The Next Level

February 26, 2011
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]

Bucks vs Bulls

Bucks 75, Bulls 83
Box Score
  • A Look to the Future
  • A Look to the Future
  • A Cure for What Ails Ye
  • Keeping the Faith
  • Holding Down the Fort
  • A Streak That Needs Breaking
  • How to be a Halftime Hero
  • Bucks Beat Features
  • Over the summer I mused about the possibility of our beloved Bucks and the neighboring Bulls rekindling a rivalry that has been in quasi-hibernation for the better part of two decades. The rivalries between the Packers and Bears and the Brewers and Cubs are incredibly heated. I yearned for the Bucks and Bulls to join those franchises in taking the mutual disdain between Wisconsin and Illinois sports fans to the next level. The offseason moves from both franchises gave every indication that this was a very real possibility.

    But then something happened. It's hard to determine what exactly occurred to derail this train from reaching its intended destination. The Bulls are sitting comfortably atop the Central Division standings and have joined the conversation as one of the NBA's elite squads, both in the present and the future. Meanwhile, the Bucks are 13 games below .500 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs. There are numerous theories as to why the season has unfolded as it has. My theory is that individual Bulls have taken their games to the next level while the Bucks have either regressed or, at best, remained in neutral.

    The most obvious example of this phenomenon has been the MVP-caliber play of Chicago point guard Derrick Rose. There was never any doubt the third-year point guard had almost limitless potential. While his first two years were nothing to sneeze at, Rose has taken his game to the next level this season. He has improved his scoring by 4.2 points per game, his assist total by 2.2 per game and his three-point shooting by nearly nine percent. This resulted in a place in the Eastern Conference's All-Star starting lineup and an argument for MVP.

    He's not the only Bull who has made, at the very least, a minor leap. Joakim Noah's numbers are up pretty much across the board and averages 13.5 points per game despite a reputation as an offensively-challenged individual. Luol Deng is playing a career-high 39.2 minutes a contest, which has translated to career-highs in assists and three-pointers made per game. The addition of Carlos Boozer, who has more or less maintained his high-level of play, hasn't hurt Chicago's cause either. Heck, even the red-headed Brian Scalabrine is hitting a career-high 57.1 percent of his shots.

    Scan the Bucks roster from top to bottom and you'll notice every player has either regressed from where they were a year ago or remained largely the same player. A team can't progress if there isn't continuous improvement throughout the roster. The source for the lack of progression could be anything, be it injuries, lack of gym time or anything else. The fact remains the Bucks will never be among the league's best if they don't commit to uninterrupted growth.

    It pains me to see the Bulls leading the division. I feel an ulcer developing just thinking about it. Credit should be given when it is deserved, though, and I have to give it to the Bulls. They've done what the Bucks have been incapable of doing this year. That's not to say it's completely impossible for the Bucks to do the same.

    They have 25 games remaining this year and a potentially very long offseason to take their games to the next level. I sure hope they do too, because if the NFC Championship taught me anything, it's that I much more enjoy being on the winning side of a Milwaukee-Chicago rivalry.

    In-game Musings

    • I'd like to thank the Chicago contingency at tonight's game for making the drive to the Bradley Center a living nightmare. It should never take one full hour to drive three blocks on 6th Street, but it did. I'd like to send special thanks out to the green Ford Focus driving in front of me. I'm as big of a believer in good driving karma as anyone, but there's no need to let in every car that throws a turn signal on. One or two, sure. One or two dozen, not OK.
    • I don't think there has even been a NBA player who has embodied his signature shoe more so than Noah. I don't know if that's how they roll in France, but I can't imagine Le Coq Sportif (French for "The Athletic Rooster") moving any of those sneakers off the shelf, though. I just can't envision a rooster ever becoming a trademark for logo for any company, especially one that's selling to a sports enthusiast. Does the rooster possess some hidden athletic prowess that I'm not aware of? Do they excel in boxing out? The shoe fits most definitely "fits" Noah, though. It's hideous on the eyes, yet strangely effective.
    • Point guards have to love playing with players like Kyle Korver. A point guard has to do very little to pump up his assist total when playing with guys like Korver. He runs around screens all day and shoots almost immediately upon catching. This doesn't require the point guard to create any offense whatsoever. He just has to execute a simple bounce pass. On the other hand, the point guard and his teammates routinely have to clean up the defensive lapses by Korver and his likenesses.
    • It's unfortunate The Prince hasn't been able to keep his hands clean tonight, because he's been doing everything else so well. He's displayed a rarely-seen confidence on offense, hitting the open jumper and driving around Boozer seemingly at will. The Prince has also been active on defense, posting a season-high four steals in his first 17 minutes.
    • I could be way off, but Brandon Jennings' frustration looks like it's about to boil over. Refs rarely send him to the charity stripe when it appears obvious they should, and it's starting to take its toll. Jennings is typically a pretty composed guy, but a no-call in the third quarter resulted in his second technical foul of the season and fourth of his career. Whether the no-call in question was actually a foul is another story, but it's not easy maintaining one's composure as frustrations mount.
    • Larry Sanders made a briefly triumphant return to the Bradley Center and the Bucks roster with six quick points. That was the good. The bad was his continued struggles on the defensive glass. He's a fine offensive rebounder because that's a skill based largely on energy and hustle. Defensive rebounding requires more strength and positioning and those are skills Sanders hasn't quite developed yet.

    Closing It Out
    It's never fun losing at home. It's even less fun when not a single minute of the game felt like a home contest. That was the case tonight as the sellout crowd weighed heavily in favor of the visiting Bulls. Random MVP chants for Rose - despite a very un-MVP-like performance - rained down throughout the contest and were joined by the occasional standing ovation from the Chicago faithful. A majority of Milwaukee's baskets were greeted with what could best be considered polite golf claps.

    The Bucks did their best to get the Milwaukee crowd involved early, taking a seven-point lead with less than two minutes left in the opening quarter. A 9-0 Chicago run early in the second quarter quickly erased Milwaukee's buffer. The Bucks were able to even the game going into halftime, but a 12-1 third-quarter run for the Bulls was more than Milwaukee could overcome.

    The Prince was far and away Milwaukee's best player tonight, going for a season-best 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go along with eight boards and four swipes. Earl Boykins did what he does best, providing a shot of energy with 10 points in the final quarter. This game really could've gotten out of hand without Boykins late-game contributions.

    Rebounding was a problem for the Bucks throughout. Andrew Bogut pulled down a team-high 16 boards, but he didn't get a lot of help from his mates. Chicago outrebounded Milwaukee 49-37, including 18 off the offensive glass with nine coming from Noah.

    The loss dropped Milwaukee to 0-3 on the season against Chicago with the three losses coming by an average margin of 10 points per game. The Bucks have allowed just 88.3 points per game in those losses, but the offense hasn't done its part, scoring just 78.3 points a contest. One could make an argument that a rivalry exists if the teams remain competitive in head-to-head matchups. That obviously has not been the case this season, and won't be until the Bucks take that step toward the next level.

    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.