Top seven most intriguing games on the Bucks’ schedule

The NBA released the schedule for the 2015-16 season Wednesday night and as luck would have it, the Bucks are on it!

You can find the full schedule here.

As usual, Milwaukee will play 82 games: 41 at home and 41 on the road. After being shut out of the national TV slate for the last two years, the Bucks will play three Wednesday night games on ESPN and one Thursday night game on TNT. Those are in addition to eight games that will air on NBA TV.

The guys at ProBasketballTalk did an excellent job of breaking down schedule favorability based on back-to-backs. As their chart indicates, the Bucks join the Rockets, Clippers, Warriors and Pistons with 20 back-to-back sets, the most in the league. Milwaukee also faces opponents who will be on the second half of back-to-backs 20 times, tied for the sixth-most in the league.

The season begins Wednesday, October 28 with the Bucks hosting the Knicks in what will be Milwaukee’s first home season opener since 1984. That’s where we’ll start our look at the most intriguing games on the 2015-16 schedule:

  vs. New York Knicks – Wednesday, October 28 (8:00PM ET – FSWI)

What’s most noteworthy about this game was just written above. The Bucks will open at home for the first time in 31 years, marking a change in philosophy for an organization that has traditionally exchanged a road season opener for the opportunity to play its home opener on a weekend night. As a franchise operating in one of the league’s smallest markets, that strategy makes sense. The fact that it’s now being abandoned speaks to the increased pull the new-look Bucks expect to have on the city of Milwaukee and surrounding areas.

Opening against a Knicks team coming off of a 17-win season also presents a great opportunity to begin the season with a victory, something the Bucks haven’t done since 2012. Milwaukee swept all four games from New York last season, and though the Knicks improved with the additions of Kristaps Porzingis, Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez, they still figure to be on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Whether Carmelo Anthony can return to All-NBA form after being hampered by a knee injury last season will ultimately determine how well New York rebounds after the worst year in franchise history.

With a new look, a splashy free agent addition, and the dark cloud of arena uncertainty now clear, the home opener will be met with a great deal of hype. Unfortunately, the Bucks may be without two of their top players. Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out as he serves the one-game suspension handed down by the league for his takedown of Mike Dunleavy in last year’s playoffs. Meanwhile, Jabari Parker continues to rehab his knee, and as of mid-August it’s still unclear whether Milwaukee expects him to be ready for the start of the season.

  @ Cleveland Cavaliers – Thursday, November 19 (8:00PM ET – TNT)

The Bucks face the defending Eastern Conference champions in what will be MIlwaukee’s first regular season, national TV game – not including NBA TV – since December of 2012*. It will be the second matchup with the Cavs in a five-day span after LeBron and friends visit the BMOHBC on Nov. 14.

Milwaukee went 1-3 against Cleveland last season, losing twice by five points or less with an 18-point drubbing sprinkled in between. The lone win came on New Year’s Eve with James and Kevin Love on the sideline in street clothes, so the Bucks are yet to prove they can conquer a team that, when healthy, is the class of the Eastern Conference by a fair margin.

This isn’t a game the Bucks must win, but it’s an opportunity to notch a signature win in front of a national audience early in the season.

*From what I could find. Please harass me in the comments if I’m wrong.

  vs. Detroit Pistons – Monday, November 23 (8:00PM ET – FSWI)

This one goes without saying.

Ersan Ilyasova returns to Milwaukee for the first time since being traded to Detroit earlier this summer. I’m getting goosebumps just writing this.

As polarizing a player as Ersan could be, he was with the organization for a nearly a decade and certainly earned what will be a warm welcome back. The listed start time is 8:00PM ET, but you can go ahead and bump that back a good 10 minutes or so right now to compensate for the standing ovation.

Ilyasova isn’t the type of player who will try for a “revenge game,” but with his emotions charged up, it wouldn’t be surprising if he goes off for three or four charges by halftime. And if the tribute video – there will be a tribute video – is set to anything other than eastern European industrial metal, I’ll be beyond disappointed.

Feels like as good a time as any for this:

Of course, the other storyline is Greg Monroe facing his former team for the first time. Monroe never quite achieved star status in Detroit, but with five-year averages of 14.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists, he’s been the franchise’s best player since entering the league as the seventh pick in the 2010 draft. 

  @ Los Angeles Clippers – Wednesday, December 16 (10:30PM ET – ESPN)

The first of three primetime, ESPN games comes midway through December, as Milwaukee’s schedule begins to toughen up. The Bucks face only three Western Conference opponents in November – Sacramento once, Denver twice – but that number jumps to 10 in December.

The Dec. 16 date with Los Angeles falls in the midst of a brutal portion of the schedule. Milwaukee plays the Clippers and Warriors twice, each, over a nine-day stretch that also includes a date with the Raptors in Toronto. The Clippers matchup falls on the second night of a back-to-back, though with the Lakers on the schedule Tuesday night, travel won’t be an issue.

With the exposure an ESPN telecast provides, the game is another opportunity for the Bucks to prove they belong on the national TV slate. It goes without saying, however, that the Clippers are a difficult opponent, and they project to be even better – not to mention much deeper – than the team that nearly made the West Finals last season.

  @ Chicago Bulls – Tuesday, January 5 (8:00PM ET – NBA TV)

The Bucks and Bulls came dangerously close last postseason to reviving what has lately been a woefully one-sided “rivalry” between Central Division foes. Despite Milwaukee falling behind 0-3, the series certainly had the feel of a rivalry, with dust-ups, flagrants, ejections and suspensions coloring the six-game set. 

Series-long tensions came to a head in Game 6, when Antetokounmpo went full Sean Taylor on Dunleavy, earning an ejection and subsequent one-game ban.

The hit was presumably in retaliation to a couple of Dunleavy cheap shots earlier in the game.

Obviously, it will be interesting to note whether last season’s tempers carry over to this first meeting of 2015-16, with both rosters still largely intact. 

Antetokounmpo publicly apologized and admitted that he regrets the Dunleavy incident, so things likely won’t be as chippy. However, if one thing was made clear during that series, it’s that Milwaukee will no longer tolerate being pushed around by its big brother to the south.

With the Bucks now entrenched as an up-and-comer in the East and Bulls’ future somewhat uncertain under a new coaching staff, the rivalry shouldn’t be so lopsided in the years to come. 

  vs. Dallas Mavericks – Friday, January 8 (8:00PM ET – FSWI)

There isn’t much precedent for retiring players’ numbers while they’re still active in the NBA, but I could see the Bucks making an exception here. 

Zaza Pachulia will be back in Milwaukee for the first time wearing Mavericks blue. Much like Ilyasova, Pachulia was never a great player, but he scrapped his way to fan-favorite status over the past two seasons. There’s no question he’ll receive a hearty ovation when he’s introduced, but I’m not sure he’ll get a tribute video. We shall see.

On the basketball side of things, the Mavericks are expected to take a step back this season after failing to reload in free agency, as they hoped to do. Dallas had the look of a playoff-caliber team after the DeAndre Jordan pseudo-signing, but without an athletic rim-protector to replace Tyson Chandler, the Mavs are now one of the top two candidates, along with Portland, to back out of the Western Conference playoff picture.

This is very much a winnable game for Milwaukee, and it falls at a key juncture in the schedule, with the Bucks coming off of a tough, home/road back-to-back set against the Spurs and Bulls.

 @ Brooklyn – Sunday, March 13 (6:00PM ET – FSWI)

This game doesn’t stand out as particularly intriguing, at least on paper. It’s not the Bucks’ first game of the season in Brooklyn – that’s Nov. 2 – and besides, it’s been a year since Jason Kidd defected to Milwaukee. That storyline lost its juiciness months ago. 

While they might not have looked like it for most of the year, the Nets were a playoff team in 2015, putting up an admirable fight against the top-seed Hawks. With most of its core still intact, Brooklyn, assuming it finds a point guard, should once again hover around the eighth seed in a weak Eastern Conference. So a lot could be riding on this game for both teams. 

For Milwaukee, the matchup falls in the middle of what is easily its toughest stretch of the season. Over a 19-day span, the Bucks face a gauntlet of probable playoff teams with a trio of back-to-backs. 

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Yikes. I don’t know which of those games you can truly feel good about. Detroit? Utah, maybe?

The Bucks could fairly easily enter the Nets matchup on a four-game skid, and with Toronto and Memphis looming ahead, getting a win in Brooklyn could be vital to staying in contention for a top five or six seed.

And let us not forget what happened last time these teams met at the Barclays Center. The Bucks attempted 129 shots, Zaza freaking Pachulia set a single-game rebounding record, Bojan Bogdanovic played 49 minutes, and the Bucks lost in triple-overtime. What a night it was.

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  1. For those of us out-of-staters, I think I heard that we’ll be able to purchase the NBA by the game, instead of necessarily a season pass. What might be even better is that the NBA might give a price break on the season pass if we pick just one team to follow, such as only Bucks games. I’m not sure about this, but it’s a couple possibilities to look for.

    • Thats awesome. I’m not out of state, but I’m too cheap to get cable so I’ve been doing the league pass and while it’s cool to have 5 teams options to watch, I found that I didn’t watch the other 4 as much because if there was a Bucks game on that was obviously priority. So if that is true that it would be cheaper with only one team I would think about that for sure.

  2. They’re offering a single-game, pay-per-view option this season, but the cost is $7/game (I think), so it’s actually cheaper to just buy the entire season package if you plan on watching most of the Bucks’ games. I’m not sure how blackout rules apply to single games, though.