Squeaking by to kick off an important stretch: Bucks 94 – Timberwolves 88
Over the years, the NBA trade deadline has been blamed for a lot of bad basketball. A great example of this phenomenon came roughly a year ago, right here in Milwaukee.
At that point, the Bucks hadn’t started that second half surge that birthed the Fear the Dear mantra. They wouldn’t acquire John Salmons until later that night. It was actually his rumored deal that seemed to have some players on edge. With rumors swirling about, Milwaukee had one of their worst performances of the season when they lost to the Houston Rockets 127-99. After the game the talk was of the possible Salmons trade — who would be heading out, which draft picks would exchange hands — not the loss that seemed out of place after a strong run of games by the Bucks.
NBA players are human beings, susceptible to the same lapses in focus that any of us are. That was the explanation on trade deadline eve last season, and it seemed more than reasonable. Especially after the Bucks played so well for the remainder of the season.
Fast forward a year (and five days). With very little trade talk surrounding the team, there was no indication that any key players for the Bucks were too concerned about being shipped out, though you wouldn’t know that from the Bucks performance. The same problem that has plagued the team like a bad virus all season followed the Bucks back to Milwaukee after the All-Star break. This time it invaded during a win though, so face was largely saved. But for the 24 time this season, Milwaukee failed to shoot better than 40% in a 94-88 win over the T-Wolves Tuesday night.
This is more than likely the team that will be in Milwaukee the rest of the season, bar a minor move. Honestly, the plan appears to be to hope that problems this same team has dealt with all season take care of themselves. For the last few weeks the lines in the locker room have been the same: “we need to make a run”, “it’s time to turn it on”, “now is our opportunity to gain some ground”, all that good stuff. Coach Scott Skiles said them again before Tuesday’s game:
“We’ve got a chance to go out and start playing well and prove that we’re the team that people thought we were going to be in the beginning of the season.”
The chance has always been there, but the Bucks have yet to seize it. It was business as usual Tuesday night, a lackadaisical win over an opponent that walked on the court with a 13-43 record. But the Bucks entered the fourth quarter tied. That’s hardly the statement about the kind of team they are that Skiles was looking for. At this point a win may be a win, and surely the Bucks need every one of them they can get if they intend to stay in the race for the final playoff spot, but this team that played Tuesday night won’t be one that scares anybody in the league come April.
The Bucks are betting that this team isn’t the one that will show up in April. Same faces, sure, but different performance. Right now, the odds aren’t looking good on that bet.
A game that matched two hapless offenses was apparently exactly the kind of stage Brandon Jennings needed. Milwaukee’s erratic point guard had one of his finer games of the season Tuesday night. Despite being stuck dribbling near the end of a few possessions and finding himself forced to long long jump-shots, he hovered around 50% shooting for the majority of the game, a stellar accomplishment when weighed against his typical outing. Jennings tallied 27 points on seven of 17 shooting and handed out seven assists against just one turnover.
Of course, because this is how things have gone for Jennings, this game also featured a floater of his that floated right on over the hoop he was shooting at. Sigh. But still, way more good than bad with Jennings.
- The substitution patterns of Coach Skiles often come under fire and many were mystified again Tuesday night when Corey Maggette failed to enter the game until just over a minute remained in the first quarter. Maggette would not disappoint when he finally was on the court though. He proved again to be one of Milwaukee’s only reliable scorers, finishing with 20 points on seven of 17 shooting. The free throw line, as it always is, was his friend again: he made six of seven from the stripe.
- As one of Milwaukee’s most athletic players, he always provides the possibility of a highlight, though he rarely produces one. Tuesday night he did. Maggette drove baseline and corkscrewed around to the front of the rim where he cocked back for a thunderous two handed dunk. For a lot of teams, this was just another play. For the Bucks? This may have been their dunk of the year.
Luke Ridnour is the type of point guard Jennings was born to defend. Not overwhelmingly quick and more reliant on change of pace than pure speed, Ridnour was unable to free himself of Jennings for much more than a few finishes in the paint. Jennings is probably underrated as a defender.
He’s more than capable and does a good job of putting pressure on ball handlers who aren’t as quick as he. Milwaukee’s former backup and the apple of the eye of many fans Ridnour finished the game having made just five of 14 shots, while committing four turnovers and handing out three assists to go with 12 points. That’s certainly not the Ridnour many remember and Jennings had a little something to do with that.
- Twice this season Milwaukee has been thrashed on the boards by the T-Wolves. Minnesota only won the battle 50-46 Tuesday, but grabbed 18 offensive rebounds. Coach Skiles noted after the game that two of his primary power forwards, Luc Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova, combined for just one defensive rebound.
After heading into the All-Star break losing eight of their final 10 games, Milwaukee needed a win against the T-Wolves. They got their win, despite not playing all that well. At this point in the season, when it comes to making the playoffs, each win becomes especially important and the team’s overall play takes a backseat. Because there is always another day for better play. That seems to be the theory this group operates with, though probably not by choice. Time is running out for the Bucks to put together a stretch of strong play that results in wins though. Tuesday night was the start of stretch during which the Bucks play seven of nine games at home. So far Milwaukee is 1-0, though that one isn’t a lot to feel good about.
If this is a playoff team, we’ll know at the end of this stretch.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).