Back To Backs

Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis and the Bucks head to Washington tonight for the back end of a back to back.
Gary Dineen / NBAE / Getty Images

First

Most NBA teams struggle on the second night of a back-to-back. Except, the Heat never really struggle. They are almost unbeatable, 9-1 this season. The only team to beat the Heat on such an occasion? Just one guess. Hint: they play this team on Friday.

Second

Some days, I wish the Bucks could play every day. Only they never really do.

Sometimes they play every day for two days. And then I remember why I don’t really want the Bucks to play every day.

First: You can have too much of a good (note: the Bucks are a pretty good team right now) thing. The more time I spend away from the stadium the more I want to go back. In the offseason, it is July, August, September. During the season it is Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday late-afternoon. But you must wait. And that, that is why you “can’t wait.”

Second: It wouldn’t be such a good thing. Playing two nights in a row is tiring. Most teams are not as good on the second night of a back-to-back.

Back to November

The Bucks rested for 190 days before their season opener in Boston. Technically, they played a preseason game exactly one week earlier. And pro basketball players don’t merely rest in the offseason anyway. The point is: the Bucks had a real week off before playing the Celtics, and teams never get a week off of games for six straight months once the regular season starts. They don’t even get that long during the All-Star Break.

And they played like they had 190 days to get ready against the Celtics on Nov. 2. At the time, the only thing I was worried about was that the 99-88 win would be the high point of the season, the best win of the whole year. Of course, the Celtics also had more than a hundred days in between regular season dates at the time, so the sharp performance by the Bucks could not be explained merely by their freshness – fresh as they were.

The next night, the Bucks hosted the Cavaliers in their home opener. And somehow it got even better:

"I just got as high as I could, and I knew once it left my hand -- I saw it was straight -- I knew it was going in."

That was Brandon Jennings after the game, who had tossed in a straight-line three at the buzzer for the walk-off winner.

Then again, the Bucks needed a buzzer-beating three to beat the Cavaliers. At home. After leading by seven points with just over half a minute to go.

Playing on the second night of a back-to-back is difficult.

Back To Back History

Some history, first. The Bucks have posted a winning record on the second night of back-to-backs just twice since the turn of the century. Even that Allen/Robinson/Cassel team that went 52-30 and reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals only managed a break-even 10-10 record on the second night of back-to-backs.

Since 2000-01, the Bucks have posted a .464 winning percentage. During that span, they have a .429 winning percentage on the second night of back-to-backs.
The team’s recent history in back-to-backs is not all that pretty. But it is pretty typical. Most players, and teams, play better with more rest.

Back To Back Success

And that held true for much of the season after the home-opening win over the Cavaliers. They lost on a back-to-back at home to those same Celtics just a week later. They were pounded at home by the Clippers. They even lost to the Pistons the night after beating the Heat. After the home opener, they went 4-9 on the second night of back-to-backs.

But they haven’t lost on the second night of a back-to-back since dropping a 97-94 home heartbreaker to Brooklyn. Since then, the team has won a couple in a row. After a comeback win in Dallas, the Bucks won on a last-second buzzer-beating three by Monta Elis in Houston to secure back-to-back road wins in Texas. They did the same thing in California, winning a pair of games in two consecutive days against the Warriors and then the Kings.

Now the team is 7-9 on the second night of back-to-backs. They have six more back-to-back sets the rest of the season. To move up in the East, they will probably need to win at least half of those games on the second night of back-to-backs.

Back To Back Numbers

So, how are they going to do that? And who plays well on the second night of back-to-backs?

Here is one: Ekpe Udoh. The reserve forward is shooting 47.7 % with zero days of rest, by far his best of any rest split. Also shooting best on zero days rest: Larry Sanders (56.2 %), Mike Dunleavy (47.9 %), and Marquis Daniels (46.9 %).

Meanwhile, J.J. Redick (34.3 %) Brandon Jennings (36.9 %), Ersan Ilyasova (43.0 %), Luc Mbah a Moute (30.9 %), and John Henson (43.9 %) have shot their lowest percentage with no rest.
Now, this is just shooting percentage, and it’s just based on less than one season of sample size. There is little predictive value in these numbers. And with the team now at near full strength in terms of health along with the recently added Redick, there is depth available to help overcome potential fatigue.

5 Games in 7 Nights

Of course, the glut of recent close games has not afforded the team to rest many of its first line players at the end of games in a particularly difficult stretch of five games in seven nights that spans coast to coast that also happens to coincide with daylight savings time.

Here is the full swing: Starting in California against the Warriors, the Bucks traveled north to Sacramento to take on the Kings on a back-to-back. After those late-night games, they traveled back to Milwaukee. On Tuesday night, they hosted the Mavericks. On Wednesday, they play in the capital in Washington D.C. Then they have one day off before hosting the Heat. After that, starting Sunday, they play four games in six days.

Jim Boylan recognized the difficult run of games after a home loss to the Mavericks.

“The guys tried. The guys played hard. But sometimes even though you are playing hard, sometimes the tank is a little empty. And you try, and play hard, and I thought we did tonight. But every time we would make a move, expend a lot of energy, get a run going, they would make a couple shots.”

Upcoming Back to Backs

Nonetheless. The Bucks play six more sets of back-to-backs between now and the end of the regular season. The first is Wednesday against the Wizards.

The full back-to-backs list goes like this:

March 13: at Wizards

March 19: vs Blazers
March 20: at Hawks

March 27: at 76ers
March 28: vs Lakers

April 5: at Knicks
April 6: vs Raptors

April 9: at Heat
April 10: at Magic

April 12: at Hawks
April 13: at Bobcats

Only two winning teams (Hawks, Lakers) in the second night of the back-to-back bunch, but four of the six are on the road. Their final second night of a back-to-back is at home against the Bobcats, who also will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back.

The Bobcats are 3-14 in those situations. But they are 1-1 against the Bucks this season. Just like the Heat.

Alex Boeder

My passions? Writing and the Bucks, to start. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009-10 – almost all of that time writing for BrewHoop. I have also written for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, etc. You can follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at adboeder@gmail.com.