Jakes Take: A Stormy Month Lies Ahead - 12/01/10
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]
Bucks at Nuggets
The first of December marked the first significant snow fall of the season. That's not all, though, as it also marked the start of what will likely be Milwaukee's most difficult month of the season. Considering Milwaukee's current injury situation, it probably couldn't have come at a worse time.
The Bucks starting frontline of Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden and Carlos Delfino are all nursing injuries and each of their permanent returns to the court is indefinite at this point. Throw in sixth man Corey Maggette's bum ankle, and four of the team's top six players coming into the season are dealing with injuries that could sideline them at any time.
Milwaukee's schedule in December would be difficult to traverse with each of those players at full health. Without them, it becomes that much more difficult. If the Bucks want to stay within striking distance of the playoffs through this month, they'll need the healthy players to step their games up and hope the injured players are able to fight their way back into the lineup.
The Bucks play 13 games in December and 10 of those contests come against teams that currently boast winning records. Portland, at 8-9, isn't far behind. All told, Milwaukee will play every division leader outside of Boston as well as the second-place teams in the Central, Southeast and Southwest divisions. And that's not even counting Miami, which could snap out of its unexpected funk at any time.
Of those 13 games, seven are coming away from the friendly confines of the Bradley Center. Six of those seven contests come on three separate road trips through the Western Conference, where the Bucks have traditionally struggled. Of the month's six home games, five come against teams with winning records.
Even the games that some might consider to be easy are far from it. Central Division foe Indiana is a surprising 9-7 at the moment and recently posted impressive road wins over the Lakers and Heat and narrowly lost an overtime contest at Oklahoma City. Houston is an underachieving 5-12, but that's a team that boasts a ton of talent even without Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks. Sacramento is a predictable 4-12 at the moment, but that game comes at the back end of a three-game West Coast road trip.
All told, Milwaukee's opponents this month boast a combined .606 winning percentage. The best of the bunch include 15-2 San Antonio, 13-4 Orlando and Dallas, 14-5 Utah and the 13-5 Lakers. It wouldn't surprise anyone if either of those teams ended up in their respective conference finals. Add Denver, Miami, Atlanta and a Chicago team that will likely have Carlos Boozer back to full health, and there's no doubt the Bucks have a cold and stormy month ahead of them.
If there's anything those living in Wisconsin know how to do, though, it's surviving the cold, blistery months of winter. That's exactly what the Bucks will have to do in December. They have to weather the two-pronged storm that consists of an exceptionally difficult schedule and ill-timed injuries. I hope they packed their parkas, because December has the potential to get real chilly.
- The Bucks may have scored a relatively ho-hum 22 points in the first quarter, but I think it was one of their best offensive quarters in a long time. My reasoning is simple: ball movement, player activity and spacing. All nine of Milwaukee's first-quarter baskets were assisted, meaning the Bucks reached half of their full-game average in just a quarter of play. It was a little bit of everything, too. They had good perimeter spacing and ball rotation that led to a pair of threes from John Salmons. Ersan Ilyasova made himself available by flashing through the paint for an easy lay-up. Brandon Jennings penetrated and dropped a nice wrap-around to Gooden. It also was a very well-balanced passing attack, with four players tallying at least two assists.
- There may not be a player in the NBA with a more one-tracked mind than J.R. Smith. He comes in the game and it's obvious that he has one thing, and one thing only, on his mind, and that's getting up as many shots as possible. He reminds me of a dog pushing a rock. He has this intense focus on accomplishing this one specific goal and he doesn't let anything get in his way, whether it's good defense or a wide-open teammate. I can almost hear his train of thought repeating, "Shooting the ball, shooting the ball, shooting the ball."
- Chauncey Billups, Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington and Ty Lawson each RSVP'd to the first-half block party thrown by Larry Sanders. The rookie did a great job protecting the paint from unwanted Nuggets looking to penetrate to the hole. For all his success against the Denver backcourt, thicker big men like Nene are going to continue to give him problems until he puts on more weight. Sanders did a good job of denying the post on a couple of occasions, but it was all over if Nene was able to seal him on the block.
- The great ball and player movement that sparked the Milwaukee offense in the first half disappeared in the third quarter. The Bucks dropped 15 dimes in the first half, but totaled only three in the third quarter. The lack of movement leads to more one-on-one action, which often results in more difficult shots. Not surprisingly, the Bucks saw their shooting percentage drop precipitously. Eleven made free throws was the only aspect of the frame that kept it from becoming really ugly.
Closing It Out
Tonight's contest played out very similarly to the Monday's loss to Utah. The Bucks hung around for a while and gave the Nuggets all they had, but eventually the better, healthier team turned it up a few notches and ran away with it. A disturbing trend continued to grow with Bogut sidelined. After leading the NBA in scoring defense through most of the season's first month, Milwaukee has fallen back in the pack recently. The Bucks have now allowed 100 or more points in regulation in four consecutive games after doing so just once in their first 14 contests. Opponents are averaging 104.5 points over that span.
The one very encouraging tidbit that can be taken away from tonight was the strong showing from Sanders. After taking a step or two back against Utah, Sanders took a few good leaps forward tonight. Nene may have gotten the best of him on more than a few occasions, but Sanders' rawness looked a little more refined. He was more composed on the offensive end and a lot more aggressive on defense. His eight blocks marked the most by a Buck since Ervin Johnson in 1998.
It's frustrating not being able to see the Bucks take advantage of Carmelo Anthony's third-quarter ejection. Credit has to be given to the Nuggets that stepped up in Anthony's absence. Nene was strong down low, Billups turned it up in the third and fourth quarters, and Smith chucked his way to a nice final line. Denver's team-wide aggressiveness allowed it to make numerous trips to the line and that ultimately played a big part in the game's final margin.
Milwaukee's first West Coast road trip obviously didn't go as planned, but the Bucks return home Saturday for the start of a four-game home stand. As mentioned in the opening, it's not going to be an easy home stand, but hopefully the team can give the home crowd something substantial to cheer about.
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.