Of course, the record should read 7-3 and the Chicago Bulls should be looking up at the Bucks in the Central Division standings. Of course the Bucks should never have found themselves 5-5 and sixth in the East ten games into the season.
Of course, they’d take a 6-4 record and one of those wins against Chris Paul and the Hornets that the Bucks fought for — earned even, until they stepped to the free throw line — yet couldn’t convert in the final minutes, twice. Of course, they should feel better about their three game win streak going into tomorrow night’s game at the BC against the defending champs.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda — and most would probably say it’s too early to start griping — but games like the losses to the Hornets have a tendency to loom large in April when playoff seeds and home court advantage is settled, when the Bucks 2-5 start will be what it is — something the Bucks have no excuse for.
But there is good news, an awful lot of it, actually, more than there should be for a 5-5 team:
The Bucks lead the league in defense, giving up just 89.4 pts per game and sitting atop the NBA defensive rating rankings (which also account for pace) with a Dwight Howard-esque stingy 96.9 points allowed per 100 possessions. Number two in the NBA are — guess who? — Chris Paul’s Hornets, a team nobody else has figured out how to beat either this young season. How are they doing it?
And forcing turnovers — the Bucks are 3rd in the league in turnovers forced per defensive possession, behind coach Lionel Hollins’ Memphis Grizzlies (remember, Hollins spent a season in Milwaukee, learning the Scott Skiles’ ball movement offense and constant pressure defense) and the Washington Wizards.
By challenging shots — only Mavs opponents (42.2 %) have shot worse than Bucks opponents (42.5 %); the Mavs-Bucks one-two ranking holds when points off made 3-pointers is figured in (the efg%)
Rebounding the misses — only Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic (79.9 %) keep opponents off the defensive glass better than Bogut’s Bucks (77.8%);
Andrew Bogut‘s offensive game is still coming together and he still can’t shoot free throws (Hornets loss in the season opener again) but Bogut has been the most consistent Buck despite missing most of the preseason games. His mangled arm is doing well enough, and he’s right where he was last season in the defensive rankings — right behind Dwight Howard. Bogut remains the second-most formidable defender in the world of basketball. Bogut also received a good dose of street cred around the NBA after his flare up with Kevin Garnett in Boston. No, Bogues didn’t twitter about it after the fact like Charlie Villanueva did earlier that week — AB just turned around after KG elbowed him in the head, shoved a fist in Garnett’s chest and appeared to ask, “What the $#$@ is your problem, %#$@.” KG threw his hands up in the air and backed away. NBA fans are liking Bogut’s game.
John Salmons is finding his groove. After missing all of training camp with a sprained knee and starting the season slow and out of shape, the Fish put together two straight good offensive games in wins against the Hawks and the Warriors. Salmons shot 16 for 29 in those games, hit 5 of 8 from Downtown (the Bucks need that – he’s their best three-baller) and put up 42 pts in 70 mins. That’s more like it, and let’s not forget how tough the Bucks are to beat when Salmons, Bogut and Jennings have it going with a rugged group of generally bad-ass forwards who have a nose for the ball.
The Hawks are still the Hawks, and the Bucks have embarrassed them again. The Bucks were 3-5 when they tipped it off in Atlanta last week. An hour and twenty minutes later, the Bucks were up 30 and the Hawks were looking anything like a team that hopes to win 50-plus games and take at least the 4th seed in the East. It was a show of strength by the Bucks, a throwdown of a rival that’ll be pushing the Bucks for playoff position (assuming the Hawks enjoy another injury-free season like the last one, the secret to their 53-wins). After the game, Hawks new coach Larry Drew commented that his team still had a tendency to get frustrated and “hang their heads” when challenged. Same old paper tiger in Atlanta. And Al Horford is not a center.
And Amar’e Stoudemire is still Amar’ ‘ ‘ ‘ e Stoudemire, ‘s apparently intimidated by Andrew Bogut, judging by his post game comments after the Bucks trounced the Knicks in Milwaukee Nov. 9.
There’s more, and the overtime war in Boston was a relief, evidence that, all records aside and give or take a couple of nail-biters against the Hornets, the Bucks are right where they need to be 10 games in. They’re a top 10 NBA team still findings its legs after an injury-laden preseason, looking to prove themselves, looking to move up in the East and, more than anything, looking to stay healthy.
The Lakers may hand it to them tonight, sure. But somehow I don’t see that happening, though I am going to miss the game if I don’t get up and outta here.
And I haven’t even mentioned Brandon Jennings.