Welcome back from our hiatus, and the NBA All-Star break, to another edition of “State of the Milwaukee Bucks.” We kick off the second half of the NBA season with a special Leap Year edition, because hey, it’s not every year you get to enjoy February 29th!

So what have you missed since our last Bucks report? When we last saw you, the Bucks had been 5-5 in their last 10 games, but were coming off a tough home loss to the Orlando Magic in which the Bucks couldn’t hang on to a 4th quarter lead. Following that game, Milwaukee slid into the All-Star break losing 5 of their next 6 games, extending their home losing streak to 6 games. The only win came on the road against a struggling New Jersey Nets team, and while they had some hard-fought battles that fell short, they also had plenty of embarrassment. It’s still hard to look back at the home loss to the (at the time) 5-23 New Orleans Hornets. That was certainly the epitome of disappointment for this team.

The Bucks saw all the highs and lows in their first game back, but took a nail-biter against the Washington Wizards last night. The win boosted Milwaukee’s record against the Eastern Conference to 10-11 and an even 8-8 record at home.

The patented “One Bad Quarter” strikes again! A 2nd quarter 22-point lead for Milwaukee evaporated into a 2-point deficit near the end of the 3rd. Instead of the option of coasting through their return game, the Bucks were stuck having to battle the rest of the way. The difference between the Bucks team in the 3rd vs. the Bucks team for the remainder of the game was stunning. Throughout the 3rd quarter, there were stretches of minutes where Milwaukee couldn’t find the basket. They were incredibly active in the first half, and perhaps they ran out of steam a bit. Fatigue can be an epidemic on this team. Again, it took the length of a quarter for Washington to orchestrate a 24-point swing in their favor. And it’s easy to see how the Bucks really take frustration as a group.

The 4th quarter began with the Bucks up 3, and they played the back and forth game until the end, which ended up as a thriller. Facing a 1-point disadvantage in the final minute, Brandon Jennings drove to the basket but missed the floater, but the shot was soft enough to have a light bounce off the rim, allowing a put-back by Ersan Ilyasova in the closing seconds. A costly travel call voided the Wizards only attempt at a game-winning shot.

There were double-doubles all around; Jennings and Drew Gooden both had one, and Ilyasova had his 4th in the last 5 games. It was a well-rounded game for a team that scored 67 points in the first half. The shooting hit disaster level in the 3rd quarter, but it wasn’t a bad night on the court as the Bucks hit 45% of their shots. The Bucks have attempted more shots than their opponent in the last 9 consecutive games. Of those 9 games, Milwaukee had the lower shooting percentage in 8 of them, and they went 3-6 in those games. Quantity doesn’t always equal quality.

It was the defense that lapsed against the usually up-tempo Wizards. The results on the hustle board fell in Milwaukee’s favor, taking the battle in rebounds along with steals and turnovers, which they so commonly do this season. Rebounding hasn’t always been their strongest suit. In their 20 losses this year, the Bucks hold a -126 advantage in rebounding, while they are a simple +6 in their 14 wins.

Thankfully this one ended up as a win. If this has been a loss, fans would have rightfully been upset. A lot went right, while a lot still went wrong. But instead, it just becomes another win, what will mostly be considered a “formality” win as they look back on this later in the year.

So what does the rest of the week hold in store? The Bucks hit the road for a fun little Atlantic coast trip, hitting up Boston tonight, followed by Atlanta and Orlando in the next 4 days. Those three teams combine for a 58-44 record and Milwaukee already sports a 0-3 mark against those teams. It will be the Bucks first matchup with Boston this year. Before next Wednesday’s report, the Bucks will come back home to begin a 3-game home stand starting with Philadelphia.

Thanks for tuning in. Hopefully the All-Star break treated you well, and if you’re checking in for some Milwaukee Bucks tidbits, you’re probably equally excited for the approaching college basketball tournament. For the near future, we’ll be combining the Wednesday and Sunday Bucks report into one solid, meatier Wednesday edition. And if you are a vegetarian, we’ll find something fun for you as well!

 

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  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    I have a question about John Hammond and, as an admittedly casual fan of the NBA, I’m not sure of the answer.

    A few years ago when the Bucks had Richard Jefferson, they looked to be on the right track to me. I know I was in the minority as RJ was never viewed to be a long-term solution, but he seemed to me to be a hard-working and talented player who wanted to be in Milwaukee. I thought he was a guy, with the other pieces they had at the time, that the Bucks could build with if not around. I envisioned Hammond modeling the Bucks after the Detroit teams he served that had a lot of good players with the right attitude and work ethic to make up for the lack of a superstar.

    But Hammond decided Jefferson was too expensive to get the Bucks where they should be so he dealt him to San Antonio as part of his plan to gain salary cap flexibility. The Bucks surprising playoff run a couple years ago seemed to vindicate the strategy and on paper Hammond seemed to have made the right moves.

    Unfortunately, his personnel decisions haven’t translated into sustained success on the basketball court and the team appears to have spent recent years retrenching instead of building on whatever foundation that they had.

    Anyway, watching RJ’s adjustment to the Spurs has me wondering whether that could have happened in Milwaukee. Did Hammond ultimately outsmart himself by making too many moves or is he is simply a victim of bad luck?

  • http://www.milwaukeebriansports.com/ Brian

    I felt the same way you did with Jefferson. While he seemed like just a commodity at the time, he had shown he was a piece that fit well with the team. Now, I’ve written too much about the cleanup job Hammond has had to do following Larry Harris. And in all honestly, dumping off all those bloated contracts was borderline miraculous.

    The thing I liked most over the Hammond years is that he never blew up the team. Other teams scrap everything and end up stuck in the league basement for too long. The Bucks remained (mostly) competitive and gave fans a reason to not give up entirely on the team. It’s tough in a small market, but that can be the difference between life and death (just ask the Seattle Supersonics).

    So we get back to your point. While simultaneously keeping the team competitive and shedding years of horrific financial moves, perhaps Hammond got a little too transaction-happy. I would probably lean toward the bad luck side, but with a conditional asterisk.

    All Hammond’s contract dumping, one would have to assume, has been building up towards the hope that he could lure in a franchise-altering free agent pickup. If he finds a way to cut the contracts of Stephen Jackson and Drew Gooden, either through a trade or the amnesty clause, and uses this offseason to make that free agent pickup, then it was all worth it. The playoff near misses, the constant team chemistry change; it was all worth it.

    If he doesn’t make that impact this offseason and the team struggles again, there will be plenty of talk about his and Skiles’ job. At that point, he probably outsmarted himself.

  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    Here’s my ‘problem’ with the scenario you suggest; if the goal is indeed to get a game/team changing player, I’m afraid they’re doomed to fail. Because, unless they’re somehow able to get such a player in the draft that they’re able to control for a few years, no one of that caliber is likely going to want to play in MKE. That’s why I thought the ‘Detroit model’ was a more realistic way to proceed.

  • Brian

    Absolutely! They have to build their team through the NBA Draft, just as we see Ted Thompson do with the Green Bay Packers. Brandon Jennings, Andrew Bogut (if somehow healthy), Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute. I like the reserve roles Jon Leuer and Tobias Harris have played. Some good building blocks.

    Now they just need to go out and get their “Charles Woodson.”