The Bucks and the Good Teams

The Bucks

The Bucks have already won more games against teams good teams (.500 or better) this season (11) than they did all of last season (9). This is despite registering barely half as many wins overall. This is crazy.

Before the season, I wrote a story detailing how the Bucks were fantastic against bad teams but dreadful against good teams last season. This season has not been last season.

BUCKS

VERSUS .500 AND ABOVE TEAMS

VERSUS BELOW .500 TEAMS

2015-16

11-20

11-12

2014-15

9-27

32-14

Obviously, all teams are more successful against inferior competition. But the Bucks took this to an extreme last season, winning just as many games against teams with losing records (32) as the Spurs.

Problem was, they could hardly ever beat teams with winning records. They won the games they should have won and lost the games they should have lost. Fittingly, they finished 41-41. The Bucks seemed to hit a ceiling last season – clinical against bad teams, but simply not up to it against good teams. They were the demarcation between good and bad.

While the Bucks may just end up with a similar record this season, they are doing so in a very different, more unpredictable, and sometimes more frustrating way this season… but in a way that suggests something more.

And The Good Teams

What is more ridiculous? When the Bucks, say, beat the Warriors, or lose to the Lakers?

Sure, it is tough to watch the Bucks get run out of the building by the worst team in the West. Especially when just a few nights before, the Bucks gave the 24-0 Warriors, one of the best regular season teams (and maybe just, teams) in history, their first loss of the season.

Those wins against quality teams – and there have been more than just that one against the Warriors – are perhaps even harder to take, though. Right when you have mentally conceded that the Bucks are not going to make the playoffs (though unimportant for this season, making the playoffs is still something we as fans naturally think about) or right when you have reset expectations about the core... they bring you back in. 

But that is just how it goes, with one of the youngest teams (second youngest right now, by a couple measures) in the NBA. Gone is some of the safe stability of last year with solid, slow-moving, high-basketball-IQ veterans like Zaza Pachulia, Jared Dudley, and Ersan Ilyasova, but gone hopefully also are the days when we would spend energy thinking back about how great it was when the Bucks were a .500 team and never a threat to the good teams of the league. The tradeoff has been more inconsistencies, but also higher highs.

That is not to say that the Bucks are ready to take down the best of the league on a regular basis this year or next year. (Clearly they are not.) Wins and losses are not exactly the point anyway, for now.

Homecoming

That said, the Bucks appeared to start to turn a small corner in the two games prior to All-Star Weekend. Back at home, first they topped the Celtics, currently the number three team in the East. And then instead of following up a big win with a disappointing loss to a team with a losing record, they defeated the Wizards. Earlier this season, the Bucks had lost home games to both the Celtics and Wizards.

Speaking of, no team plays more home games (18) than the Bucks over the course of the rest of the season. They play just ten more road games, fewest in the league.

BUCKS

HOME

ROAD

2015-16

15-8

7-24

Among teams not currently in either playoff bracket, the Bucks have the best home record (15-8) in the NBA. The home-heavy schedule down the stretch bodes well, and the roughest stretches are mostly behind them.

Still, they are 5.5 games out of the eight spot in the East, and with four teams in between them. In order to make a playoff run, they would need to get precisely Fear-The-Deer-Year level hot. If they go 21-7 the rest of the way, that would give them 43 wins, probably just enough to get in. That 2009-10 team went exactly 21-7 in their best 28-game stretch, down the stretch that year.

This though – and more importantly, this season – is not a playoffs or not-playoffs story.

Tomorrow

Ultimately, where and who the Bucks play is all secondary to how they play.

In what is still the LeBron Era in the East, the real hope should be to see more consistent signs of greatness (or let us say, and start, with goodness) from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, and company. Last month, each of those three had arguably the best month of their careers. Last week, they were the three stars in the win against the Wizards going into All-Star Weekend. Last year, they were not as good as tomorrow. 

 

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