In Philadelphia, the Milwaukee Bucks allowed the Sixers to connect on 57.1% of their shots. Four games later, at home against Memphis, the Bucks watched the Grizzlies make 51.4% of their shots. At that point, a defense that sometimes over the past two seasons has seemed impenetrable began to look shaky. Cracks began forming the in foundation, wheels started wobbling, flood waters started rising; whatever cliche for problems beginning to outnumber answers you have, it was applicable.
And then Saturday night happened. Milwaukee’s defensive struggles appear to have culminated in their 89-78 defeat at home to the Detroit Pistons.
First, some numbers.
- Four straight teams have shot better than 50% against the Bucks. the longest streak since Coach Scott Skiles took over prior to the 2008-09 season.
- Those four teams that shot better than 50% against Milwaukee are respectively ranked 15, 6, 13 and 22 in offensive rating.
- Six of the last nine teams Milwaukee have played have ended the game with offensive ratings higher than 103 – Milwaukee’s defensive rating this season.
None of this is lost on the Milwaukee Bucks. Coach Skiles sees some of the offensive issues the team has had all season bleeding over into Milwaukee’s defense.
“I think our guys are getting a little bit beaten down,” Skiles said. “We gotta battle that, we gotta fight that. It’s been a long year for the guys offensive so far. They’ve executed pretty well and come up empty. It’s frustrating when you go down the court and don’t get a good shot, it’s much more frustrating when you go down the court, get a good shot and don’t make it. We gotta try and battle through it. Definitely what we can’t do is let down on the other end of the floor.”
That explanation wasn’t enough for Bucks center Andrew Bogut. Bogut faced a throng of reporters after the game and expressed his frustration with his team’s play. He singled out a lack of attention to scouting reports and players not being aware of the tendencies of opposing players.
“If a guy is going with his left hand, he’s going left, he is going to go left,” an exasperated Bogut said postgame. “So we are having those breakdowns… Rip Hamilton is going to come off a double-stagger, he’s going to pump-fake and then try to get you in the air. We are just not playing smart basketball. Maybe yeah we are playing hard, but we are not reading the scouting reports, we are not playing smart basketball.
“Maybe, yeah, we’re playing hard at times. But we’re not reading our scouting reports, we’re just not playing smart basketball.”
And it’s there that Bogut revealed how much more goes into this whole being a good team thing than most realize. Preparation was something the Bucks excelled at last season, with a cast of veteran role players always ready to play. It’s hard to imagine Kurt Thomas not knowing the tendencies of every big man in the league. And game after game last year, Luke Ridnour would head back onto the court AFTER a game to get some more shots up. These were guys who were ready to play every night. Guys who knew where they were supposed to be and could be relied on to be there.
That’s something Milwaukee’s missing this season. Rarely last season did anyone see Bogut loudly voicing his displeasure with teammates on the court, but he lit into Corey Maggette in the first quarter Saturday night for not knowing where he was supposed to be. During a February 5 game. Four months into a season and players are still out of position offensively and defensively.
Blame practice time, blame injuries, but they can only take so much blame. Milwaukee had nearly a full cast of characters Saturday night against one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference and they were hardly competitive.
“We’re just not playing pro basketball at the moment,” Bogut said. “We have injuries. Big deal. Every team has injuries. It’s getting to the point where there’s no excuse for the way we played tonight. No excuse whatsoever.”
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).