Jake's Take: Playoffs Start Now - 02/22/11
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]
Bucks vs Timberwolves
|Bucks 94, Timberwolves 88
JAKE'S CLICK 'N ROLL:
Tonight's game may mark the second "half" of the season, but with 55 games in the books and just 27 remaining, the Bucks have very little time left to make their long-awaited run toward the postseason. Every one of those 27 remaining contests should be treated as a playoff game because the team can't afford to fall behind any more than it already has.
Milwaukee currently sits at 13 games below .500. That leaves the Bucks 2.5 games behind Charlotte for ninth in the Eastern Conference, 3.5 games behind Indiana for the eighth and final playoff berth and 5.5 games behind Philadelphia for seventh. Those numbers may look like meager deficits to overcome, but one-third of an entire season doesn't leave a whole heck of a lot of recovery time.
These deficits become even more difficult to overcome considering both Philly and Indiana are trending upward. The 76ers and Pacers have each gone 7-3 over their last 10 games with Philly turning up the defensive intensity and Indiana coming alive under leadership. Charlotte's upward momentum isn't quite as steep, but the Bobcats are 9-8 over their last 17 games.
The Bucks do have a few things going in their favor. Fifteen of their final 27 games are at home and 10 of those 15 contests are against teams with losing records. Additionally, two of those 15 homes games come against Philly, which gives the Bucks a pair of golden opportunities to make up space in the standings.
Six of Milwaukee's 12 remaining road games also come against teams with losing records, giving the Bucks very winnable games in 16 of their final 27 contests. Win each of those 16 games and Milwaukee improves to eight games below .500 and into a much more advantageous position. It's still not a fantastic record by any means, but it makes the playoffs a more likely possibility.
The likelihood of making the playoffs becomes almost nil unless the Bucks play the rest of the season with the sense of urgency that has eluded them thus far. Most, myself included, expected a reversal of fortune following the schedule of opponents that ran from mid-January to mid-February, a stretch that was once considered the "easy" part. That didn't happen. The Bucks are now in the midst of home-heavy spell of games that is supposed to be the antidote for what ails the team. Unfortunately, it has gotten off to an inauspicious 1-2 start.
The Bucks should come back from the All-Star break relatively refreshed and boast a roster that's as healthy as it has been all season and getting healthier. Excuses have been made for this team all season, but those excuses are running dry. The Bucks have to turn it up a few notches if they want to make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. It's now or never.
- One could tell in the game's opening minutes that Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour are very familiar with each other. They went at each other with what seemed like a little extra something, upping the pressure to levels they might not reach against other opponents. Jennings and Ridnour both made early attempts at picking the other's pockets, seemingly egging the other on in the process. Their familiarity with each other probably allows them to take more calculated gambles that might otherwise be too risky. That, or they just wanted to show the other up.
- Minnesota's Nicola Pekovic reminds me a lot of former NBAer Vitaly Potapenko. It's not just their similarly difficult name to pronounce and spell, either. Pekovic has that same bull-in-a-china-shop mentality where he just throws his body around with no regards for rules or human safety. I imagine he'd wreak havoc in a crowded mall. I picture him going the wrong way down what should be a one-way aisle, taking out toddlers, grandmas and kiosks alike.
- I often wonder what most determines a player's proclivity to dunking: Is it pure athleticism or an aggressive mindset? Ersan Ilyasova, The Prince and Jon Brockman each missed wide open lay-ups tonight. That never would've happened had they just dunked the ball. Did they not dunk because they aren't athletic enough, or is it because they just don't have that assertive mentality? Way back when, I remember a trading card company, let's say Topps, had a collection of special insert cards that highlighted the game's most proficient dunkers. Hakeem Olajuwon said on the back of his card, to paraphrase, that he dunks because it removes all doubt the ball will go through the cylinder. I wish the Bucks had the same mentality.
- I was scanning the sidelines during a third-quarter timeout and noticed Drew Gooden is sporting some pretty serious bootage for his plantar fasciitis. I obviously know very little of the details surrounding the ailment, but I never would've imagined it required a boot the proportion of Gooden's. I thought boots were reserved for broken bones that required stability to heal. Does plantar fasciitis require stability to heal? I feel like a trip to WebMD may be in order.
- My favorite part of Kevin Love's rebounding is his elbow flair. I'm not talking about a collection of kitschy buttons and feathers, either. Upon pulling down a rebound, Love immediately assumes a squatting position and shoots his elbows out to the side, clearing out any would-be pilferers. The man certainly knows how to make space.
- Speaking of rebounding, Brockman has returned to the high level of rebounding that prompted the Bucks to trade for him, at least for tonight. Brockman was one of the league leaders in rebounds per minute last season but, for whatever reason, hasn't been able to duplicate that success this year. He has seen his rebounding rate plummet from 18.7 to 14.6. He seems to have regained his mojo though, pulling down 13 boards in his first 19 minutes on the floor.
Closing It Out
Tonight's win over Minnesota didn't completely alleviate my concerns for this team going forward, but they did what they had to do to get it done. The Bucks allowed the T-Pups to stay in the game longer than I'd prefer, but a well-rounded game from Jennings, excellent free throw shooting and a solid start to the fourth frame was enough to get the season's final third tipped off the right way.
The fourth and deciding quarter started with the game tied at 67, but the Bucks quickly took care of that. Milwaukee hit eight of its first 12 shots to start the quarter, taking a seven-point lead following a John Salmons three-ball with 4:33 remaining. The offense grew stagnant down the stretch, but five free throws from Jennings proved enough to hold off Minnesota. The Bucks and Wolves each attempted 31 free throws, but Milwaukee made 27 while Minnesota connected on just 20, which provided to be the difference in the game.
Jennings' freebies capped off what was his best game since returning from injury. He finished with a game-high 27 points, his most since early December, on a relatively efficient night that included 11-of-12 shooting from the charity stripe. He also doled out a game-high seven dimes and provided solid defense at the point of attach, swiping three balls, blocking two shots and forcing Ridnour into 5-of-14 shooting.
The energy, while good, wasn't where it needs to be if Milwaukee is to beat the league's higher-echelon squads. The 16 total blocks and steals gave the Bucks the win on the hustle board, but they still relied too heavily on the long ball on offense. Milwaukee shot 38 percent on the night and much of that can be attributed to the 23 misses from deep.I was really hoping for a massive blowout tonight; a big win that restore my complete confidence in the Bucks. Tonight's win was more than enough to keep me off the ledge for at least a little while longer. Either way, tonight's win is a step in the right direction. Here's to hoping the Bucks keep their compass pointed in that same direction.
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.