I’m not sure it could feel much longer since the Milwaukee Bucks blew out the Miami Heat. Since Bucks mascot Bango was handing out tissues to fans in Heat jerseys. Since reporters were asking about signature wins. Since the Bucks were four games over .500 and fans were feeling like this could be a division winning team. Since the Bucks seemed like a dominant defensive team that would continue to turn blocked shots and forced turnovers into easy offense.
I suppose when your championship comes in the middle of the season, anything can happen after. That’s kind of the way that game felt. Milwaukee played with so much energy, so much intensity. It was like one team was on that court to play a playoff game and the other was there to play … a game in late December.
We know what’s happened since. Milwaukee’s now lost its last four games, three in blowout fashion, one to the Detroit Pistons.
Where did it all go wrong?
The mind immediately goes to Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Inconsistencies on the Bucks typically start with them and their penchant for shooting the Bucks in and out of games. But that’s what’s kind of interesting. Their inconsistency is so reliable, that it’s hard to just toss blame onto them. They haven’t been any less reliable over the past four games than they were over Milwaukee’s 8-3 stretch in its previous 11 games before the last four losses. Milwaukee can plan for those two to struggle and the Bucks had been living, and occasionally thriving, with the on and off games of its two stars all year.
But suddenly, all that fell apart. Why? Largely defense.
Milwaukee has been a top-10 ranked defense for a large chunk of the season, certainly throughout the 11 game stretch that saw its record balloon from 8-9 to 16-12. Over those 11 games, Milwaukee’s average defensive efficiency was 95.4 according to HoopData.com.
That means over 100 possessions, the Bucks were allowing just 95.4 points. To put that in perspective, the league’s best defensive team this season, those suffocating Indiana Pacers that strangled the Bucks on Saturday evening, have allowed 98.4 points per 100 possessions over the course of the season. Milwaukee was a full three points better than that.
With defense like that, Milwaukee could survive any lulls its offense went through. And its offense went through its share of lulls. Over those 11 games, the Bucks shot just 41.1% and handed out 20.2 assists per game. That’s not the high powered offensive group that dished and dashed like one of the league’s top offenses at the tail end of last season. Its not even the group that the Bucks have rolled out their over the past four games, where they’ve averaged 44.6% shooting and 21 assists per game. As that shooting percentage has climbed, so has the Bucks offensive efficiency. From 98.8 over the 11 game stretch to 100.7 over the past four.
Slight offensive improvements haven’t been enough to counteract a complete and total defensive collapse though.
The Bucks defensive efficiency over the past four games has been 110.6. That means Milwaukee is allowing more than 1.1 points per possession over every 100 possessions. Over the last four Bucks games, there’s been an average of 95.5 possessions per game. So for each one of those possessions, the Bucks are giving up better than a point. That’s Charlotte Bobcats, Sacramento Kings type defense.
It’s rookie defense from a veteran team. I suppose that’s the sort of thing that happens when a team still in search of its identity like the Bucks runs into such defined teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers though.
The Pacers that Milwaukee saw on Saturday certainly bared resemblance to the team Milwaukee beat earlier this season, but only on the defensive end. Indiana has been consistent on that end all season as its searched for effectiveness on offense without Danny Granger. They were plenty effective on that end Saturday and as good as ever on the other end too.
The Bucks? They aren’t the high scoring team we all thought they’d be entering the season. And right now, they aren’t the tough defensive group that won all those games in December.
They’re lost, suddenly three games out of the Central Division lead and still in search of a starting lineup.
Faced with a schedule that includes five road games over their next seven games, the Bucks only luxury is two home games this week against the Suns and those pesky Pistons who helped start this slide. If Milwaukee’s going to find itself any time soon, those two games are a great opportunity to do so.