Last shots: Clippers 127, Bucks 120

MILWAUKEE | Twenty last shots for the 20 point effort by Bucks forward Jabari Parker in Milwaukee’s 127-120 loss to the LA Clippers on Wednesday night.

1. When All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo exited the game after twisting his right ankle with four minutes remaining in the second quarter things were looking up for Milwaukee. They were trailing by eight at the time, but had cut a 16-point LA lead in half.

2. Antetokounmpo limped off and back to the locker room and did not return. Milwaukee made another run at the start of the third quarter on an 8-0 run to come within two points of the Clippers but could not get past that. LA quickly pushed the lead back to up to 15 points.

3. The Bucks put forth a strong fourth quarter and did have an opportunity to steal the game from the Clippers. Milwaukee cut the lead to four points with 1:21 remaining in regulation on a Thon Maker dunk. It was set up by a steal from Khris Middleton after he hit put in a layup. After Maker’s dunk LA coach Doc Rivers immediately called for timeout.

4. Middleton finished with a team-high 23 points on the night.

5. Out of the timeout, Rivers’ son, Austin, knocked down his fifth 3-pointer of the night to put the Clippers back in front by seven points. It was a dagger right in front of the Milwaukee bench.

6. That 3-pointer by Rivers was LA’s 15th and final of the contest. They outscored Milwaukee 45-24 from deep. That’s an area that haunted the Bucks in the loss on Monday night against Cleveland as well. They were outscored 45-24 from behind the arc in that game, as well.

7. “Honestly, we’ve just got to be able to play against them,” forward Jabari Parker said about the team’s 3-point defense. “That’s not specific defense, that’s just trying to make it hard for them on offense.”

8. Parker did play a season-high in minutes, partly due to the second half absence of Antetokounmpo. He had 20 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench for Milwaukee.

9. Not only did the Bucks struggle to defend the 3-point line in the second half, where the Clippers were 9-of-15, but they failed to defend the paint in the first half. LA’s DeAndre Jordan had a monstorous first quarter for the Clippers. He had a double-double before the game’s first 12 minutes were over, having 14 points and 10 rebounds in that period alone. He finished with 25 points and 22 rebounds.

10. In that first quarter the Bucks allowed 24 of LA’s 38 points to come in the paint. They were also outrebounded 17 to 6. They put more emphasis on the pereimteter early on, which led to the opportunities for Jordan. The second half saw those priorities flipped, which led to a combined 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting by Rivers and 6th Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams.

11. Lately, the Bucks haven’t done much to make things hard offensively for opponents. In six of the last seven games Milwaukee’s opponent has scored 110 points or more. The lone exception was the game against the Memphis Grizzles, when Milwaukee allowed 103 points.

12. Over that stretch the Bucks have allowed an average of 117 points per game. That’s a number that’s far to high for a team with a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Antetokounmpo. The Bucks should not be allowing as many points as they are. There’s no excuse for it.

13. In fact, the only teams that they’ve played in the past seven games that have offenses in the top ten in the NBA in terms of offensive rating are Houston, Cleveland, and LA. Milwaukee allowed 110 points or more to Atlanta (26th), Orlando (25th), and New York (22nd). That needs to stop, even if Milwaukee was able to outscore two of those three teams.

14. Let’s state the obvious: Milwaukee is not going to win games against quality competition without Antetokounmpo. Few teams are able to survive without the player that they’re built around. There may be exceptions from time to time on short-term instances. Over the long-haul stars win in the NBA, and that’s what Antetokounmpo is, and even that hasn’t been enough lately for Milwaukee.

15. After the game, interim head coach Joe Prunty did not have an official update on the status of Antetokounmpo. He was seen walking out of the locker room under his own power, although there was an obvious limp as he favored his right leg. For what it’s worth, Antetokounmpo also had a puppy in his hands when he left. Dogs tend to make people happier, but to my knowledge they do not have the power to heal sprained ankles.

16. Luckily for the Bucks, they still hold a five-game lead over ninth-place Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Each team has 11 games left remaining, however the tiebreaker is not yet settled. The two teams split the regular season series, with each team winning twice. The next step in the tiebreaker procedure is record within the division, and the Pistons currently lead the Bucks by two games in that category.

17. It would take a monumental collapse for the Bucks to miss out on the playoffs. The magic number for Milwaukee is currently six. That means any combination of Milwaukee wins and Detroit losses that equal six would clinch the eight-seed for the Bucks.

18. The Bucks are a near-lock for the playoffs, but the recent play and the question of the injury to Antetokounmpo certainly bring the question up, and understandably so.

19. Tonight’s loss hurts Milwaukee more in terms of seeding positioning as the Miami Heat moved 1.5 games ahead of them. That’s not an insurmountable lead with 11 games remaining, but Miami does own the tiebreaker over Milwaukee. The Heat defeated the Bucks all three times the teams squared off this season. That means that the Bucks would have to finish a full game ahead of Miami in order to finish in seventh place. With the tiebreaker factored in, Miami’s magic number to clinch seventh place in the Eastern Conference is nine.

20. The Bucks are back in action on Friday night in Chicago, Ill. against the Bulls at the United Center. Chicago is currently 24-47 on the season and has lost three in a row.

Bucks fall to Cavaliers 124-117

All-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 37 points and collected 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to outshine LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James finished with 40 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in Cleveland’s 124-117 win over Milwaukee on Monday night.

The Bucks found themselves within single-digits at the start of the fourth quarter while James was resting on the bench for the Cavaliers. Cleveland’s second-unit opened up the final period on a 12-5 run to take a 15-point advantage right after James checked back in and put the game out of reach.

Milwaukee made a run late to close the score within six, but it was too little too late for the Bucks. The Cavaliers hit their free throws at the end of the game to ensure that Milwaukee’s comeback did not make a difference in the result.

Forward Khris Middleton scored 30 points for Milwaukee on 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range, but the Bucks were ultimately outscored 45-24 from behind the arc. Milwaukee was also out-rebounded by Cleveland 42-32, including 12 offensive rebounds by the Cavaliers leading to 19 second-chance points.

The loss dropped Milwaukee to 37-33 on the season. The Bucks are now in eighth place in the Eastern Conference after the Miami Heat defeated the Denver Nuggets in double-overtime to take a half-game lead over the Bucks for seventh place.

Last shots: Bucks 122, Hawks 117

MILWAUKEE | Twenty-three last shots for the 23 points scored by Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton in the 122-117 win over Atlanta on Saturday night.

1. The Bucks played one of the easiest portions of their schedule beginning the day that coach Jason Kidd was fired. After that, the easiest period of their schedule was the four-game stretch they just completed with a 3-1 record. Memphis, Orlando, and Atlanta are three of the four worst teams in the NBA, and the Bucks just faced them in succession.

2. The Bucks went 2-1 against those teams, although they weren’t overly impressive in any of the victories. Milwaukee found itself in a battle late in the fourth quarter against Atlanta on Saturday evening. The Hawks led early on by as many as 11 points in the first half before the Bucks took a 56-50 lead into the locker room at halftime.

3. The starting five was an issue again for Milwaukee, as it has been lately. Atlanta led 31-26 after the first quarter. The Bucks struggled offensively in the period. The only area they were successful was from the 3-point line, where they knocked down four 3s.

4. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in that first quarter. The Hawks were adamant about letting him shoot from behind the arc.

5. After the first quarter Antetokounmpo took four more 3-pointers, missing all of them. He finished with a team-high 33 points on 12-of-25 shooting. Antetokounmpo added in 12 rebounds, seven assists, and four steals as well.

6. The starting group was outscored in the first quarter against Memphis and got off to a poor start again on Saturday.

7. “We want to start games and halves the right way,” interim head coach Joe Prunty said about his starting lineup prior to the game. “We want to play the right way coming out of the gate to make sure that that carries over through the first half, and then when you come out to start the second half, you want that as well. So, it is very important, and we do need our starters to step up. We have had too many stretches where we have had these lulls on both sides of the floor, and teams as going on big runs.”

8. That’s something that needs to change for the Bucks. They’re able to escape and come back against teams like Memphis, New York, and Atlanta when they don’t play their best. The Bucks don’t have enough to dig themselves out of a big hole against playoff teams.

9. The Bucks also need to be better at not allowing teams back into games. Atlanta was trailing by 13 points after Khris Middleton knocked down a 3-pointer with :36 remaining in the period. That shot gave Middleton an impressive 15 points in the quarter, prompted a timeout by Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer, and should have been a back-breaker for the Hawks.

10. Instead of that being the case, Milwaukee allowed Atlanta to close the period on a 5-0 run. Andrew White III knocked down a 3-pointer, Eric Bledsoe had a careless turnover, and White III put in a layup before the clock expired. The Bucks found themselves without any of the momentum that they had earned, and a lead of only eight entering the fourth quarter.

11. Bledsoe’s turnover was an attempt at a pass | to himself | off of the backboard. He got caught in the air after attempting to draw a foul, had nowhere else to go with the ball, and that was the result.

12. Things didn’t immediately get better, as the Hawks were able to climb all the way back and take a one-point lead with 4:39 left in the game on a pair of Taurean Prince free throws. He was the game’s high scorer with 38 points for Atlanta.

13. The Hawks got back into the game partly due to a five-point possession made possible by a flagrant foul by Antetokounmpo. Atlanta forward John Collins shot a 3-pointer from the right corner with Antetokounmpo closing out on him. Antetokounmpo did not give Collins the necessary room to land following the shot.

14. The rule is one that was implemented this season. In the playoffs last year Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard was injured by Zaza Pachulia of the Golden State Warriors when Pachulia closed out on a jumper that Leonard was shooting.

15. Pachulia did not allow Leonard the proper room to land following his shot. Leonard landed directly on the foot of Pachulia, spraining his ankle, and ending his postseason. The play was called dirty, and further increased the narrative that Pachulia is a dirty player.

16. After the game, Antetokounmpo said he didn’t intentionally hurt Collins, who left the game and did not return with a sprained left ankle.

17. “I tried to close out, and not to touch,” Antetokounmpo said. “I gave [John Collins] a little bit of space because we wanted him to shoot that shot. He landed on my foot. They say the code now when someone lands on your foot is a flagrant [foul]. I didn’t do it on purpose. I hope he’s doing well and that he’s healthy.”

18. After the game, Collins said he didn’t think his injury was too serious.

19. “Obviously, I landed on his foot, but I don’t think he was intentionally trying to run up under me,” Collins said. “He was just closing out. I thought when I shot the ball I jumped into the line a little bit. It was a basketball play.”

20. Milwaukee now enters a tougher portion of its schedule, and its one they must step up for in order to avoid a bottom two seed in the conference. Five of the next six games for Milwaukee come against teams that are either in the playoffs or fighting for a spot.

21. The Bucks also have to go out to the west coast for a four-game road trip to close the month.

22. On that road trip two of the games are against teams fighting for a playoff spot in the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets, one is against the Golden State Warriors, and the final one is against the Los Angeles Lakers.

23. Before they worry about that, Milwaukee returns to action Monday night in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.

Bucks beat Memphis 121-103

Brandon Jennings had not played for the Milwaukee Bucks since April 28, 2013 when the Bucks lost to the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. His first game in a Milwaukee uniform since then was better than anyone could have expected.

Jennings helped the Bucks defeat the Memphis Grizzlies 121-103 on the road Monday night. Jennings, in his first NBA game of the season, flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 16 points, 12 assists, and eight rebounds.

He played 24 minutes, which was more than expected. This was partly due to the foul trouble that both guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Giannis Antetokounmpo found themselves in. They both finished with five fouls in less than 30 minutes on the court. Antetokounmpo had 20 points on the evening, and Bledsoe had 14.

Khris Middleton led the way for Milwaukee in scoring. He had 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. In total, the Bucks had seven players reach double-figures in scoring.

The win moved Milwaukee into seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, shifting ahead of the Miami Heat.

The Bucks are back in action on Wednesday night in Orlando against the Magic.

Last shots: Bucks 120, Knicks 112

Milwaukee – Fourteen last shots for the 14 free throws attempted by Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee’s 120-112 win over New York on Friday night.

1. All wins are good wins. Let’s put that out first and foremost. There’s no such thing as a bad win in the NBA.

2. With that being said, there are certainly better wins than this one. The Bucks used a terrific fourth quarter to jump in front of the Knicks on Friday night. Before the final period, however, things weren’t great for the Bucks.

3. Entering the fourth, Milwaukee led New York 91-89. They opened up the period on a 21-7 run to take command of the game at 112-96. New York fought back to cut the deficit as close as eight with 1:05 remaining.

4. This is the type of game that Milwaukee has had no trouble winning since interim head coach Joe Prunty took over the team in late January. The Bucks are 9-1 against teams that currently have losing records in that time. It’s the quality teams that the Bucks have struggled with, going 3-8 in that same stretch against teams with winning records.

5. Friday night was no different. The fourth quarter saw a big performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo as he had 13 of his 28 points during it. That included a 7-of-9 mark from the free throw line.

6. In the fourth, Milwaukee went a stretch where their focus was to set Antetokounmpo in isolation on the left wing and attack the basket. He did so successfully, and that shows by all three of his makes from the floor coming within six feet of the rim as well as his frequent trips to the foul line.

7. Antetokounmpo was helped out plenty in the fourth by Khris Middleton as well. He had eight of his game-high 30 points in the final period. Middleton had one of his best games in recent memory, as he was a very efficient 11-of-16 from the floor.

8. It’s early-to-mid March right now, and the Bucks are in no danger of missing the playoffs currently. That being said, this was a must-win game for Milwaukee, and the next three games are as well.

9. The Knicks, at one point in time had playoff aspirations for this season. That goal was finished the exact second forward Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL against the Bucks in New York in early February. Now, New York is hoping for the highest draft pick possible in the 2018 NBA Draft in June. The Knicks have now lost 14 of their last 15 games. They’ve won a single game since Porzingis was injured, and that was against the Orlando Magic, another team glued to the bottom of the NBA.

10. The Bucks needed this game, after finishing a stretch of eight out of nine games against teams with winning records. Milwaukee went 2-7, with the wins coming on the road in overtime against Toronto and at home against Philadelphia.

11. Milwaukee started a stretch of four straight games against teams below .500 on Friday night with the Knicks. The Bucks now head on the road to take on the Memphis Grizzles and Orlando Magic before returning home next Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks. As of this writing, those teams have a combined winning percentage of .295 on the season. The Magic and Hawks are the two teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and the Grizzles are the current bottom feeders in the Western Conference.

12. All three of the remaining games in this stretch are games that need to be won by Milwaukee. After Atlanta, Milwaukee heads to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers. Cleveland has been up and down on the season, but LeBron James and company are always a challenge for the Bucks.

13. Again, it’s always good to get a win, especially when a team has struggled to get them as of late. Milwaukee needs to be able to beat good teams before anyone begins to believe in them.

14. The Bucks are back in action on Monday night in Memphis against the Grizzles.

Last shots: Rockets 110, Bucks 99

MILWAUKEE – Fifteen last shots for the 15 points scored off the bench by Bucks guard Sterling Brown in Milwaukee’s 110-99 loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

1. Losing to the Rockets is nothing that Milwaukee should hang its head over. It’s happening to every team in the league. Wednesday night was Houston’s 17th consecutive win. The last loss for the Rockets came all the way back on January 26.

2. Since then, the Rockets have beaten some of the NBA’s best in San Antonio, Cleveland, Minnesota (twice), Denver (twice), Boston, Oklahoma City, and now Milwaukee.

3. What needs to get across is that Houston isn’t just a good team. They’re a great team. This version of the Rockets owns the best offensive rating in league history. Entering Wednesday night, Houston was scoring 116 points per 100 possessions. The current record for a full season belongs to the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors that went on to win the Finals.

4. This version of the Rockets could win the title this year and it should surprise absolutely no one. They’re that good.

5. Early in the game, the Rockets looked like they had played a game in a different part of the country last night – because they did – and Milwaukee looked like it was off yesterday. That didn’t matter as the Rockets held a 24-22 lead after the first quarter. It was a time when Milwaukee looked like the team with more energy, and it still wasn’t enough.

6. In the second quarter things looked a little more as expected, as Houston outscored Milwaukee by 10 points, thanks in part to a buzzer-beating 26-foot 3-pointer by James Harden. That put them ahead at halftime 58-46, with Houston only connecting on 7-of-19 3-pointers.

7. Houston is trying to change the way that basketball is played. The Rockets are taking more 3-pointers than anyone else, and they’re taking longer 3-pointers than anyone else. There have been 37 games in the NBA this season where a team has shot 45 or more 3-pointers in a single game. The Rockets have been the team to do it in 26 of those 37 games.

8. The Rockets finished the game against the Bucks hitting 19-of-40 3-pointers. The Bucks haven’t attempted 40 3-pointers in a game once this season. Milwaukee’s season-high is 36 3-pointers attempted against Charlotte back in November.

9. With all this being said, things aren’t going great for Milwaukee right now to say the least. The Bucks have lost 7-of-9, dating back to the last game before the All-Star break. Of those nine games, eight of them have come against teams that currently are in the playoff picture.

10. The schedule lightens greatly for the Bucks moving forward, as the next four games are all against teams that have losing records. The Knicks, Grizzlies, Magic, and Hawks are all competing for the first pick in the draft this summer. Those games should be wins, if they’re not, something is seriously wrong.

11. “We’ve got to win,” forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said following the loss to the Rockets. “We’ve got to win those four games. Period. That’s it.”

12. Antetokounmpo is correct. The Bucks, luckily, aren’t in danger of falling out of the playoffs thanks to Detroit’s ineptitude recently. Milwaukee holds a five-game lead over the Pistons as things stand Wednesday night.

13. That being said, the Bucks have certainly set themselves up for a more difficult than desired first round playoff matchup. As things stand now, the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, and Cleveland Cavaliers are the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, and likely to stay there. Winning 4-of-7 against any of those three teams seems like an awfully tall task.

14. Antetokounmpo was a bright spot for the Bucks offensively, after recent struggles, he had a game-high 30 points for Milwaukee. Sterling Brown also played well, scoring 15 points and grabbing five rebounds off the bench in 26 minutes.

15. At the end of the night, the Bucks played better than they have at times over this recent stretch. It just wasn’t enough to beat the best team in the NBA.

Last shots: Pelicans 123, Bucks 121 (OT)

MILWAUKEE – Seventeen last shots for the 17-point halftime lead blown by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 123-121 overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday afternoon.

1. The Milwaukee Bucks played terrific basketball in the first half against the Pelicans. They shot nearly 50 percent from the field, held the Pelicans below 50 points, and held a 17-point lead at halftime. Anthony Davis was the only issue the Bucks had in the first half. He had 19 points and seven rebounds at the break, but Milwaukee was able to keep his teammates in check.

2. The second half was an entirely different story. The lead that Milwaukee built in the first half evaporated in the first 6:29 of the third quarter. The Pelicans opened up on a 26-9 run to tie the game at 75. From that point on, neither team led by more than four.

3. “We didn’t come out with the right mindset,” forward Khris Middleton said of the team’s third quarter. “The first half we were running it down their throats, getting stops, sprinting back on defense. Then in that third quarter we didn’t do anything. We let them right back in the game instead of just going right at their throat and ending it right there.”

4. The third quarter, as mentioned, was disastrous for the Bucks. They were outscored 38-19 in the period, despite holding Davis to only two points. Jrue Holiday did most of the damage for New Orleans. He had 15 points and six rebounds in that quarter alone. Holiday finished the game with 36 points, with 24 of them coming after halftime.

5. The Bucks lacked killer instinct for the second consecutive game. Milwaukee led by double-digits in the second half in its win against Toronto before the Raptors fought back to force overtime. In that instance, the Bucks were able to overcome the blown led, regroup, and scratch out a win in overtime.

6. The Bucks showed resiliency once again on Sunday, it just wasn’t enough. The team certainly could have folded once the Pelicans led, but continued to fight until the final buzzer.

7. That final buzzer came with the Bucks trailing 123-121 in overtime. It also came just before the ball left the fingertips of Jason Terry on a shot that would have given the win to Milwaukee. The shot was called late on the floor and quickly confirmed by officials via review.

8. The ball squirted to Terry in the left corner after forward Giannis Antetokounmpo missed a jump shot from the right baseline that would have tied the game. The Bucks had the ball with 10.9 seconds remaining after a New Orleans turnover. Milwaukee put the ball in Antetokounmpo received the ball at the right elbow and drove towards the baseline for a pullup jumper that clanked off the rim before being tapped to the corner. Terry was a couple tenths of a second late releasing the ball.

9. “We’ve done this play in practice a lot of times, we work on it basically every day at the end,” Antetokounmpo said about the final possession. “It was just me getting the catch at the elbow and trying to go fast and create a shot. I think I got a great shot off, my defender was back and I was able to create some space, but just did not go in.”

10. Antetokounmpo finished with 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting. Middleton was the leading scorer for the Bucks with 25 points, and Eric Bledsoe matched Antetokounmpo with 20 points.

11. It was an encouraging sign to see forward Jabari Parker continue to increase his minutes on the court. He finished with just over 24 minutes against the Pelicans. He scored 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting.

12. “I thought he played well,” interim head coach Joe Prunty said following the game. “I’ve liked what I’ve seen with him from the time he came back until now. He’s continued to progress in the right direction. He’s had moments within games where maybe the play hasn’t been right, but that’s part of it. That’s what you would expect. This was a good effort. [We’re] always looking at it from a team perspective, but for him I thought [it was] a good effort tonight.”

13. Offensively, he looked terrific, but there were times on the defensive end where it looked as if Parker was unable to keep up with what the Pelicans were doing. The lone blemish on his offensive output was when he challenged Pelicans forward Cheick Diallo at the rim and was sent packing.

14. The Pelicans play a brand of basketball that the Bucks aren’t used to seeing. Since New Orleans center DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his left Achilles tendon on January 26, the Pelicans have played the fastest pace of any team in the league, averaging over 105 possessions per game. The second fastest team since January 26 is the LA Clippers, averaging 103 possessions per game. In that same stretch the Bucks have been on the opposite end of that spectrum, averaging 98 possessions per game, which is 27th in the NBA.

15. At times on Sunday the Pelicans offense looked reminiscent of the mid-to-late 2000s ‘Seven-Seconds-or-Less’ Phoenix Suns led by two-time MVP Steve Nash. The object of that offense was to move the ball as quickly as possible and act as if the shot clock was only seven seconds long. Many possessions, especially in the first half, saw the Pelicans into their offense less than three seconds after the Bucks had either made or missed a shot.

16. The Bucks are now 2-2 on the season in overtime games, the Pelicans are 7-2 in such contests. This was the second consecutive overtime game for each team.

17. The Milwaukee Bucks will return to action at home on Tuesday night against the Washington Wizards.

Stretch after All-Star break will be telling for Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks were in an odd place in January. They were dwelling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, nowhere near the place the team expected to be.

On January 22, the team removed coach Jason Kidd from the job while they were 23-22, and had lost four of their last five games. The Bucks were underachieving, no doubt about it. The team’s record was better than it could have been, considering the net rating of the team was negative. They were allowing 107.5 points per 100 possessions while scoring 107.1.

All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was away from action for eight days while resting his sore right knee. The time was right for a change at the top and bringing in Joe Prunty as the interim coach was the right move.

Since Prunty took command, the Bucks have gone 9-3 and played the second-best defense in the league, sporting a 100.4 defensive rating. That stretch has moved them up from 25th in the league in defensive rating to a tie for 15th for the entire season. It’s been impressive to watch for Milwaukee, but the question looms about whether or not the Bucks have been that good, or if they’ve benefitted from the softest part of their schedule.

Of Milwaukee’s nine wins since Prunty took over, eight of them have come against teams that currently have records below .500. The lone win against a winning team came by knocking off Philadelphia with All-Star center Joel Embiid sitting out the second night of a back-to-back.

It’s surely a comforting thing for fans to see the team defeat the opponents it should, especially the way they’ve won. Doing it with defense is a great recipe in the NBA, and with that unit led by a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Antetokounmpo, the Bucks should be much closer to the top of the league than they were.

With that being said, has their defense improved because of Prunty or because of the teams they’ve played? They certainly have done some things differently on that end of the floor, specifically their pick-and-roll defense. With that being said, it’s an incredibly challenging thing to overhaul an entire defensive system on the fly, thus little tweaks will have to suffice. The Bucks were among the league leaders in trapping on the pick-and-roll and have since changed.

They’ve done that against some really poor offensive teams, however. Of their eight wins, the best offensive team they’ve beaten was Philadelphia, who comes in at 14th in offensive rating for the season, and that victory came without Embiid on the floor, as mentioned.

The remaining eight wins have come against Orlando (18th), New York twice (23rd), Brooklyn twice (24th), Chicago (28th), Phoenix (29th), and Atlanta (22nd)

The defense has been good in those games, however in the two instances in which Milwaukee has faced top 10 offenses, they’ve not performed nearly as well and lost. In the loss to Minnesota (third rated offense), Milwaukee allowed 108 points while finishing the game with a defensive rating of 111.6. When the Bucks hosted the Denver Nuggets (seventh), they allowed a season-high 134 points while their defensive rating was 129.1. That was mostly due to the Nuggets nearly setting an NBA record for most 3-pointers made in a game with 24.

After the All-Star break things won’t be getting easier for Milwaukee, either. The Bucks face teams with winning records in seven of their first eight games after the break. The lone team with a losing record, the Detroit Pistons, could potentially have a winning record at the time of the matchup as they have three games prior to taking on the Bucks and are currently 28-29.

The Bucks improving after firing Kidd was something that should have happened. They were underachieving and had the benefit of the softest three weeks of the year approaching. The real test for Milwaukee will be the post break stretch.

After winning 9-of-12 since Prunty took over, this becomes the most important stretch of the season for the Bucks. Showing that they can compete with some of the top teams in the league like Toronto and Houston could keep them in the race to hold home court in the first round. A disastrous stretch could place Milwaukee back fighting for the playoffs, exactly where they were when Kidd was fired.

Milwaukee Bucks defeat Hawks 97-92

The Milwaukee Bucks took care of business against another losing team on Tuesday night. They defeated the Atlanta Hawks 97-92 in the team’s return home following a four game road trip.

Forward Khris Middleton was the game’s high-scorer with 21 points, and forward Giannis Antetokounmpo added in 15 points and 15 rebounds as well. Antetokounmpo started off slowly, but had a strong finish as he sparked an 8-0 run after the Hawks tied the game with 3:30 left.

Eric Bledsoe had 14 points for the Bucks and newly acquired Tyler Zeller scored 14 points to pace the Bucks off the bench.

Atlanta, one of the NBA’s worst teams, was led by Dennis Schroder with 18 points in the loss. The Hawks have now lost three of their last four games on their journey towards the NBA Draft lottery.

Since interim head coach Joe Prunty took over the Bucks they’ve gone 9-2, including an 8-0 record against teams with losing records. Milwaukee is a pair of games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Bucks have one game remaining prior to the All-Star break against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night at home.

Bucks end road trip with 111-104 win over Orlando

For some reason, the Milwaukee Bucks have thrived playing on the second day of a back-to-back this season. Their win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday night reinforced that. Milwaukee defeated the Magic 111-104 on the road to win on the second leg of a back-to-back for the sixth straight time.

The Bucks are an NBA best 9-3 in that scenario. The average winning percentage across the league in that situation is well below .500, but the Bucks have thrived.

All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was the leading scorer for the Bucks with 32 points on the night. In total, four of the five starters for Milwaukee reached double-figures in scoring, with Jason Terry also adding in 11 points off the bench.

Orlando was led by Mario Hezonja in scoring. He had 23 points for the Magic.

The win moves Milwaukee to 31-24 on the season, currently in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks sit 1.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third seed entering Sunday.

Milwaukee now returns home after finishing their four-game road trip with a record of 3-1. They take on the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.