Tag Archives: Milwaukee Bucks

Brief 2017 NBA Playoff Recaps: Volume 1 (Opening Weekend)

Four games in each day, to launch the 2017 NBA Playoffs. One paragraph per game, that’s all time will allow.

Saturday, April 15

Cleveland Cavs 109, Indiana Pacers 108 (Miles To Go Before I Sleep…)

(CLE leads, 1–0)

LeBron very good, rest of Cavs looked rusty…Kyrie 1 of 9 from deep…Cleveland dodges bullet when C.J. Miles misses fade-away at buzzer. Paul George is mad at C.J. Miles for taking a good look. Too bad Sir Lance couldn’t steal one for Indiana, that would’ve made things dramatic. (Lance is bringing it back to 2013, by the way)…Kevin Seraphin got 16 playoff minutes! Don’t wake the monster…

Milwaukee Bucks 97, Toronto Raptors 83 (Sir Brogdon At Your Service…)

(MIL leads 1–0)

Giannis in attack mode, such a beautiful sight. Half court to the rim in 3 strides. 28 on 18 shots…President Malcolm Brogdon ain’t a rookie, he’s a savvy vet! What do you need? I got your defense, your timely shooting, your smart passing. Just tell me what you need…Khris Middleton is the only human on the planet who can shoot 4 of 15 and finish +27 on the night. Three blocks by Maker made me squeal with delight. Lowry 2 of 11 and 0 of 6 from deep. Wrist rust be a problem. Casey needs to get Valanciunas more than 5 shots. This is going 7.

Dwayne Casey needs to figure some things out before Game 2

 

San Antonio Spurs 111, Memphis Grizzlies 82 (Kawhi Can’t This be a Forfeit?)

(SA leads 1–0….soon to be 4–0)

When we heard Tony Allen was out for the series, we stopped holding out any hope that this would be competitive. The Spurs were ordered by Adam Silver to wait until the 2nd quarter to annihilate the Grizzlies, so they cooperated, ending the first with a 5 point deficit. Then San Antonio won the next three quarters by 34. When you want to watch every series, it helps to have one like this.

Utah Jazz 97, Los Angeles Clippers 95 (Win One for the Gobert!)

(UTAH leads 1–0)

17 seconds after tip and The Gentle Giant, Gobert the Great, was on the ground, crawling and shaking his head. It was a painful, deflating sight. Anyone who was rooting for the Jazz felt hollow inside. Quin Snyder’s expression was more than concerned. Not exactly panicked, though. He held himself together, and the Jazz held themselves together. Players like Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles, George Hill, and Derrick Favors…pulled this one out. What a wonderful game. The Clippers have all the talent and the Jazz have all the grit. The Clippers are an empty vessel, with a ferocious point guard at the helm. They are less than the sum of their parts, while the Jazz are more than just a couple of Joes. What sweet music, Game One brought us. Joe Johnson has been reborn. Joe Ingles is the best YMCA gym rat in the NBA.

Slow-Motion Joe Goes With the Flow

 

Sunday, April 16

Golden St Warriors 121, Portland Trail Blazers 109 (McCollum Merely One Man…)

(GS leads 1–0)

C.J. McCollum was Golden State’s Gollum, they were never sure which way he’d go. Dropping 41 points on 28 shots, McCollum and his pal Lillard kept the Blazers afloat until the 15–2 Warrior avalanche began the 4th. Defensive Draymond opened the gates and the unassuming Ian Clark chipped in 7 of those 15. The first 36 minutes of the series may be the closest, though it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Blazers backcourt pull one out in the Rose Quarter.

Washington Wizards 114, Atlanta Hawks 107 (Chief Markieff Offers Relief)

(WAS leads 1–0)

The Wizards are probably the better team, and certainly the more interesting one of the two, but with time slipping away at the end of the half, the Hawks led, 48–42, and Washington’s Markieff Morris missed a contested corner three. The ensuing review showed that Morris had been fouled as time expired on the shot. Three free-throws and the lead was cut to 3, as they strolled toward the locker rooms. After the half, Morris opened up by hitting a 3, and the game was tied. Sometimes a game swings when you least expect it. The Hawks have little margin for error. The Wizards bench came up completely empty (except for Mr. Oubre). A few Tim Hardaway threes (0 of 6) and the Hawks might have pulled it out. Instead, Washington still holds home court for now.

Chicago Bulls 106, Boston Celtics 102 (Tragic Turn for Cs but Baby Please…)

(CHI leads 1–0)

What an awful turn of events for Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics. A tragedy clouded what should have been an exuberant first round home game in Boston. Despite it all, Isaiah showed up and did what he always does: scored. 33 points on 18 shots, 10 of 12 from the line, and 3 from deep. Isaiah finished with a +12. So did Bobby Portis, the Bulls 22 year-old who came off the bench with a fury. Those ten minutes without Isaiah belonged to Portis, who scored 19 on 8 of 10, grabbing 9 boards, dishing 3 assists and blocking 2 shots. After the Bulls sent Gibson and McDermott packing, Portis has seen his minutes grow. Once he started knocking down threes at the end of the regular season, his confidence apparently grew as well. Boston’s 53-wins and home court advantage are in the rear-view now, as they fight off Jimmy Butler and Bobby Portis, looking to even things on Tuesday night. Bradley and Horford did their parts, along with Isaiah. Crowder, Smart, Olynyk, and Jaylen have to give more.

Houston Rockets 118, OKC Thunder 87 (Roll the Thunder, Hear Their Cry)

(HOU leads 1–0)

No more debates, no more MVP concerns, just throw the ball up and play. The better team won. The better team has Patrick Beverley, whose offensive contributions (21 points on 13 shots) pale in comparison to the impact of his Westbrook-hounding. Russell can rampage all over the regular season, but he won’t rampage all over Mr. Beverley, who has never known the concept of fear or intimidation. Westbrook’s 6 of 23 line, and 9 turnovers were a big part of the problem. His sidekick, Victor Oladipo, was a dreadful 1 of 12 from the field, misfiring on all 6 three-pointers. OKC’s only hope is to contain Houston’s relentless attack, in which James Harden dissects their defense and makes life simple and breezy for Clint Capela and Nene, who shot a combined 14 of 17, feasting on lay-ups and dunks. Either redirect Harden away from the paint, or Westbrook has to play three times as well as he did tonight and Oladipo needs to wake up. This could be over in 5.

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Will update on a weekly basis.

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Halfway There: A Stroll Through the Bottom Third of the NBA at 41 Games

We have arrived…sort of. Welcome to the halfway mark of the NBA season. 41 games. All 30 teams have played between 38 and 43 games, so we’re as close to the midpoint as we’ll get. The All-Star Break is a few weeks away. As always at this time of year teams are dealing with multiple injuries and only three (Golden State, San Antonio, and Cleveland) have anything resembling a firm grasp of their playoff situation. That leaves 27 teams jockeying for 13 other playoff spots. In reality, more like 20 teams for 13 spots, which is a few more than usual this year.

This stretch of the season (six weeks between New Year’s and the All-Star break) is by far the most grueling. In an ideal NBA-schedule-world (70-game season), these six weeks would include 3 games per week maximum; 18 total). Instead, many teams will play 22 and 23 games in this stretch. Not only is the product on the court worse, injury-risk becomes magnified. Players are usually battling through injuries at this time of year as is. Back-to-backs and 4-games-in-6 days stretches compound things. As the NBA moves fully into a faster-paced, ball-movement-focused game, and as coaches look toward maintaining the health of their stars and restricting playing time to 32-34 minutes per game, the mid-year January stretch becomes a test in endurance, depth and the luck of health.

Making this time of year even more difficult to examine is the parity that exists throughout the NBA. As of January 17th, 10 teams—1/3 of the Association—are within four games of the .500 mark. Seven of those 10 teams are in the East. With few teams in obvious selling position as the trade deadline nears, questions abound. We have one month for teams to figure out how likely they are to make the playoffs (and, in the East, how likely they are to make the top 7 in order to avoid Cleveland in the first round).

It’s time to take a stroll through the Association. We’ll go from the bottom to the top, splitting this into three parts. Here’s the bottom third, by current win-pace.

  1. Philadelphia 76ers-Gypsies (pace: 10 wins)

We can only hope that the 76ers actually lose 76 games. Since entering the NBA in 2010, point guard Ishmael Larry Smith (17 ppg, 7.8 apg, 3.4 rpg after trade to PHI) has now played on 9 teams. We can only hope Ish will add four more teams to his resume, and set the NBA record with 13 before retiring.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (pace: 18 wins)

The Lakers have won 4 of 10, but as the season progresses, they have to ensure they finish with a bottom 3-record in order to keep their top-3 protected lottery pick from the Sixers. The Lakers will be sure to sit any of their useful veterans (Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert, and possibly create fake-injuries for Jordan Clarkson or Julius Randle in order to ensure those losses. What a wonderful way to go out, Kobe…in a tank.

  1. Brooklyn Nets (pace: 22 wins)

Fire everyone! That usually solves all your problems. Celtics fans remain eternally grateful, sending pickled Russian delicacies every holiday to Brooklyn’s infamously wealthy Russian owner. The lingering question: Will Brook Lopez and/or Thaddeus Young be traded in the hopes of acquiring a pick in this June’s draft?

  1. Phoenix Suns (pace: 26 wins)

The Suns may actually threaten the Lakers for the bottom 3. They play Los Angeles twice in late March in what will certainly be fiercely contested games to see which can score fewer points. Eric Bledsoe’s knee injury means he gets to sit out the rest of this tortured season in Arizona. Perhaps Jeff Hornacek regrets that fact that misguided owner Robert Sarver (damn millennials!) didn’t fire him last month when Hornacek’s assistants were let go.

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves (26 wins)

Karl-Anthony Towns has a lock on rookie of the year, thanks in part to the tutelage of a certain Mr. Garnett. In a fascinating Q&A between coach Sam Mitchell and NBA writer Britt Robson you begin to understand why the Wolves shoot the most long two-pointers and fewest threes in the NBA right now. There’s no denying Towns’ polished game at the moment. Meanwhile, the rest of the young Wolves core (Wiggins, LaVine, Rubio, and Mohammed) need a year of pure shooting instruction (and leg lifting) before Minnesota has a chance to fully arrive. One more top-seven pick seems like a prize, but with such a young team, the Wolves might be wise to dangle the pick and a role player for a true stretch four like Ryan Anderson.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans (pace: 27 wins)

Sadness comes in many shapes and sizes, and with all kinds of disguises. Meet the 2015-16 New Orleans Pelicans, the only team in the NBA that wishes the season were 90 games long. Instead, Ryan Anderson will be discussed until February 18th in nearly every trade rumor. A truly injury-riddled November doomed the spring for Alvin Gentry, Anthony Davis and friends.

  1. Denver Nuggets (pace: 30 wins)

Two and a half years after firing George Karl despite a 57-win regular season, the Nuggets appear firmly entrenched in the bottom of the Western Conference. The time since has taught us: a) the overall value of Andre Iguodala; b) the effect of alcoholism on Ty Lawson’s career; c) Andre Miller will always be a wise and steadying influence on a roster.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (pace: 34 wins)

Pundits often talk about the most difficult step a team can make in the NBA is going from good (50+ wins) to being a legit contender. But what about going from decent (35-44 wins) to good (47-52)? With increased parity, that step is becoming increasingly tricky. The young Bucks (average age: 25) have struggled to incorporate post-presence Greg Monroe and compensate for the loss of bench depth (Dudley, Zaza). But here’s something more alarming: They won 41 games last year, despite finishing 8-18 after trading for Michael Carter-Williams. The future of the Bucks (Giannis, Parker, MCW) and the Wolves will both hinge on long-range shooting.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers (pace: 34 wins)

The post-Aldridge/Batum/Mathews Blazers have held things together with remarkable poise for such a young group. Allen Crabbe’s rise has helped the Blazers survive until now, but the team’s youth will make their modest success hard to sustain. Like the Kings, the Blazers have multiple offensive options, but struggle to play enough defense to win close games against the league’s better half. Unlike the Kings, the Blazers aren’t supposed to be winning 30+ games this year.

  1. Sacramento Kings (pace: 35 wins)

Vivek, Vlade and DeMarcus are praying for an 8th seed. The honor of being decapitated by the Warriors is too alluring for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 and is about to wake up from their Sleep Train Arena slumber and move into the Golden 1 Center in November. Finishing 8th is a possibility if these things happen: a) Derrick Favors remains somewhat injured (backs are tricky) in Utah; b) Sacramento can win at least 2 of their 3 remaining games with Portland; c) Rondo and Cousins find a channel to their best selves for the 2nd half of the year…they did last night by ending the undermanned Clippers’ 9-game winning streak at Staples Center.

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Next up: Teams 11-20 (Most of the Eastern Conference).

 

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2015-16 NBA Preview, Central Division: Healing Cavs, Limping Bulls, and Young Bucks

One might wonder why the NBA still separates the conferences into divisions at this point. After Portland’s 51 wins granted them the 4th seed due to winning the Northwest (thanks to OKC injuries), despite finishing with the 6th-most wins in the West, the NBA altered the automatic 4th seeding formula, so that now a division title simply means having the best year out of the five teams closest to each other.

A division title has always been small consolation for a team that is bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. A chance for a team to raise a banner to the rafters. Geographic rivalries are not meaningless, but they mean less in West, where teams are further spread out, and where history doesn’t add that second layer of drama to the proceedings. When Denver visits Salt Lake City or Phoenix visits Sacramento, a divisional opponent isn’t much more than one game on the schedule.

What the divisions do, is provide a smaller group to write about. Five teams instead of fifteen at once. The Central Division is the deepest of the three Eastern Conference divisions and I expect they will finish in the same order that they did last year.

1. Cleveland Cavs

Arrivals: Mo Williams, The Immortal Sasha Kaun
Departures: Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller
Retained: Entire roster except for Tristan Thompson

2014-15: 53-29

The Cavs started 19-20 while they learned (or didn’t learn) David Blatt’s defensive principles, and while Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love learned how to play with LeBron. Center Anderson Varejao ruptured his Achilles after 26 games. The Cavs were fodder for the NBA gossip circuit. How could LeBron’s team be under .500? Maybe it would never work in Cleveland. Of course, trading for two defensive-minded players and one unconscious three-point shooter will help. The Cavs went 34-9 after acquiring Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. They survived well-documented playoff injuries to Irving and Love and forced a 6th game with Golden State in the NBA Finals because of their defense, the undeniable rebounding of Tristan Thompson (averaged 13 rebounds per game in the Finals), and a certain superhero/athlete named LeBron.

LeBron is LeBron and LeBron is inevitable. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the questions surrounding LeBron in Northeast Ohio.
Tristan Thompson and his agent, Rich Paul, are engaged in a staring contest with the Cavs front office. After a brilliant playoff run in which Thompson repeatedly saved the Cavs, Thompson is being offered 5 years, $80 million (similar to Draymond Green’s recent contract), and is now waiting for the Cavs to blink.
*Update (Thompson blinked—and signed on October 21st, Thompson signed for 5 / $82m)
Thompson’s stock rose throughout the playoffs, with the Cavs transforming into a defensively dominant unit after injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving forced David Blatt to install Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova into the starting five. Thompson imitated Moses Malone (may he rest in peace) in his unstoppable offensive rebounding and displayed some mean pick-and-roll defense. Thompson’s reach, strength, and instincts were perfectly suited to ruining the hopes of Chicago and Atlanta, and eventually causing headaches among Golden State’s strategists. What do you do with a player who simply refuses to be boxed out?

Cavs power forward Tristan Thompson rebounds. (AP photo)

Assessing Thompson’s value is complex. With the financial floodgates set to open next summer, Thompson is demanding a max contract. Few offensively-limited players, if any, are ever considered for maximum-level slots. In addition, Kevin Love is back and healthy in Cleveland, having just signed a max deal for 5 years / $122 million. With LeBron, Irving and Love, the Cavs don’t have a max deal available.
The Cavs will be bringing three key players back from injuries. Aside from Love’s shoulder, Kyrie Irving (foot, knee), Anderson Varejao (hair/knee), and Iman Shumpert (wrist) are all recovering from ailments. On top of everything else, LeBron received an injection in his back within the last week.
Those questions, and the fact that it is increasingly common practice (thanks to the Spurs originally), to pace a team through the overly-long 82-game regular season, the Cavs won’t squeeze wins out of the calendar in the early going. Expect closer to 50 wins rather than 60.

Prediction: 54-28, 1st in East


2. Chicago Bulls

Arrivals: N/A
Departures: Tom Thibodeau (coach), Nazr Mohammed*
Retained: Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks

Drafted: Clinton Bobby Portis (22nd)

First off, let’s ask an existential question: What the hell did Derrick Rose do to the universe? I mean, every NBA player has to get lucky just to find themselves in an NBA uniform. But after Derrick’s MVP season in 2010-11, the man has simply been cursed. He started camp in good spirits, after an off-season without having to rehab an injury. Within days of preseason practice, he gets elbowed in the eye and is out with an orbital fracture that requires surgery. Goodness gracious. To be a Bulls fan requires a heaping of sadness on top of your cereal every morning.

The Bulls will be an experiment in the power of the new coach. Fred Hoiberg. Tom Thibodeau is apparently hanging out in Salt Lake City with legendary former Jazz coach /octogenarian Jerry Sloan. Thibs was known for his relentless obsession with defense and regular season wins. He was unfairly given the old axe by notorious Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf after all kinds of drama last spring. Now the clean-cut Hoiberg (he makes Celtics coach Brad Stevens look edgy) takes over a roster that hasn’t changed much at all, except for the addition of big man Bobby Portis, drafted out of Arkansas.

At long last, the minutes are expected to be limited. The serious depth (when the team is actually healthy, which is rarer than a Morton’s steak) the team has assembled should enable Hoiberg to keep the minutes around 30 for his aging crew of veterans. Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are all in need of leg replacement surgery. Yes, entire legs.

There’s no denying the talent on the roster. From Jimmy Butler to Gasol and Rose, to the grit of Noah and Gibson, to the offensive spark of Nikola Mirotic, Bulls fans have many reasons to be optimistic. Yet, how does a fan-base remain optimistic when tragedy so often befalls the team in the last five years? Maybe the Cubs can come up with some magic this October, and the Bulls can build off that victorious momentum. Or maybe the absence of the brilliant workaholic Thibs can allow some joy to seep into the locker room this year. Either way, the Bulls will win around 50 games. Hopefully they won’t be worn out by the end of April.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg kisses basketballs for good luck. (photo must have been a candid shot. No idea where it came from.)

Prediction: 51-31, 2nd in East


3. Milwaukee Bucks

Arrivals: Greg Monroe, Greivis Vasquez
Departures: Jared Dudley
Retained: Khris Middleton

Drafted: Rashad Vaughn (17th)

The Milwaukee Bucks have length. Their name should be changed to the Bucksss. They play defense with arms spread wide, wingspans wreaking havoc on opponent pick-and-rolls by switching everything with a deep roster of athletic swingmen.

Jabari Parker, returning from an ACL tear that forced him to miss the final 57 games of the season, may eventually become a great scorer in the NBA, but three things will keep him from making an significant impact this year. First, Khris Middleton’s range. Second, new arrival Greg Monroe’s post game. Finally, Parker’s lack of outside touch will restrict his time.  Like Giannis Antetuokuompo, Parker is a great slasher from the wing. Parker is stronger than most SFs and quicker than many PFs. If both improve their range to the corners, the Bucks can become true contenders.

John Henson’s recent extension (4/44) will look good starting in year two. Henson’s shot blocking at the rim will be badly needed next to Greg Monroe, who is allergic to shot-blocking and jumping more than nine inches off the ground.

All of this discussion and we’ve yet to mention extra-long point guard Michael Carter-Williams. MCW arrived last spring, with Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, in a 3-way trade that sent Brandan Knight to Phoenix. Knight is a true scoring point. Carter-Williams does everything but score. Much like coach Jason Kidd in his playing days, but with weaker passing skills and yet-to-be-proven leadership, MCW is a force on the glass, a decent post-up option, and a very good defender. Can he lead an offense? Can he find something resembling a jumper? Last year, MCW shot 23.5% from deep. Unsightly.

It was a big gamble for Milwaukee, who is hoping they can rebuild MCW’s shot from the ground up. Not surprisngly, athletic, young players with extra long arms often struggle to shoot. The Bucks future depends on the shooting touch of MCW, Parker, and Giannis.

Also, I miss Larry Sanders. I will never forget that night he roamed the TD Garden paint waiting for any Celtic to attempt a lay-up or dunk. Rondo was looking over his shoulder anytime he crossed inside the three-point arc.

The Milwaukee Bucks starting five with their long arms hidden behind their backs. (Media Day photo)

Prediction: 44-38, 8th in East


4. Indiana Pacers

Arrivals: Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill
Departures: David West, C.J. Watson, Roy Hibbert
Retained: Lavoy Allen, Rodney Stuckey, Shayne Whittington

Drafted: Myles Turner (11th)

2014-15: 38-44

Goodbye, Roy Hibbert. David West takes the veteran’s minimum to play in San Antonio, leaving $12m on the table for this year. Everything they say about David West being humble, being an awesome teammate, and being genuine seems true to me. The guy wants to win a championship and so he joins the franchise known for selflessness and teamwork. Go West, young man. Go David West. Out with Hibbert and West and the core interior defenders of recent Pacers contending teams. In comes Monta. Talk about a change in identity. Now Paul George will have some offensive help, but the looks that Dallas’ offense enabled for Monta will be harder to find in Indiana. Paul George might be primed for a big year, and George Hill can knock down a three-pointer, but Lavoy Allen and Jordan Hill will certainly not cause any double teams. Frank Vogel has talked openly about playing Paul George at power forward. On paper this makes sense. The Pacers simply don’t have a power foriward other than Lavoy Allen. Rookie 7-footer Myles Turner doesn’t turn 20 until March, and though he took a bunch of three-pointers in college, he didn’t hit many (27%). He also grabbed only 6.5 rebounds per game (22 min). He is so clearly NOT ready to play more than a handful of minutes a night in the NBA. And yet he may this year…

Good luck, Paul George. The wisdom of the elders is gone. It has been replaced with an aging shooting guard who was never a great shooter (Monta). Things may start slowly…

Prediction: 39-43, 9th in East

5. Detroit Pistons

Arrivals: Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, Danny Granger, Reggie Bullock
Departures: Greg Monroe, Caron Butler, Shawne Williams
Retained: Reggie Jackson, Joel Anthony

Drafted: Stanley Johnson (8th)

2014-15: 32-50

What you might remember from last year’s Pistons team is the fact that Josh Smith was released (contract eaten) mid-year. The team started 5-23. A team that many were predicting to win 40 games. They were 18 games under .500 before Christmas. The funny thing? They finished 18 under. Which means they were actually pretty decent for the final two-thirds of the season…once they tossed Josh Smith to the winds (don’t worry, Smith found himself playing very meaningful playoff games with Houston and is now on another contender–the Clippers.

What can the Pistons do this year? The mid-30s seems about right. Andre Drummond remains enormous, yet not quite dominant enough, thanks in part to abysmal free-throw shooting, and a lack of help around him. Small forward Stanley Johnson has everyone intrigued. Point guard Reggie Jackson can put up solid numbers, but this will be his first attempt at leading a team from opening night. The Pistons will miss Greg Monroe’s steady post play. Aron Baynes has a nice accent, but his post-play is more awkward than steady.

Prediction: 35-47, 11th in East

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