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Bucks Continuing to Trend Upward Despite Back-to-Back losses to the Champs

Dec. 23, 2016
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The Milwaukee Bucks are back under .500 at 13-14 after back-to-back division losses to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers this week. While there are no moral victories in the NBA, they certainly gave the Cavs all they can handle. The first came Tuesday night as LeBron James hit a couple deep threes from Steph Curry range to give the Cavs a 114-108 win on “Fear The Deer” night in Milwaukee.

"It's something I practice before the game,” James said post game Tuesday night. “It's something I do on practice days and I was shooting the ball extremely well tonight from the perimeter. So, I just trust it. I trust in what I've been doing and the work I've been putting into it and knock it down."

James finished with a game-high 34 points along with 12 rebounds and seven assists while playing 48 minutes to ensure his team would not fall to the Bucks for the second time in a row. This performance was in response to Milwaukee’s 118-101 beat down of the champs back on November 29th. In fact, the Cavs jumped out to a 17-point lead in the second quarter but the Bucks stormed back to make a game of it heading into the locker room down 57-53. Milwaukee battled the entire game and had their chances to pull it off in the end but their youth hurt them in the end.

Jabari Parker, who led the Bucks with 30 points and nine rebounds, made the game-tying basket in regulation but missed two free throws to tie the game late it OT after James hit the go-ahead three to make it 110-108. It’s tough to see Jabari’s big game effort go to waste but the fact that the Bucks fought to the end and made the Cavs earn the victory through the final whistle says a lot about where this team is at right now. Giannis Antetokounmpo added 25 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks, but fouled out in OT as his foul trouble continues to be an issue this season.

Wednesday night was an even more daunting task for the Bucks, who had to head to Cleveland for the first time this season. There was a special moment before the game as Matthew Dellavedova, who signed a lucrative four-year dollar deal with the Bucks over the summer, received his championship ring from the Cavs. His appreciation didn’t go unnoticed by his former teammates, who mobbed him at midcourt. Here’s an inside look at Delly’s return to Cleveland.

The game itself was once again a fight, but Kyrie Irving and King James were too much for Giannis and Jabari as the Cavs pulled away for a 113-102 victory to improve to 21-6 on the season. Kyrie led the Cavs with 31 points and 13 assists after finishing with 28 points and five assists the previous night. The former No. 1 overall pick in 2011 was playing motivated and knows that Milwaukee is a team that he can’t take lightly anymore.

"I hope, man. It would be great, four games against them," Irving said post-game when asked about possibly facing this team in the playoffs. "I'm fired up to go against them every time now, for real. Ever since they kicked our (butts) in Milwaukee it's been personal and it's going to continue to be personal."

Playing without Kevin Love, the third member of the “Big 3”, for the second night in a row meant it would take another big game from LeBron and company. James finished with 29 points, nine rebounds, and six assists in 34 minutes while the Cavs got 10 points each from Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, and Iman Shumpert. The Bucks battled to stay in the game and trailed by just five at halftime, 59-54. Cleveland used a big third quarter to get a comfortable 15-point lead heading into the fourth. The Bucks fought till the end but ran out of gas down the stretch to bring their record to 4-7 on the road. Giannis led Milwaukee with 28 points, five rebounds, and five assists while Jabari poured in 27 points for his second consecutive strong performance including knocking down 4-5 shots from three.

Malcolm Brogdon added 11 points off the bench in 27 minutes, but the Bucks failed to have anyone else score in double figures with Michael Beasley missing his fourth straight game with a foot injury. There was a sighting, though, as he played 16 minutes while scoring eight points on 3-7 shooting including 2-3 from three. It was a good sign for the former first-round pick, who has bounced back and forth from the D-League this season.

Making a Statement

The Bucks began this week at 13-12 and a top five seed in the East after they absolutely embarrassed the Chicago Bulls in back-to-back games last week Thursday and Friday. It started with a 108-97 beat down at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which only looked closer in the box score than if you actually watched the game. It was Milwaukee’s first nationally televised game at home on TNT since 2002 when Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson were leading the Bucks. With new franchise cornerstones Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker now at the forefront for the foreseeable future, the Bucks showed the rest of the league just why they are a team on the rise. Giannis led the way with 30 points to go along with 14 rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Jabari added 28 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals, as Milwaukee simply owned Chicago from start to finish. Former Marquette star Jimmy Butler did manage to get 21 points to lead the Bulls but shot 6-16 from the field.

As much fun as last Thursday was, it was even better the next night in Chicago as the Bucks dusted the Bulls 95-69 to take a 2-0 lead in the season series. It was lowest scoring output for the Bulls and any Bucks opponent so far this season. Giannis led all scorers once again with 22 points to go along with a game-high 11 assists, seven rebounds, and three steals. What was even more impressive is that it looked effortless for him out there. Parker chipped in 12 points on 6-8 shooting with seven rebounds but played only 27 minutes. Milwaukee had a total of six players in double figures with Greg Monroe finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds in just 23 minutes. The Bulls came out flat for the second straight night and finished with only two players in double figures led by Dwyane Wade’s 12 points on 5-14 shooting in 24 minutes.

Milwaukee’s performances against the Bulls last week followed by their relentless effort against the Cavs sent a message to the rest of the Eastern Conference and entire NBA for that matter that the Deer are a force to be reckoned with. It used to be that the Bucks would have a breakout game here and there while showing off their young stars and future potential. This was certainly the case last season despite making the playoffs two years ago ahead of schedule. While they float around .500 this season and wait for Khris Middleton to come back, this team continues to prove it’s dangerous and ready to bring it every night as they gradually figure out their identity.

Not Your Typical Rookie

It’s hard to ignore what a difference maker rookie Malcolm Brogdon has been for the Bucks this season. The 23-year-old second round pick out of Virginia has averaged 7.7 points, 3.1 assists, 2.2 rebounds per game with a player efficiency rating of 12.41 through 27 games. He is shooting 41.8% from the field while leading the Bucks in three-point percentage at nearly 42% on the season. Brogdon is playing just under 22 minutes per game and has been extremely efficient in his backup point guard role behind starter Matthew Dellavedova. Not only has he shot the ball well, but he has played solid defense while taking care of the basketball. If you watched him play at Virginia then it’s not surprising to see that his game has translated so well to the pro level. What may be surprising is just how much athleticism the 6’5” guard has. Going back to last week versus the Bulls and this week against the Cavs, Brogdon broke the Internet as he threw down not one or two, but three posterizing dunks on three of the game's elite stars. It started with Dwyane Wade followed by Kyrie Irving and none other than the King himself.

While some say playing four years of college may have hurt his draft stock, I believe it helped him that much more. His maturity level, basketball IQ, and understanding of the NBA game are light years ahead of most rookies. As the season rolls on, Brogdon continues to look more and more like the steal of the draft and has been a perfect fit inside Jason Kidd’s offense working alongside Jabari and Giannis, who are both still younger than him.

Jabari Flying Under The Radar

A lot of hype and attention around the Bucks has been centered around Giannis and rightfully so. After the last four games, Giannis has brought his season averages to 22.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 2.1 steals per game with an impressive PER of 27.38, which is good for sixth in the NBA.

Not only does he seem to be a lock for the All-Star game but he’s also making his case for the league's most improved player award. With the NBA announcing changes to voting allowing players and coaches to also have a say on starters, Giannis has a great chance of becoming the first Buck to start an All-Star since Sidney Moncrief did it in 1986.

Let’s not forget that there’s another young stud in Milwaukee named Jabari Parker, who has started to quietly become a household name like the Bucks hoped he would after drafting him. The former 2nd overall pick in 2014 is having a breakout season while developing into the perfect compliment alongside the Greek Freak. After tearing his ACL in his rookie season after just 25 games and going through his first full season last year, the former Duke Blue Devil is looking healthy and stronger than ever. He’s averaging 20.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while playing 32.1 minutes and shooting 38.4% from downtown, all career-highs.

Before this season, Jabari stubbornly tried to get the rim while looking like a one-dimensional player and only taking a total of 51 threes in his first two years. So far this season, Jabari has hit 33-86 attempts from the outside including 13 of his last 25. While it’s fun to watch him explode to the basket and dunk over people, it’s important he continues to keep defenses honest with the ability to knock down the open shot. The more comfortable he looks shooting the ball from the outside, the easier it will be for him to get into the paint where he likes to dominate and show off his tremendous bounce and athleticism. Defense has been an issue for the 21-year-old to start his career but Jabari has shown flashes of improvement while committing to becoming a two-way player for Milwaukee.

It’s no secret this is becoming Giannis’ team especially after Jason Kidd gave him the keys to offense last season. That being said, Jabari has looked like the better scorer at times while making sure people understand that he’s just as important to the team’s success moving forward.

Up Next

As we head into the Christmas weekend, the Bucks will play yet another home and home sequence against the same opponent for the third time this month as they welcome the 13-15 Washington Wizards to the BMO Harris Bradley Center tonight. The Wizards hold a 1-0 series lead after they defeated the Bucks 110-105 back on December 10th behind a combined 44 points from Bradley Beal and John Wall, who also finished with a game-high 11 assists. The Greek Freak had 28 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists in 41 minutes while Jabari Parker scored all of his eight points in the first half. Mirza Teletovic had his highest output of the season with 25 points on 8-12 shooting including 5-6 from three, but Washington closed the game on a 15-5 run.

Tip for tonight’s game will be 7 p.m. CT and will air on Fox Sports Wisconsin. The second leg of this two-game series will be on Monday night in Washington with tip coming at 6 p.m. CT, also on FSWI.

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