By the end of last season, the Milwaukee Bucks were really good at one thing and not so good at another. They were really good at beating bad teams. Like, really good. Over the final 28 games of the season, Milwaukee was 15-2 against teams under .500. There was a clear disparity between the Bucks and truly bad teams.
But the Bucks weren’t so good at beating good teams. Over that same stretch, the Bucks were 1-10 against teams over .500 coming into the game. As good as the Bucks were against bad teams, that’s how bad they were against good teams. It’s almost like the Bucks were perfectly nestled in the middle of the Eastern Conference.
Of course, the Bucks finished in 9th place last season.
Fast forward through an offseason where Milwaukee attempted to fix some of its more glaring weaknesses (defense, size) while keeping its strengths strong (sharing the ball, scoring) to Tuesday night. Coming into a game against the recently very difficult to handle Chicago Bulls. Milwaukee came into Tuesday night’s third preseason game feeling pretty good. They led the NBA in margin of victory after their first two preseason contests, a pair of laughers over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons. The thing Milwaukee most looked to accomplish over the offseason, an improved defense sparked by shot-blocking, looked very good through two games.
That defense did not look so good in Tuesday’s familiar looking 100-94 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
For the past few seasons, the Bucks, like many teams, have struggled with that point guard they have in Chicago. He’s blown by Bucks guards, finished over Bucks big men and generally kept Milwaukee back pedaling with his incredible skill. He did it again Tuesday. Except “he” wasn’t Derrick Rose this time. “He” was Nate Friggin’ Robinson. The diminutive guard hung 24 points and 13 assists on Milwaukee without committing a turnover.
Point guards often had a field day against Milwaukee last season, but typically it was more the Derrick Rose, John Wall unstoppable types, not the Robinson retread type. It’s disappointing to see a player like Robinson so abuse a team whose main focus throughout training camp has been defense. But those other teams are working too. And it’s not like the Bucks were operating like this was a must win game or anything. In true preseason form, 15 players played for Milwaukee and many of Robinson’s points came with Brandon Jennings watching from the bench.
It’s not worthwhile to take too much out of deflating preseason losses, but if wins could possibly be a harbinger of things to come, losses can be the same. Most of all, a game like Tuesday’s is a reminder that there will be nights like this one.
It’s just important for the Bucks that they don’t happen so consistently against good teams this season.
- Bucks fans faced a terrifying reality without John Henson after Mike Dunleavy rolled up on his knee an a missed free throw by Samuel Dalembert. It looked like one of those injuries that could be bad, but early reports have Henson with only a hyperextended left knee. Henson told Charles F. Gardner after the game that he was checked out and everything was “rock solid.”
- Speaking of injuries, in the same article, you’ll read about Jennings playing with a sore toe. He told Gardner, “Hopefully we’ll see what’s wrong with it soon.” That doesn’t necessarily put people at ease, Brandon. Jennings scored 13 points on 5-11 shooting in 24 minutes.
- Tom Thibideau is a man who likes to win and he likes to be sure of that win. While Scott Skiles varied his rotations and played 15 guys, four of the five Bulls’ starters played at least 30 minutes, led by Robinson’s 37.
- Through three preseason games, Monta Ellis has looked extraordinarily regular. He had loads of trouble defending Richard Hamilton, but at least some of that blame can be place on his teammates, the way Hamilton comes off screens. But no one expects Ellis to be an All-League defender. More problematic is the 34 points Ellis has scored on 33 shots through three games. That type of inefficiency is what Ellis will avoid in an ideal world this season.
- So many jump shots from Dalembert, Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden (the pictured dunk attempt above aside). Dalembert faired the best of the three, hitting 5-12 FG from the field, while Ilyasova and Gooden combined to make just 2-16 FG.