The line has been drawn in the sand.
In the Eastern Conference, there’s really good teams (Boston, Miami and Chicago), good teams (Atlanta, Orlando) first round playoff exit teams (New York, Philadelphia, Indiana, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Detroit) and then the really bad teams (New Jersey, Toronto, Washington and Cleveland).
With only four really bad teams, that means three of the first round playoff exit teams won’t even make the playoffs this year. Detroit is a likely candidate for the outside looking in and right now, Milwaukee’s out too. But the Bucks still have a chance at a playoff spot and it’s a better chance than the one they have at really good draft pick. That bottom half of the East? None of those teams are going anywhere.
During Milwaukee’s 92-74 thrashing of the Raptors Tuesday night, it seemed clear throughout that the Raptors wouldn’t be catching the Bucks in the standings this season. Neither will the Nets or Wizards. And the Cavs may never win again, so rule them out too. If Milwaukee isn’t going to sink below any of these teams (and they won’t fall below the Kings or Wolves in the West either), the best they can do is have the seventh best shot when the lottery is done in May. Those aren’t good odds.
Odds are another middling draft pick, and if that’s the case, the Bucks may as well try and get back on the playoff track.
They certainly defended like a team that wanted to do that Tuesday night. Milwaukee limited a very good Raptors offense to 36% shooting from the field, after having allowed four consecutive opponents to shoot better than 50%. Milwaukee’s defensive reputation won’t be re-built in one game against one of the league’s worst teams, but if Milwaukee can string together a few performances like this, they could have something again.
Reinserted into the starting lineup before the game, John Salmons had his best game since returning from a hip injury. One of Salmons’ biggest issues this season has been getting shots to fall; he had a few of his hanging shots in the paint that finally went down for him on Tuesday. These aren’t simple shots we’re talking about, and their difficulty seems amplified by Salmons’ waning athleticism and the toll taken on it by injuries this season. Tuesday he was able to get a couple to go down. He finished seven of 18 from the field, one of three from three-point range and scored 18 points.
- Another strong numbers game from Corey Maggette, 16 points and nine rebounds. This is all I have to say about that.
- Brandon Jennings attacked slightly more than usual against the Raptors, but was also the beneficiary of some gift layups from their defense. Jennings did a nice job of cutting to get himself open around the rim for two easy lay-ins, but regardless of how much he cuts, he won’t often get those looks against most teams. Even when the Raptors weren’t giving him layups, he got into the paint for a couple good looks. His jumper is still missing in action though. He was five of seven at the rim and made one floater in the paint, but missed all six of his jump shots.
Before the game, Coach Skiles spoke about the importance of holding opponents to under 43% shooting. He said when the Bucks do that, even with the worst shooting offense in the league, they are 10-8. Make it 11-8 now. Without question this is a team built on defense and they showed that Tuesday. Jennings was applying full court pressure early and often on Raptors point guard Jose Calderon and forced him into a few turnovers by really attacking his dribble. Bogut was protecting the basket as well as ever against an attacking athletic group of wings, blocking five shots. When those two are in and at their best on defense, Milwaukee looks like a different group.
- Calderon’s two for 15 outing and Andrea Bargnani’s nine for 21 effort left the Raptors with quite an obstacle to get around. Two of their better offensive players shooting so poorly left them without much else. Calderon seemed to just be having an off night with his shot, but Bargnani took a litany of terrible, weak shots. Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute split the duty on the Raptors center. When Bargnani had Mbah a Moute on him, he would often take him to the post, only to realize he wasn’t strong enough to back down the Bucks forward. He settled a number of times for turnaround jumpers or fadeaways that had little chance.
It wasn’t a complete and dominant effort out of Milwaukee, but they suffocated the Raptors so thoroughly defensively that they didn’t need their best stuff across the board. Milwaukee won’t beat many teams that way, not this season. But this could have been a step in the right direction. Milwaukee has another one of the Fumbling Four of the East Wednesday night in Washington, another chance to tighten up their game.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).