Thursday, October 30, 2014

Is It 2007 All Over Again? (I Hope So!)

Things looked great halfway through the third quarter.  The Bucks led by eighteen (it would grow to twenty-four shortly on two sweet threes by Good Brandon), Jabari had just scored on a run-out dunk and the lineup of The Colonel, Jabari, Dudley, Khris Swish (new #BucksForest nickname; feels right, we'll see if it sticks) & Good Brandon looked like a real NBA lineup.  A five that can finish games and carry this team to the playoff berth that they are shooting for.  (Presently ignoring the irony of fresh owners recycling the "at-least-the-eighth-seed" goal that caused so many online Bucks followers to ridicule previous management.)

Shortly after the Bugs finally made a shot (it had been three and a half minutes since their previous field goal), the lineup was changed.  The Grecian Formula replaced Dudley is the game still in hand (up by twenty-one with five to play in the third).  Two minutes later, the lead was down to fifteen and the Bucks were in timeout.  On came Juice Mayo (who was shooting lights-out) for Khris Swish.  On came Zaza and Big Ers for The Colonel and Jabari.  This is the Bucks rotation.  Maybe Dudley or Big Ers will fall out (or get traded).  Maybe Henson will get some more minutes.  And it looks like Bayless will spell Brandon for ten to fifteen minutes per game.  But mainly, it's the nine men involved in that spell from the middle to the end of the third quarter.

We all know what happened after the third quarter.  The lead fell from fifteen to no lead.  First it was Big Ers & Zaza being unable to grab a rebound and the Grecian Formula struggling (the Bucks played the last eleven minutes of the game sans Giannis).  The killer run happened with the studs on the floor.  First against Good Brandon, Khris Swish, Jabari, Juice Mayo and Henson.  Then with The Colonel and Dudley in place of the latter two.  They couldn't grab a rebound, they fouled too much, they turned the ball over and they kept having to take tough shots.

One bad stretch does not a season make.  The refs made some dicey calls that gave Charlotte a lifeline.  The Bucks were leading or tied for all but five seconds of overtime.  Even in that last five seconds, the Bucks nearly executed a super slick inbounds play to win the game on a shot that Khris Swish hits most of the time.  Most teams do not have the rebounding wings that Charlotte has, or a ball handler who can create his own shot in crunch time, as Kemba Walker did twice to devastating effect.

There are some causes for concern.  Big Ers and The Colonel look like last year's Big Ers & Colonel, not the 2012 (Ers) or 2013 (Colonel) versions that the Bucks need.  Jabari Parker wants to be a Big and feels more comfortable as a Big, but he doesn't rebound like a Big.  Last night he looked a lot more like a young Tobias Harris than a young Carmelo Anthony.  The Grecian Formula is not active enough or a good enough defender to be a non-shooting wing who plays big minutes (like his counterpart last night, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), but he wants big minutes.  Today he is surely unhappy that he sat during crunch time, and we don't know yet whether an unhappy Greek Freak will be a distraction.

The Bucks open their home schedule on Friday against an infamous Sixers squad, and they will be favored.  Then they will be underdogs for a while.  Maybe until the Knicks come to town on November 18th.  Maybe for the rest of 2014.  The Bucks were favored a grand total of five times last season.  It doesn't make the Halloween opener must-win, but people will start to worry if they don't.  In the author's brief gleaning of other games the last two nights, only the Jazz (oy, what a mistake to pick them ahead of the P-Cans and Clips in the West), Magic, Lakers and Knicks looked like doormats.  The Bucks are no doormat, but they may be only one level above.  That's not a playoff level and that's certainly not what the new management is expecting.

Perhaps it is better to look at things optimistically.  They went on the road against a 2014 playoff team and they took them to overtime.  Good Brandon will have a great year, Juice Mayo is back, Khris Swish has the makings of a serious wing and the team played very good defense throughout (notwithstanding The Colonel's mental error on Kemba Walker's tying three at the end of regulation).

It would be great to see this team become a reincarnation of that fun 2007 team.  Michael Redd, Charlie Bell and Mo Williams were a three guard combo that played a lot of minutes together.  The team got off to a shaky start under Terry Stotts, but once they started clicking they were great.  I vividly remember them running the eventual World Champion Spurs off the court in San Antonio.  That win got the Bucks to .500, and they were also in the midst of a home winning streak that would span the entire month of December.  (Things eventually went south.  A few games later Michael Redd got hurt on a garbage time dunk and Mo Williams got hurt one or two games after that.  A horrid stretch followed, peaking [or cratering?] with a road loss to the Clippers [attended by yours truly] in which Ruben Patterson was the best Buck on the court, a supposedly 19 year-old Big Ers jacked up numerous wild threes [though he hit a couple] and Andrew Bogut was so dominated by Chris Kaman and Elton Brand that he was barely on the floor, yet still managed to foul out with eight minutes remaining in the game.  It was the Bucks' ninth loss in ten games to start the calendar year; early on in a 7-26 stretch that would cost a great coach [Terry Stotts] his job and lead to the hiring of the worst coach to helm an entire Bucks season since I began following the team in the mid-80's [Larry Krystkowiak].)  Knight, Mayo and Middleton could be an explosive, complimentary trio.  If The Colonel returns to his top defensive form and someone steps up as a rebounder (Zaza? Henson? Big Ers? Jabari? Greek Freak, even?), then the 2015 Bucks could be the type of exciting team that they had for a moment in 2007.

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