Kevin F. Love: How have the Bucks been playing lately?
Mitchell Maurer: Life as a Milwaukee Bucks fan is a lot like riding a wooden roller coaster; it has its ups and downs, but you feel every twist and turn. After jettisoning Jason Kidd (who had entirely lost the confidence of the fan base), the team seemed to flourish under interim head coach Joe Prunty. After a 10-3 stretch that was punctuated by an exciting overtime victory over Toronto, the Bucks are in the middle of a sharp downturn: losers of four straight, including three consecutive losses to fellow Eastern Conference playoff contenders. Milwaukee certainly has more talent than they’ve had in recent memory, but their performance has not lived up to expectations.
KFL: What are the Bucks playing for at this point in the season?
MM: With the final 20 games of the season before them, the Bucks have two clear goals. The first is to rack up enough victories and get as close as possible to the preseason prediction of 50 wins. They probably won’t hit 50, but the closer they get to that number, the better everyone will feel. The second goal is to, for the first time since 2001, win a playoff series. This goal may be less realistic than the first, but would pay major dividends by giving Giannis and Co. serious playoff exposure.
KFL: There’s no stopping Giannis, but how do opponents slow him down?
MM: Slowing Giannis down involves heavy doses of stout wing defenders to stymie his driving attempts, sprinkled with the presence of an elite rim protector waiting for him in the lane. Whatever it takes to coax him into launching up his (improved) midrange jump shot, which is still closer to Ben Simmons than Dirk Nowitzki (sorry, not sorry).
Even still, the following two sentences are both true. 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been bad for weeks now. 2. “Bad Giannis” is still a top-10 NBA player. He does everything on the court, and there’s very little he doesn’t do well. Containing him early is the Sixers’ best hope for limiting his ability to take the game over for the Bucks.
KFL: It’s 10:30 EST time, and you look up at the T.V. and see the Bucks have won. What happened?
MM: The Sunday, March 4th Milwaukee victory, in three acts:
1. The Bucks enjoy a significant three-point shooting advantage, where most of their shots fall and most of Philly’s don’t.
2. Jabari Parker, still working his way back from another torn ACL, has his first breakout scoring game of the season.
3. Rookie wing Sterling Brown (who is very much about that action) provokes Joel Embiid into a pair of early techs and somehow gets him ejected, much to the delight of the Milwaukee crowd (who are terrified of The Process, tbh.)
3a. Embiid, from the locker room, drags Brown on Instagram, and everybody laughs and piles praise on JoJo.
KFL: Similar question. How do the Sixers win the game?
MM: The Sunday, March 4th Philadelphia victory, in three acts:
1. The Sixers move the ball around Milwaukee’s high-energy defense and takes advantage of openings created by the gambling nature of Eric Bledsoe and Giannis.
2. Embiid, who appears to outweigh John Henson and Thon Maker combined, laughs at their attempts to move him off his spots and vacuums up all the rebounds.
3. Philly leans on their size advantage (Embiid, Simmons, and Dario Saric especially) to bludgeon the Bucks near the basket and rack up points in the paint.
3a. Embiid, from the locker room, still drags Sterling Brown for seemingly no reason, and everybody laughs and piles praise on JoJo.
KFL: X-Factor for the Bucks?
MM: I mentioned this above, but Jabari Parker has the talent and (hopefully) the opportunity to take a team by surprise. He’s been on a minutes restriction but has maintained his scoring efficiency, and hasn’t been that bad on defense. If he plays 25 minutes and gets it rolling early, he could easily pour in 20+ points and put the Bucks in a position to win. He might need to, too, since Milwaukee is struggling with backcourt depth; Matthew Dellavedova is working his way back from an ankle sprain, and Rightful 2016-17 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon is still weeks away from returning from a quad tendon tear.
KFL: Just curious: are you or are Bucks fans aware of Bus the Process? There’s 500 or so Sixers fans heading to Milwaukee today for the game.
MM: We are, and we would be unhappy about it if there were enough Bucks fans in Milwaukee who were willing to buy up enough tickets to prevent such an unwelcome incursion, or to even organize a traveling Fear the Deer troupe. Then again, the team hasn’t earned the confidence of the casual Wisconsin sports fan yet. Either way, each Philly fan will need to come to the BMO Harris Bradley Center prepared for a smattering of polite “excuse me’s” and the occasional pleasant conversation about the weather. The Midwest is rough and tumble like that.
I’d like to thank Mitchell for contributing to this piece. We may be at odds about last year’s Rookie of the Year award, but we here in Philadelphia appreciate your time. Mitchell has a piece over at Brew Hoop previewing tonight’s game, you can (should) read it here. And give him a follow on twitter @Mitchell_NBA to stay on top of Milwaukee Bucks news.