Seventh seed or bust? Breaking down the Milwaukee Bucks final 13 games
Special guest post from Mitch Vomhof today looking at Milwaukee’s schedule the rest of the way. – J
With 13 games left in the NBA season, playoff races and end-of-year scenarios are starting to play out for teams across the league. After Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Bucks sit at 34-35, squarely in 8th place in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. At this time, it’s a nearly foregone conclusion that they will make the playoffs given a seven-game lead over ninth-place Philadelphia. The real question is whether the Bucks can make up a two-game deficit on seventh-seeded Boston and avoid a killer match-up with the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.
Of course, when a sixth or seventh seed means a match-up with the Knicks and Pacers, it’s hard to get excited about the team’s prospects, especially after the waxing the Pacers delivered the other night. But a winning season and a playoff series that they can push to five, six, or even seven games would go a significant way toward reassuring disgruntled fans and giving the team a sense of what moves to make in the off-season.
We can basically break down the Bucks’ remaining schedule into three categories: Games the Bucks Should Win (Emphasis on should because, well, you know), Games the Bucks Will Probably Lose, and Tossups.
Games the Bucks Should Win:
Wednesday, March 27 @ Philadelphia 76ers – The Bucks own this season series 3-0 and the Sixers were trending downward even before the news broke that Andrew Bynum’s knees required surgery and he’d miss the rest of the season.
Monday, April 1 vs. Charlotte Bobcats, Saturday, April 13 @ Bobcats – The Bucks and Cats have split the season series 1-1 so far, but one of these teams has something to play for while the Bobcats are headed to the lottery again. They may be good soon with all of those high picks, but the Bucks should sweep the rest of this season series.
Saturday, April 7 vs. Toronto Raptors – Two wins against the Raps already and Rudy Gay might be shut down for the season by the time this game is played.
Wednesday, April 10 @ Orlando Magic – The J.J. Redick trade seemed to signal the raising of the white flag for the Magic, who are now playing for the future rather than the present. Tobias Harris has been a pleasant surprise (cue every Bucks fan banging head against anything nearby) now that he’s getting regular minutes and the Magic have flashed some talent, but they are the definition of a “Should Beat” team right now.
Games the Bucks Will Probably Lose:
Thursday, March 28 vs Los Angeles Lakers – Playing the Lakers on the second night of an away/home back-to-back? The Bucks had their hands full (and lost by 16) in the first match-up, where the Lakers were without Pau Gasol and not playing particularly well. A full-strength and more cohesive Lakers team (10-5 since the All-Star Break) doesn’t bode well for the Bucks’ chances in this game.
Saturday, March 30 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, – The second-best team in the NBA. Even at home, this is a brutal game for the Bucks and I’m not sure that even the encouragement of a Vanilla Ice halftime show can spur them on to a win. But this game has Kevin Durant AND Vanilla Ice … what more could you want?
Tuesday, April 9 @ Miami Heat – “The Bucks match up well with the Heat” was a pretty common narrative in the first half when the Bucks played the defending champs close in the first game and stole a win in the second. That talk quieted when the Heat rolled into Milwaukee on March 15 and won easily. The only hope the Bucks have here is that the Heat decide to go easy on their starters because they’ve already locked up the #1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. But if this whole winning streak that the Heat are on is still rolling then, this would be record breaking game number 34. I THINK THEY’LL PROBABLY PLAY EVERYONE.
Friday, April 12 @ Atlanta Hawks – The Bucks can’t buy a win against Atlanta this year, which is especially damning because those Hawks were within catching distance for most of the year. After Sunday’s debacle ending, it’s hard to envision the Bucks pulling one out in Atlanta for the first time this year.
Monday, April 15 vs. Denver Nuggets – What George Karl has done with the superstarless Nuggets is outstanding. The Nuggets seem to be the team the Bucks wish they could be – smart, efficient, fast, tough defensively, winning games on a regular basis, etc. Not even a career game from Sam Dalembert (35 points, 12 rebounds) could keep the Bucks from losing the last time these two teams faced off, and I don’t think we’ll see that happen again against a deep team that looks more dangerous the longer their win streak continues.
Wednesday, April 3 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves – The Bucks lost a tough game to the Timberwolves early in the season, which prevents me from putting this into the “Should Win” category. A lot of this game hinges on Kevin Love’s availability – he’s been out since February 27 with a broken hand and the results of a recent CT scan will go a long way toward determining his availability for the rest of the season. If Love is out, the Bucks will have a much easier time with this game.
Friday, April 5 vs. New York Knicks – It’s hard to get a read on whether this is a good match-up for the Bucks. On one hand, the Knicks are without Amar’e Stoudamire until at least the playoffs due to his own knee problems, and are generally banged up in the frontcourt with Tyson Chandler, Kurt Thomas, and Rasheed Wallace missing time for various reasons. On the other hand, they do have Carmelo Anthony, who has played at a near-MVP level the entire season and averaged 27 points against the Bucks in their two meetings so far this year.
Wednesday, April 17 @ Oklahoma City Thunder – Yes, we’re being generous here. This game gets bumped from a “Probably Lose” to a “Tossup” because the Thunder will likely be resting their starters for the playoffs. Unfortunately, a match-up of the Bucks versus the Thunder bench is far from a guaranteed victory.
Overall, this breakdown gives us a 6-7 or 7-6 record for the remainder of the Bucks’ season (splitting the tossup games evenly). The Bucks’ remaining opponents this season have a .486 winning percentage, which is coincidentally almost exactly the same as the Bucks’ (.494). The best-case scenario, it would seem at this point, is that the Bucks stay around .500 or climb a few games above by the end of the regular season. If that happens, they’ll need some help from the Celtics, who have lost four straight and are without Kevin Garnett right now, to climb into the seventh spot in the East and avoid a Miami matchup in the first round of the playoffs.
Speaking of the Celtics, they don’t exactly have a cakewalk the rest of the way. Their schedule is comparable to the Bucks’: Two games against the Knicks, Miami, Atlanta, Brooklyn, Indiana, and even the Cleveland Cavaliers could be stumbling blocks for an aging and depleted Boston team. If the Bucks end up a game or two over .500, they could very well find themselves in that treasured seventh spot.
It’s entirely possible that circumstances may change as the season winds down – injuries happen all the time or playoff teams/lottery teams may rest their starters as they have nothing to gain. However, as things currently stand, the Bucks will likely end up exactly where we thought they would be: an eight seed with a quick exit from the playoffs and another set of hard decisions to be made in the off-season.
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Categories: Playoff talk