Sunday, March 20, 2011

Are the Bucks in a Playoff Race or Not?

About two weeks ago, fellow staff writer Gweeds declared on this very blog that the Bucks season was over, and I whole-heartily agreed with him. Andrew Bogut was playing terrible, injuries were getting in the way of a consistent lineup, and the Bucks were losing some very winnable games. In a season where Milwaukee was expected to realistically compete for as high as a four seed, any record below .500 was unacceptable.

Even if you look at the standings at this very moment, you will see that the Bucks record is awful. They are 28-41, which includes a 9-24 clip on the road. But even though the Eastern Conference has improved dramatically in the past year, it's still top heavy. What that means for the Bucks is that even though they are 13 games under .500, they are still very much alive for the Conference's eighth seed. As it stands right now, the Indiana Pacers have the eight seed at 30-40, with the Bucks and the Charlotte Bobcats still alive, each a game and a half back.

The Bucks started playing well right after Gweeds proclaimed that the season was over, rolling out wins against Washington, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. But then they hit a dangerous part of their schedule, losing consecutively to Boston, Atlanta, and Orlando. This past weekend though we've seen a bit of a resurgence in Bucks basketball, as Milwaukee beat the Nets on Friday night 110-95, and then knocked off the Knicks on Sunday 100-95.

The biggest thing I've taken away from the last two games is how short Scott Skiles bench has become. Against the Nets, the five starters (Jennings, Bogut, Delfino, Mbah a Moute, and Salmons) all played at least 32 minutes and the four reserves that did get in (Sanders, Boykins, Brockman, and Dooling) only contributed for 15 points. On Sunday however the disparity in playing time was even greater, as every one of those Bucks starters went for at least forty minutes. Larry Sanders had two points off of the bench, and he was the reserve's leading scorer. Granted, Ilyasova, Maggette, and CDR are all injured right now, so it appears that for now Skiles is going with the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it method". It'll be interesting to see how he works the other guys back into the rotation when they are healthy.

In their most recent game, the contest against the Knicks, the starters played so well together that the need for substitutions was limited. Brandon Jennings was one assist away from a triple double as he had nine dimes, eleven points, and eleven rebounds. Carlos Delfino led the way in scoring with 30 points, and he was also big on the defensive end with eleven boards. It seems like the Bucks are finally starting to click on the floor together, at least these five guys anyway.

So Milwaukee is a game and a half back, and they have 13 games remaining on the schedule. They'll play both Charlotte and Indiana in that span, so wins in those two games are vital. Other potential wins I have include against Sacramento, Toronto (twice), Philly, Cleveland and Detroit. The likely losses are going to come against Chicago, Orlando, Miami, Oklahoma City, and then at New York. If they go according to script, the Bucks would go 8-5 in their next couple of weeks which I think will be enough to get them in. Anything less than that will probably be for naught.

The question I'm sure many people will ask then is, "Do we even want the Bucks to make the playoffs?" I've been saying all along that the answer should be yes. At this point, the lottery means nothing to me, because the odds of getting a top pick are so small because of the fact that the Bucks are on that playoff bound / just missed the postseason border. So I say why not make an effort to get to the playoffs, and keep building towards the future. If we get there and get swept by a team like Chicago, then oh well. But records reset when the postseason starts, and anything can happen. We'll see in the next thirteen games if the Bucks are a good enough team to even get there.


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