockets to 36.9% shooting, but they spent a large chunk of the game ushering their opponent to the free throw stripe.
Free throws aren’t the only area the Bucks have failed to shore up when playing well otherwise. In Philadelphia earlier this month the Bucks offense held up its end of the bargain again, as the Bucks made 47.5% of their shots, five three pointers and 13-17 free throws. These aren’t stunning numbers, but given Milwaukee’s stellar defense, should be enough to win a game on most nights. But the Bucks defense faltered in Philly. The Sixers shot 57.2% and made seven of 14 threes. The Bucks failed to play a complete game then, as they would continue to do in the following weeks.
Against opponents considered to be playoff caliber, Milwaukee’s lost nine straight games. It’s great that they dispatched New Jersey, Washington and Cleveland lately, but is Milwaukee really going to get anywhere beating just the dregs of the league? Currently the Bucks are one game out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. If they claimed that seed, they’d earn a first round matchup with the Heat, Magic or Celtics. Against those three teams Milwaukee is currently 1-5, with their one win coming against a Magic team missing four of its most important players.
Milwaukee rarely puts together complete games and even more rare is when they do it against a quality opponent. Blame injury, blame the new guys or blame the holdovers, but those are facts. Perhaps good health will return, the Bucks will have time to mesh as a unit and will pull it together for a playoff run that results in a first round upset against a great team. But it seems more likely that the Bucks won’t do that. If the playoffs end up in the cards for the Bucks, a first round playoff exit at the hands of a team that has superior talent is where they are heading.
That doesn’t mean these last few months of basketball will be without highs or purpose. It’s still fun to see the Bucks win, even if it seems to be sealing their low lottery or worst playoff team fate. It will be fun to see how Brandon Jennings looks in his return from injury and there’s always the development of Larry Sanders too. But if you’re still out there looking for last year, you may as well look here.
Because that sort of fun does not appear to be in the cards this season.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).