Every time the Milwaukee Bucks have summoned the strength to take a step forward this season the team has made sure to follow it up with two steps back. After a three game winning streak heading into Sunday’s game against Boston, that’s kind of what losses to the Celtics and Atlanta Hawks over the past few days were. Except these two losses didn’t feel like two regular steps back.
These losses felt more like two steps back into oncoming traffic.
After a 56-point effort that had people everywhere snickering and joke telling, Milwaukee was hoping to rebound with a momentum builder in Atlanta Tuesday night. Instead, Milwaukee nearly played as poorly against the Hawks as the team did against the Celtics. Milwaukee’s defense showed as little fight as its offense has all season in a 110-85 stomping.
Not that it was impossible to see another loss coming. Since the calender flipped to 2011, Milwaukee has played 36 games, posting a 14-22 record. When combing through the wins and losses, the story tells itself: Milwaukee generally beats bad teams and loses to good ones.
Wins over: Dallas, New Jersey (2), Washington (2), Cleveland (2), Atlanta, Toronto (2), LA Clippers, T-Wolves, Pistons and Sixers.
The last time Milwaukee beat a team with a winning percentage better than .500 was December 21, when Earl Boykins bailed them out against the Los Angeles Lakers.
This isn’t news to the Bucks. After Tuesday’s game, Brandon Jennings told the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel, “It doesn’t get any easier. Things are going to have to change pretty soon. We’re going to have to start beating some of the good teams, too.”
Lines like that have been common place during this season. Things have had to change for some time and Milwaukee has had to make a run since forever, but signs of hope have been few and far between. Four of Milwaukee’s next six games come against Orlando, New York and Chicago. If they lose all four, at least Milwaukee’s fans can finally stop worrying about getting their collective hopes up anymore.
Andrew Bogut sprung for 20 or more points for only the seventh time this season against the Hawks, dropping in 21 on 10 of 17 shooting while grabbing 13 rebounds. Typically, when Bogut has it going and reaches that threshold, we’re discussing a strong Bucks performance afterwords. Tuesday’s debacle was the first egg Milwaukee laid that coincided with a Bogut 20 point game. The team dropped to 5-2 when Bogut scores 20 or more. That it took until March 15 for Bogut to reach his seventh 20-point game goes a long way towards explaining Milwaukee’s offensive struggles though. Last season Bogut tallied 20-point game number seven on December 21.
- Earl Barron leading a team in assists is more often than not, a harbinger of a big loss. And that held true on Tuesday. Barron cleaned up in garbage time for the Bucks. Unlike his teammates, he was hell bent on making the most of his opportunity. Barron finished with eight points, four rebounds and tied for the team lead with four assists in 15 minutes.
- The Brandon Jennings Rollercoaster continues to follow any peaks with terrifying drops. Milwaukee’s sometimes accurate, but often not so, point guard made just one of eight shots from the field while turning it over twice, one for each assist he handed out. Jennings hardly any worse than Keyon Dooling or even Earl Boykins Tuesday though, as they both finished one of four from the field. I’m not sure if that makes me feel any better or any worse about his performance. I’m not sure it even matters at this point in the season.
20-0 runs are not a good look. Joe Johnson hitting every three from everywhere, is not a good look. Allowing 63% shooting to an opponent is not a good look. There was nothing good about Milwaukee’s defense on Tuesday night. Atlanta over-matched and overwhelmed the Bucks early and put it on cruise control the rest of the way. Milwaukee obliged and cruised to the loss. Johnson finished with 36 points on 13 of 19 shooting, including a ridiculous six of nine performance from long range.
- Oddly enough the Hawks played into Milwaukee’s hands as far as turnovers went. The Bucks forced Atlanta in to 21 turnovers leading to 27 Bucks points. Maybe the Bucks could have stayed with Atlanta on a typical shooting night for the Hawks, but the way they were hitting shots throughout the night, Milwaukee had little chance.
Milwaukee has just three more road games against good teams, so fortunately this sort of torturous basketball appears to be almost over. Unless the Bucks can still find some way to sneak into that last playoff spot. Then we’ll have two more of these efforts in the playoffs unless the Bucks undergo some sort of dramatic change in cohesiveness between now and then. The most damning part of Tuesday’s game was a weak offensive effort despite a strong night from Bogut.
It’s rare Milwaukee’s defense will play so bad, but a common cure for the offense this season has been steady Bogut. But if the team’s offense can’t spark even when he’s playing well, then we’re talking about a team more broken than any of us imagined. And that lines up pretty well with what we’ve seen over the past two games. A broken team.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).