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.

Bucks lose to Heat 91-85

Dwyane Wade’s return to Miami came at the expense of the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night. The Bucks suffered an awful third quarter, in which they were outscored 30-8, that proved to be the difference in Milwaukee’s first loss on their four game road trip.

All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was the game’s high scorer with 23 points, however he did so on an inefficient 8-for-21 shooting from the floor. Guard Eric Bledsoe chipped in 19 points in the loss as well.

Bledsoe did have a chance to cut Miami’s lead down to two with 30 seconds remaining, but was blocked by Wade in transition. Miami recovered the ball, advanced it up the court, and Wayne Ellington buried his third 3-pointer of the night to push Miami’s lead to 88-81 with 14 seconds remaining.

The loss snaps Milwaukee’s winning streak at five. They’re 7-2 since interim head coach Joe Prunty took over, however they’re 1-2 against teams that currently possess winning records.

The Bucks finish their four game road trip in Orlando on Saturday night.

Bucks defeat Knicks 103-89

The Milwaukee Bucks have had the best two-plus weeks of their season since parting ways with former head coach Jason Kidd. Tuesday night was more of the same as they defeated the New York Knicks 103-89 on the road.

All-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo had 23 points and 11 rebounds, but the story of the night was his first half dunk where he jumped over guard Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Knicks.

Hardaway Jr. is listed at 6-foot-6, Antetokounmpo jumping over him resulted in the internet going crazy over the play, one that is sure to be rewatched millions of times in the coming days.

Antetokounmpo didn’t need to carry the entire load for the Bucks in the win, however. Guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Khris Middleton scored 23 and 20 points, respectively, and guard Sean Kilpatrick added in 16 points off the bench.

The Knicks were led by big man Enes Kanter. He had 19 points and 16 rebounds in the loss. All-Star forward Kristaps Porzinigs went down in the first half with a knee injury and did not return. The team announced late Tuesday night that he sustained a torn ACL in his left knee and will miss the remainder of the season.

Forward Jabari Parker, who is just returning from a torn ACL himself, scored 10 points in his third game this season. He has reached double-figures in each of the three games he’s played.

The Bucks are now 7-1 since interim head coach Joe Prunty took over the team, however only of one those victories came against a team with a record better than .500 on the season.

Bucks defeat Brooklyn 109-94.

The Milwaukee Bucks started their four-game road trip with a 109-94 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday.

Milwaukee built a lead as large as 28 points early in the third quarter before taking its foot off the gas and allowing Brooklyn back into the game. The Nets eventually cut the lead down to seven points with under nine minutes remaining, but the Bucks were able to pull out the victory thanks to a strong fourth quarter from guard Eric Bledsoe.

Part of the reason Bledsoe was needed to have a big fourth quarter was All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo leaving the game after twisting his ankle with 7:34 left in regulation. Antetokounmpo finished with 16 points in just under 28 minutes.

Bledsoe was the leading scorer for Milwaukee, finishing with 28 points, four rebounds, and six assists in the victory. In total, Milwaukee placed five players in double-figures for scoring. That included forward Jabari Parker. In his second game back after returning from a torn left ACL Parker had 11 points in 17 minutes. Center John Henson had one of his best games of the season, he had 19 points and 18 rebounds for the Bucks.

Milwaukee might be in more trouble at the point guard position. After Malcolm Brogdon was diagnosed with a quad injury that’s expected to keep him out for 6-to-8 weeks, Matthew Dellavedova sprained his right ankle early in the fourth quarter and did not return to action.

The Bucks continue their road trip on Tuesday night in New York against the Knicks. Tip-off is at 6pm (CT).

Last shots: Bucks 92, Knicks 90

MILWAUKEE – Eighteen last shots for the 18 assists dished out by the Milwaukee Bucks in their 92-90 win over the New York Knicks on Friday night.

1. Forward Jabari Parker returned to game action for the first time since he tore his left ACL on February 8, 2017. Parker was restricted to roughly 15 minutes on the floor by the team.

2. Parker was happy with his performance, and he should have been. He was aggressive from the start. Parker finished with 12 points on the night, which was second to only Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 29 on the team.

3. “It felt great,” Parker said. “Honestly, training myself to think about [his first game] is just getting better. It’s not going to take just one game [or] a few games. It’s a whole process.

4. “I was just trying to stay composed and not trying to get carried away. Honestly, [I was] pretty much distracted because I heard the crowd. I had to calm down and teach myself, ‘You’ve still got to play. You’ve still got to play. Show the people what I’ve been working so hard on.’”

5. Parker checked in with 5:25 left in the first quarter. It did take him two tries to get into the game, however. Parker was at the scorer’s table while New York’s Tim Hardaway Jr. was fouled on a 3-pointer. Parker then attempted to come on the floor following the first free throw attempt. He was then ushered back to the scorers’ table until after Hardaway Jr. shot his second of three.

6. Then, the crowd officially welcomed Parker back to basketball.

7. “I’m proud of him,” forward Khris Middleton said. “It’s tough to go through what he went through twice, then come back and play like nothing has ever happened. It’s great. I know there was a lot going through his mind, but he did a great job of going out there and playing basketball.”

8. Parker played in each of the first three quarters before coming close to his restriction. At the start of the fourth quarter he had already played 14:48.

9. Down the stretch Milwaukee relied on Antetokounmpo, as the usually do. He had 16 of his 29 points in the second half, with 10 of those coming in the fourth quarter. Antetokounmpo scored his final points with 1.9 seconds remaining in the game to lift the Bucks to victory.

10. The final play was made possible as the result of a few stops by the Bucks on the defensive end. They forced Knicks center Enes Kanter into a missed shot in the lane with 24.5 remaining. Antetokounmpo rebounded the miss before advancing the ball, draining the clock, and getting to the rim.

11. The Knicks forced a 30-foot 3-point attempt by Hardaway Jr. that fell short as time expired. In total, the Knicks shot 5-25 on 3-pointers. That includes a 0-of-9 mark from Hardaway Jr. He finished with six points.

12. New York was led by both Kanter and All-Star Kristaps Porzingis. They each had 17 points on the night. Porzingis did so on 6-of-15 from the floor. Kanter was a much more efficient 8-13, and added in a game-high 18 rebounds as well.

13. While the game was close and certainly exciting down the stretch, saying it was well played would be a stretch. The Bucks were forced to overcome a number of things in order to earn the victory. They definitely deserve the credit for doing so, but it wasn’t the best performance Milwaukee has had to date.

14. The Bucks will need to overcome the absence of guard Malcolm Brogdon for the next 6-to-8 weeks. Brogdon suffered a left quadriceps tendon injury in the team’s loss in Minnesota on Thursday night.

15. The subsequent MRI revealed that he has a partially torn tendon. As things stand now, the 6-to-8-week timetable would bring the guard back to the court in late March. That leaves two weeks for the team to try and reincorporate him before the playoffs begin.

16. Brogdon’s injury certainly hurts the depth at the guard position moving forward, and on Friday night Eric Bledsoe’s foul trouble was a cause for concern as well. Bledsoe missed Thursday’s game with an ankle injury but played on Friday. Bledsoe played 20:31 before fouling out. He finished with seven points, three assists, and a rebound. Certainly a night for him to forget.

17. This meant guard Matthew Dellavedova saw over 27 minutes on the floor for the Milwaukee. He finished with four points on 1-of-5 shooting. The team will obviously be able to count on Bledsoe more nights than not, but Dellavedova certainly didn’t play his best game filling in.

18. The Bucks return to action on Sunday morning at 11AM (CT) on the road against the Brooklyn Nets to start a four-game road trip. That trip will hit both Brooklyn and the Knicks before heading south and taking on the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic.

Bucks lose to Wolves 108-89

The Milwaukee Bucks entered the state of Minnesota with a four game winning streak, an unblemished record with interim coach Joe Prunty, and plenty of reasons to feel optimistic.

They left the state a little uneasy.

Minnesota defeated the Bucks 108-89 to snap Milwaukee’s winning streak at four games and hand Prunty his first loss as an NBA head coach. To make matters worse, guard Malcolm Brogdon left the game with a quad injury and All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo twisted his ankle in the fourth quarter.

Antetokounmpo had 17 points and 15 rebounds in the loss while Milwaukee was led in scoring by forward Khris Middleton. He had 21 points and six rebounds. Both Middleton and Antetokounmpo had five turnovers on the night.

The Timberwolves were led by forward Jimmy Butler who finished with 28 points, and center Karl-Anthony Towns had 24 points and 11 rebounds in the win.

Things came undone for the Bucks in the second quarter. They trailed 23-17 after the first, however they were outscored 37-22 to close out the half and entered the break down 60-39 and were unable to fight back.

Milwaukee has the second night of a back-to-back Friday night at home against the New York Knicks. Tip off is at 7pm.

Bucks beat 76ers 107-95; Parker set to return

Since interim head coach Joe Prunty took over the Milwaukee Bucks last Monday everything has gone as well as possible for the team. Milwaukee is 4-0, forward Khris Middleton was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and forward Jabari Parker announced that he will be returning on Friday against the New York Knicks.

Monday night Milwaukee won its fourth consecutive game, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers 107-95. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo continued his strong stretch since returning from right knee soreness. He finished the night with 31 points, 18 rebounds, and six assists.

The win moves Milwaukee to 27-22, they’re five games above the .500 mark for the first time since December 9, and just the second time this season. More importantly, the Bucks look much more like a contender in the Eastern Conference than they did a week ago.

The Bucks have had a much more consistent effort since the franchise fired Jason Kidd. While they haven’t played a grueling schedule, they’re winning games they struggled with earlier in the season.

Milwaukee still has one game to play before Parker returns to the floor. They travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves Thursday night. Parker will return Friday night at home against New York.

Bucks beat Bulls 110-96

The Milwaukee Bucks won their third consecutive game on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Chicago Bulls 110-96.

Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo finished just shy of recording his second consecutive triple-double. He finished with 27 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists in the victory.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only player for the Bucks to have a strong performance. In total, five players scored in double-figures for Milwaukee. That included forward Khris Middleton who had 20 points and guard Jason Terry had 12 points off the bench on 4-of-6 from behind the arc.

The Bulls were led by forward Denzel Valentine with 18 points and rookie Lauri Markkanen finished with 17 points to pace Chicago.

Milwaukee raced out to a 61-42 lead at halftime and never looked back en route to the 14 point victory.

The Bucks are now 3-0 since interim head coach Joe Prunty took after Jason Kidd was fired last Monday.

Milwaukee faces Philadelphia at home Monday night in the second night of a back-to-back. The 76ers are also on a back-to-back, they lost to Oklahoma City 122-112 on Sunday evening.