The Milwaukee Bucks are in the middle of a season that could end with a rare playoff berth. I say it could because the Bucks have had to deal with a coach’s firing/leaving before the season was half over and if the Los Angeles Lakers have taught us anything this season, it’s that an early coaching change can cause a domino effect of problems for the team. In the Bucks case they’ve been able to avoid imploding. And even though they lost tonight 96-86 to the New York Knicks, the Bucks haven’t done that bad against the best teams on their schedule thus far.
The Bucks have had to go up against some of the best teams in the NBA already and the results have been, like the Bucks’ play this season, mixed. Already the Bucks have had to face the Knicks twice, the San Antonio Spurs twice, the Chicago Bulls four times, the Miami Heat twice, the Indiana Pacers three times and have played the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Los Angeles Clippers once.
Simply put, the Bucks have fared terribly against the Western Conference. The Bucks this year are a combined 1-5 against their toughest Western Conference opponents. The losses haven’t been pretty either. Among those five losses were a 15-point loss to the Rockets, two double-digit losses to the Spurs, a nearly 20-point loss to the Grizzlies, and a nearly 30-point loss to the Clippers. The lone positive and win against tough competition from out west was their 109-102 win against the Warriors last weekend.
Since Eastern Conference foes are more familiar to the Bucks, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that their fortunes have been much better against the best they play from the East. The fact that the Bucks are 3-1 against the Boston Celtics with every one of those games featuring a healthy Rajon Rondo shows the Celtics’ fall from a more dominant position within their conference. The fact that the Bucks are a combined 6-4 against the Bulls, Heat, Pacers, and Brooklyn Nets shows that this is a team that can compete with some of the best in the East on most nights. They can’t every time they play them, but it is a step in the right direction.
The loss to the Knicks tonight did demonstrate another problem that has been facing the Bucks long before this season even began: finishing games. Tonight they were up at halftime and only down by one point going into the fourth quarter. Then things went downhill fast. The Knicks slowly continued to take control and build their lead while the Bucks were trying to make shots and play some kind of defense. Both failed for the Bucks and they ended up with a double-digit loss in a big road game that they were winning for a good deal of it.
If the Bucks ever want to become a team that routinely makes the playoffs and challenges for the Central Division, games like these have become less in quantity. Games like tonight’s for the Bucks happen to every team at one point or another, but with the Bucks it is a more frequent occurrence. The fact that the Bucks are able to compete and played good at times against such high-level teams tells me that they have potential, but that potential can’t be unleashed if they continue to let important games like tonight’s get away.