It’s Time for the Bucks to Make Their Move
When you look at the recipe for success in the NBA it comes down to three things.
Energy. Effort. Execution.
Those three things haven’t been consistent in the now 29-33 Milwaukee Bucks this season. Over the course of their current three-game winning streak over the Clippers, Raptors and 76ers they have shown a higher sense of urgency, but the Bucks have underwhelmed this season by many standards. They now sit just 1.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It’s no secret they have been devastated by injuries once again but refuse to give up on this season. Their ‘Big Three’ of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton haven’t been a full tripod for the entire season except for two and half quarters in an early February loss to the Heat. With Jabari in the midst of yet another lengthy rehab process, a frustrated Bucks team could have could have just sulked and no one would really take notice. While most would like to see them tank for a higher draft pick, the goal and attitude to make the playoffs has never changed. Led by first time All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo and a rejuvenated Khris Middleton, the Deer are starting to find themselves at the right time.
Just when they may have found something else with scoring machine Michael Beasley in the starting lineup, he suffered a hyperextended knee back on February 27 that has sidelined him for the last three games. Even that didn’t change the focus for Milwaukee. It’s been a next man up philosophy and Khris Middleton may have been exactly what this team has needed all along. Khash has recently been inserted in the starting lineup and is starting to look like the Khris Middleton we have come to know and love. He’s knocking down shots while creating for his teammates and is starting to ramp us his intensity on the defensive end. In the first four games this month, Khash is averaging 19.3 points, 5.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals while shooting 44% from three. Not to mention, he played his first back-to-back setting this past weekend and seems to be off his minute restriction as he’s played over 30 minutes in each contest since March 1.
With Milwaukee staying pretty much silent at the trade deadline, the message was clear that they aren’t giving up on this season. They had plenty of assets to move around, but ultimately decided to just dump veteran center Roy Hibbert to the Nuggets for a future second round pick. Hibbert had been acquired in the Miles Plumlee trade back in early February along with Spencer Hawes. With Hibbert on an expiring deal and never really in the plans for the Bucks, the move made a lot of sense and it opened up a roster spot. Milwaukee used that spot to sign the newly named G-League (Gatorade League) All-Star Axel Toupane to 10-day contract. However, Toupane saw limited action in two games before being released to make way for forward Terrance Jones, whom the Bucks signed off waivers on March 2 after being bought out by the Pelicans. Jones, a former first round pick in 2012 out of Kentucky, is an intriguing option for this Bucks team especially with Beasley expected to miss at least another two weeks. The 25-year-old Jones averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in 51 games for New Orleans before being released. His most notable performance this season came back on January 23 in a win over the Cavs where he scored 36 points to go along with 11 rebounds, three blocks and two assists. He’s a high-energy guy with athleticism and versatility on both ends of the floor, which could be very valuable to the Bucks down the stretch.
Hawes a Factor?
Who would have thought that Spencer Hawes, who didn’t see action in his first 11 games with Milwaukee, could be a factor this season? When it seemed he would be an afterthought to an already loaded front court, Hawes found his way into the rotation the last couple games while providing a big spark off the bench in the Bucks 101-94 win over the Raptors on Saturday with 16 points on 6-7 shooting to go along with eight rebounds in 17 minutes. Not to get too excited, he played just six minutes in Monday night’s win over the 76ers and scored just two points on 1-4 shooting. While he seems like a fit with his ability to stretch the defense with his outside shooting, it’s impossible to predict whether there will be enough minutes to go around with rookie Thon Maker and Greg Monroe occupying a majority of them. Nonetheless, he’s someone to keep an eye out for the rest of the way.
During an 82 game season, it’s simply impossible for teams to find energy every night. The schedule is too brutal with travel and playing an average of three games a week with back-to-backs at times. For a young team like Milwaukee, it seems like they should be able to bring energy more often, but that hasn’t been the case. It’s not hard to tell when a team has energy and it usually starts with the stars. When Giannis comes out in attack mode, the rest of the team feeds off him and they tend to have success. When he comes out flat, it means they are in trouble. However, it’s a team game and there are times that they struggle even when Giannis has a good game and vice versa. Every team has their off nights in the NBA but when it happens to the Bucks, it’s usually because they aren’t in sync offensively or they have problems with their defensive scheme allowing teams to get too many open looks from three. Oh and don’t get me started on their inability to close out games, which actually has improved as of late thanks to the return of Middleton.
I could make excuses for this Bucks team for days but that’s not that point. It’s time to look at the bigger picture and there is still light at the end of the tunnel for the Bucks, who are the midst of a heated playoff race. Despite head coach Jason Kidd taking a lot of heat and criticism for his questionable rotations at times, the Bucks are just 2.5 games back of the sixth seeded Indiana Pacers with 20 games to play. After all that they’ve been through this season, and last season for that matter, getting into the playoffs would be a huge step for this Bucks team moving forward. After taking a step back last season with just 33 wins it would say a lot about their character and direction of the franchise. Even if it means sneaking into the eighth spot and having to play the Cavs, playoff experience is playoff experience no matter how you look at it.
That being said, it all comes down to the players and how much they really want it. It’s not going to be an easy task. Following a key three-game home stand this week starting tonight with the Knicks, 12 of the last 17 games come on the road including a brutal west coast road trip where they will play six games in a span of nine days from March 13-22. That includes a rematch with the Clippers and a date with the Kevin Durant-less Warriors. With Khris Middleton offsetting the Parker injury, the addition of Terrance Jones, the hopeful return of Michael Beasley and the obvious leadership of All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the pieces are in place for Milwaukee to make a run. That should be enough motivation for the Bucks to close out the season strong because anything can happen come playoff time. It’s up to them and only they can decide their fate.