Tag Archives: Erik Spoelstra

Eastern Conference playoffs preview . . . Nursing an unspecified injury and up in the air . . . Heat vs. Sixers . . . Bucks vs. Celtics . . . May 17, 1987

The NBA playoffs began this afternoon with the Spurs in Oakland against the defending champs with the Wizards vs. Raptors, Heat vs. 76ers and Pelicans vs. Trailblazers series’ also set to open today. Let’s get right into it then and take a look at the Eastern Conference match-ups, with a little help from the full season 2017-18 BIER ratings for the eight East playoff teams, which J.D. Mo finally finished Saturday morning. (Dig into the basics of BIER HERE.)

Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers – “Whiteside is nursing an unspecified injury and his status against the Sixers for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round is up in the air.”

So says the Miami Heat’s injury note on center Hassan Whiteside, who’s been warring again with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra over playing time. (Think Greg Monroe and Jason Kidd, only on the more less* unprofessional side, with Udonis Haslem in the mix to smooth things over in the role assistant coach Greg Foster played with the Bucks). With the 6th-seeded Heat in Philly getting ready to take on the Sixers in their series opener, the note speaks volumes for the character of the Miami Heat organization and its GM, Pat Riley.  *please see note below

“Nursing unspecified injury status up in the air” spells “may or may not play depending on whether coach Spoelstra feels like using him in a game where we know we won’t be playing against Joel Embiid.” Enjoy the game, Hassan, we’ll give you a nice courtside seat, call you if we need you (and we’ll have fun with the injury report whether you like it or not). — Insert thoughts on how this contrasts with how the Milwaukee Bucks organization handles things these days —  There’s no room for players questioning the dictates of the coach in Miami, nor any doubt about who’s in charge.

2017-18 BIER leaders on Eastern Conference playoff teams only. * Irving’s season is finished due to knee trouble, but I decided to leave him in the chart to show how much production impact the Celtics are missing in his absence.

The crazy thing about the injury note, other than the really amusing deadpan absurdities of it, is that the Heat are so fully prepared to play without Whiteside. When he does play, there’s no higher impact big man, no more dominant player in the East, as the BIER chart at right shows. The Heat just don’t care about the numbers.

The Heat went through a lot of trouble on the last night of the regular season to set up the Philly series, winning in overtime in Miami against the Raptors. It was a game they would have and should have lost had 3-point gun Wayne Ellington not caught fire in the 4th quarter. Ellington drained 6 out of 7 threes for 18 points in the 4th to force the overtime, then put the game out of reach with an old-fashioned layup with 1:53 to play to put the Heat up by six as Spoelstra stuck with his 2nd unit players in the overtime. If not for Ellington, the Sixers would be playing the Bucks this evening and the Heat preparing for the Celtics in Boston tomorrow.

Which is another funny thing about the Heat. Spoelstra’s bench crew — Ellington and Kelly Olynyk (Whiteside’s backup at center), along with forwards Justise Winslow and rookie big man Bam Adebayo — are the guys responsible for the Philadelphia series. Not Whiteside or Dwyane Wade or All-Star point guard Goran Dragic. Forwards Josh Richardson and James Johnson were the only Heat starters to see any action in the overtime.

And that’s just fine for the Heat, who are expected to trade Whiteside in the offseason. D-Wade is expected to retire, enjoy the ride. This isn’t their year, the Heat know it, no reason to worry about who their first round opponent was going to be. I doubt they make it back to Miami for a Game 6.

Sixers center Embiid, mending a quite specified fractured orbital bone around his left eye, is not expected to play in the opener Saturday and may not play at all against the Heat, depending on how competitive the series is. The Sixers streaked into the playoffs on a 16-game winning binge that started with Embiid in the lineup and has rolled on since he was cracked in the face against the Knicks March 28.

The Heat aren’t likely to be able to produce enough offense to keep up with the Sixers, while Philly’s defense is rated 4th best in the league. The Heat play good defense, too, and are rated 7th (106.3 pts/100) but it shouldn’t matter, especially if Spoelstra’s not going to rely on Whiteside to anchor the D.

Bucks vs. Sixers in the second round while Cleveland and Toronto face off in the other East semifinal?  It seems a likely outcome and the best of all worlds for Milwaukee and Philly, who won’t see Lebron James and Kevin Love or the 59-win Raptors until the East Finals. But first the Bucks must get past the Kyrie-less Boston Celtics, who can’t be too pleased that the Bucks so obviously tanked their final game in Philly in hopes of dropping down from 6th into 7th to play them.

Bucks vs. Celtics

No Kyrie Irving means a good matchup for Bucks point guards Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon against Terry Rozier, who’s played well in Irving’s absence. Celtics middle linebacker Marcus Smart is still out nursing a torn tendon in his thumb, so the Celtics are woefully thin at point. A nice edge for the Bucks.

Greg Monroe leads the Celtics scoring off the bench. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Bucks big men John Henson, Thon Maker and Tyler Zeller will be disassembled by Aron Baynes and Greg “Moose” Monroe, who saw a lot of action off of Boston’s bench down the stretch. They will be reassembled after the playoffs as the Bucks organization puzzles what to do with them. For development purposes, I hope Thon plays a lot in this series, even though Monroe knows Thon’s every weakness and bad habit, having played a full season and two training camps with him in Milwaukee.

With the further development of young forwards Jaylen Brown (left) and Jayson Tatum as top priority for the Celtics goal in the Bucks series, they’re playing with house money in Boston. Photo: Boston Globe. License: Standard non-commercial use.

Khris Middleton and Tony Snell will have their hands full with the young Jays on the wings, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Middleton has had a decent, generally efficient scoring season (3-pt shoting % was down this year) while posting career highs in rebounds and assists. Khris got better in 2017-18 and posted a 7.65 BIER/36, a nice improvement over his career BIER of 4.96 (which isn’t all that great for a forward). The difficulty here is that 20-year-old Tatum posted a 7.50 BIER/36 in his rookie season and Brown, in his second season, bested Khris’ career mark. (Edited from original – much like the Bucks, I got the two Jays mixed up on the wings).

What this means in the world of BIER is that both the Jays are already better all-around impact players than Khris has been for most of his career; and that Middleton’s career-best season at age 26 was business as usual for Tatum at age 21 in his rookie year. This should trouble Bucks fans and front office people alike — and what happens in the wing match-ups in this series should prove instructional for anyone taking notes. It’s a good “see how we are”*¹ test for all involved, while in Boston they’re viewing the entire series as a “Jaylen and Jayson show” development exercise.

Coaching and discipline  could well define the match-ups on the wings. Tatum and Brown play in the NBA’s No. 1-rated defense and Brad Stevens has everybody’s attention in Boston. This can’t be said of Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty, as the Bucks showed an undisciplined streak as the season wound down — the ridiculous 46 points they gave up in the first quarter in Philly; the final two minutes of the loss in Denver; an unexpected loss at home to Brooklyn — the list since the All-Star break could go on. The Bucks defense (rated 19th in the NBA at 110.1 pts/100 poss.) is good in spots, but not for entire games. It’s not better to be lucky than good, but if the Bucks had played with greater poise and discipline, they’d probably be playing Cleveland in the first round.

Giannis vs. Al Horford – Other than Lebron James, who isn’t always 100% dialed in on defense, Al Horford is the toughest head-to-head match-up in the East side of the playoffs for the Giannis Antetokounmpo. Horford is the model of consistency at power forward and shoots 43% from three, but it’s his defense that will make Giannis work. Horford’s a very solid fundamental defender, knows all the veteran tricks, dirty and otherwise, and has been getting All-Star treatment by NBA referees for nearly a decade now. A good, tough test for Giannis, who loves a challenge. He’s the No. 2 rated BIER player in the Eastern Conference, behind only Lebron (J.D. Mo hasn’t crunched the full season numbers for the West yet, but he’s pretty sure Anthony Davis finished with the league’s top BIER number).

The benches: The Bucks bench got a boost in the final week of the season with the return of Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova to complement Jabari Parker, Brandon Jennings, Zeller, Sterling Brown, Maker and Jason Terry. The Maker-Zeller combo will have their hands full with the Moose but this is a good Bucks bench group. The Celtics are just too shorthanded with Smart not available until April 27. Monroe will produce in the middle and create offense around him (the Celtics like to run cutters and hand-off plays off of Monroe in the high post to take advantage of Monroe’s passing game). There may be no center in the East who’s as good with the ball as Monroe is. But there’s nobody to stop Parker other than Semi Ojeleye, another Celtics rookie, who’s somewhat of a liability at this point. Look for Parker to break out a great game or three in the series.

Prediction: #BucksIn6

May 17, 1987

The last time the Bucks and Celtics met in the playoffs was Game 7 of the 1987 Eastern Semifinals. The series has been dubbed “the forgotten” series because the East Finals the Celtics would play after surviving the Bucks has loomed large in both Legend of Larry Bird and Bad Boys Pistons lore (“Bird steals the ball!! – D.J. lays it in!!!!”). The 1988 Celtics-Hawks Eastern Conference semifinals series has loomed larger, too, partly because it was the pinnacle of Dominique Wilkins career, and partly because Bird’s exploits were, again, legendary. Now that I think about it, I’m not exactly sure why that Hawks team gets talked about more than the Bucks, who played in three Eastern Conference Finals in the 1980s. The Hawks never made it out of the semifinal rounds.

There’s a lot of online content about “the forgotten series” now but for my money (it’s actually free) head for the Sports Illustrated vaults and dig into SI’s feature on Game 7, published May 25, 1987 and posted HERE.

The full CBS Broadcast of the game with Dick Stockton and Billy Cunningham is up on youtube at Karol K’s NBA channel. Nobody knew these teams, these players better than Billy C, who coached the Sixers (1979-1985) during the great 3-headed Celtics-Sixers-Bucks Eastern Conference rivalry in the 1980s.

The referees are Ed Rush and Hugh Evans. Final score: Celtics 119, Bucks 113.

*¹ “See How We Are” is a great song by the band X, written by John Doe and Exene Cervenka. It’s not about basketball.

*Ed. note: this was a typo – Monroe didn’t vent in the media like Whiteside did. The Moose very publicly during a game early in the 2017 season, when Moose was playing less than John Henson and losing minutes to Thon Maker, got into a heated hollering match with Foster; the maintained a solid, mutually respectful working relationship. The first thing Monroe did after learning last fall he was traded to the Suns was walk over to Foster and shake his hand. Foster will not likely be coaching the Bucks next season, but he deserves credit, as Bucks big man coach, for getting the most out of a very limited John Henson, who’s had his best pro season this year) 

Sourcerole

  • Raptors vs. Heat official scorers’ report, final game of the regular season, 04/11/18 – http://www.nba.com/data/html/nbacom/2017/gameinfo/20180411/0021701221_Book.pdf

Things to do in Milwaukee when you might not have to play Toronto in Round 1 . . . Meanwhile in Miami: Heat vs. Thunder tonight kicks off 3 days of NBA madness

The Bucks hopes of finishing anywhere but 8th, it turned out, didn’t die last week in Denver, and neither did Denver’s hopes after the Bucks gave them new life (the Nuggets beat the T-Wolves and the Clippers last week to all but eliminate the Clippers and give themselves a shot at 8th in the West). The Bucks and Heat are tied with 43-37 records, the Heat holding the tie-breaker and 6th seed in the East. Both teams are in action tonight: The Bucks face Orlando in Milwaukee while the Heat host the Thunder in Miami. The Wizards are 8th at 42-38 after losing to the spoiler Atlanta Hawks Sunday. In the East, 8th means a Toronto series and is to be avoided.

The turning point in the Bucks outlook had nothing to do with the Bucks or their temporary coaching staff, and everything to do with Kyrie Irving‘s infected left knee and the news that his inaugural season in Boston was over.

Chances are, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a better all-around player than the small forward on your favorite NBA team. RHJ played 37 mins in the Nets 119-111 win over the Bucks in Milwaukee 04/05, grabbing 11 rebs to go with 14 pts and 5 assists. NY Post photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

With the injury news April 5, the Heat and the Wizards joined the 7th seed sweepstakes to play Kyrie-less Boston, locked in at No. 2 in the East. Both teams dumped games to lottery teams while the Bucks were doing the same in Milwaukee Thursday under a barrage of Brooklyn 3-pointers (19 makes, 19 misses by the Nets). Then the Wizards lost to the Hawks, and not on purpose. John Wall‘s back from knee surgery but his teammates had grown accustomed to playing without him. A Kobe-style drama may be playing out in D.C., with the immediate beneficiaries the Bucks and their playoff seeding.

In this race in the bottom rungs of the Eastern Conference playoff ladder, if you run too fast you could end up playing Lebron and the Cavs in the Round 1 — and nobody wants that with the possible exception of Giannis Antetokounmpo who would consider it an honor, a challenge, a learning experience and a chance to pull off an incredible upset. The rest of the Bucks? Let’s just say Giannis would be resting his knees and ankles and watching Toronto Raptors games had his teammates not had some fun winning in New York Saturday. He is expected to play tonight against Orlando. (Not anymore – Giannis was a game time scratch).

So now the trick is to somehow wedge into 7th between Washington and Miami while avoiding the mistake of winning too much and becoming Round 1 fodder for Lebron and NBA refs. It’s better off said — the last thing the NBA wants is Lebron out of the playoffs after only a few games. If the Bucks were good enough to upset the Cavs (which they’re not), the refs would be sure to make said task so supremely difficult that only someone like Giannis could possibly succeed without help from one of the Avengers (preferably not “arrow guy” Clint, who’s No. 1 on the “will probably die in the next movie” list).

First up, the Bucks host the Orlando Magic tonight in the last regular season Bucks game that will ever be played at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a building that saw a lot of losing by the Bucks over the years and only two playoff series wins, yet houses two generations of nostalgia for those who came to know, love and routinely regret their uncharted fates as fans of the Milwaukee Bucks. We waited years for the criminal investigation into the crooked refereeing in Game 4 vs. the Sixers 2001, to no avail. All we got is Jim Rome yelling about it on TV, a Ray Allen trade only George Karl loved, and a bunch of fledgling bloggers invested in Michael Redd for no reason they could explain. It was weird, weirder even than the drama of this season — and that’s only the stuff that happened after the internet. The 1990s were often weirder but usually a lot more fun despite the Bucks needing the entire decade to build a winner in the BC, where once upon a time everyone knew how to stay on beat for the DEFENSE chant. Who let the dogs out, indeed!

What’s killing Bucks fandom now is the idea that the Bucks are supposed to win. It’s a pretty dumb idea, looking up and down the roster and the payroll. But there it is, this idea that the Bucks time has arrived with Giannis. Now that time is here, the fans tip-tap their smart phones and wonder when. 

Bucks need a win tonight – Can the Bucks beat the 24-win Magic in this final Bradley Center game? The last time the Bucks played Orlando, Jonathon Simmons and D.J. Augustin rained 13-21 threes on the Bucks and the Magic held off the Bucks in the 4th to win 126-117 (funny, same thing the Nets did to the Bucks on Thursday). Simmons isn’t likely to play tonight due to a “right wrist contusion”, the Bucks are at home and the Magic closer to wrapping it up with a primo lottery pick. The Magic won’t be as tough as Brooklyn, and Malcolm Brogdon is expected to play (not sure if this sarcasm or not).

But who am I kidding? The Bucks will beat Orlando tonight because most folks around the NBA have little more than a vague awareness the game is being played at all, and — more importantly — because a win by the Bucks could quite possibly create a dilemma for the Bucks in Philly on Wednesday in the season finale. Dilemma, conundrum, Hobson’s choice — to win or not to win — a fitting way for the Bucks to end this rather Shakespearean season of theirs.

Dispense with the Magic, beat the Sixers and the Bucks could quite possibly find themselves in 6th. Unfortunately for the Bucks, handing the Sixers a loss will almost surely vault the Cavs into 3rd, which means the Bucks would head to Cleveland over the weekend to begin the playoffs. The Cavs finish their schedule with back-to-back games against the Knicks, who, as the Bucks found on Saturday, don’t have a lot to work with right now other than Michael Beasley (half the roster’s on the injury report). The Sixers are on a 14-game winning streak which should run to 15 games in Atlanta Tuesday, barring another spoiler win by the Hawks.

Meanwhile in Miami – The Heat tonight host a desperate OKC team that still hasn’t clinched a playoff birth in the West. Russell Westbrook cast as desperado in Miami, rocketing all over the court, raging at every injustice seen and unseen, demanding sublime efforts from Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to nail down the playoff berth. This will be great TV tonight, and there’s more ahead Tuesday and Wednesday in the West match-ups. Pity the Heat, who could be looking to avoid the 8th seed on Wednesday against 1st place Toronto. I don’t see how the Heat win the OKC game, with Hassan Whiteside and Erik Spoelstra warring again last week over Whiteside’s playing time and the wags talking off-season trade (attention: Jon Horst). OKC plays center Steven Adams full-time minutes, so Whiteside should get his PT tonight.

While the Thunder have yet to clinch a playoff spot, the Pacers, who traded Paul George for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo in the offseason, locked up the #5 seed over the weekend. Addition by subtraction and teamwork, a breakout year for Oladipo, and a few smart moves by the GM; “trust the process” in Philly — the Pacers and Sixers are where the Bucks thought they’d be this season.

Meanwhile in Washington The Wizards host those shorthanded Celtics on Tuesday. There’s a lot of silver in the clouds for the Celtics, no matter what happens in the playoffs. The Celtics have nothing to play for in D.C., except to run offense for recent acquisition Greg Monroe — 17.7 pts, 7 rebs, 5.7 asts avg. for Monroe in his last three games, and a triple-double against the Bulls on Friday) — and build experience for their young forwards, 19-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown. A Bucks win over the Magic coupled with a loss to the Celtics Tuesday would lock the Wizards in 8th.

A Wizards win against the Celtics would mean the Wizards would have to lose in Orlando or the Heat would have to lose both of their remaining games for the Bucks to end up 7th. (Assuming the Bucks beat the Magic tonight.) Don’t ask me if Toronto will be resting players and taking the night off in Miami Wednesday.

And don’t ask whether the Bucks can beat the Sixers in Philly. Let’s see if the Bucks can take Orlando first.

Bucks Weekend: Khris Middleton led the Bucks on the boards in Orlando, and it almost made up for Miami

Middleton rebounds against the Hornets last season. AP photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

It doesn’t happen very often, and when it does it’s worthy of note. Khris Middleton led the Bucks in rebounding in their 111-104 win over Orlando Saturday, their sixth straight win on the second night of back-to-back games (they lost 91-85 in D-Wade’s “return to Miami” game on Friday.)*¹

Middleton had 9 boards in Orlando, all of them on the defensive end, a couple of them big in the 4th quarter. He also made a lot of other plays, like the beautiful half-fast break he ran to set up Jason Terry for a three as the Bucks edged ahead in the 3rd quarter. Khris had 7 assists on the night to go with the 9 rebounds and 21 points. It was only the 8th time in 325 games as a Buck that Middleton alone has led the team in rebounding.

And it was quite a difference from the night before in Miami, when nobody on the Bucks side had a good game, including coach Joe Prunty, whose rotations had Giannis Antetokounmpo on the bench for 4 minutes when Heat center Hassan Whiteside picked up his 4th foul in the 3rd Quarter.*² You can get away with mismanaging your star player’s minutes against Brooklyn, but Miami took advantage. Jabari Parker played tentatively and appeared to bothered by the aggressive energy of the game. Giannis thrives under those conditions, as does Eric Bledsoe, and they led the Bucks back in the 4th but ran out of game clock. They had finally become ticked off enough about what was going on to take over.

Middleton shot 5 for 14 and had one lonely rebound as the Bucks got worked by the Heat on the glass, 51-37, a glaring example of when rebounding beats better shooting. The Bucks checked the Heat to 42% EFG%.

The concern of many who follow the Bucks is that, right now, they look like one of those mediocre 46- or 47-win teams, great at padding their stats when beating up on the bad teams, but continually falling short against the good teams. Since Jan. 1, the Bucks record against teams currently in playoff spots is 3-and-9, and Prunty is 0-and-2. (No, I’m not counting the victory over the Embiid-less Sixers as a win against a playoff team). Miami beat the Bucks three times in that period, which is why Friday’s game mattered — it was the Bucks last chance during the regular season to take a game from the Heat.

Chalk it up to the evil genius of coach Erik Spoelstra and the dominating, intimidating presence of Whiteside, who averaged 18 pts, 13.3 rebs and 3.67 blocked shots vs. the Bucks. In the wake of Whiteside’s eight offensive rebounds in game 3, Bucks center John Henson missed the Orlando game and will probably be out of action until after the All-Star break, nursing a bum hamstring and what’s left of his pride. (Bucks have until March 1 to sign some free agent big man help).

Are the Bucks a good team, or are they Giannis Antetokounmpo and a bunch of future trades who helped get their coach fired last month? I guess we’ll find out over the next two-and-a-half months.

Middleton leading the Bucks in rebounding in Orlando was a lot more interesting when I didn’t realize he had but one lonely defensive rebound in Miami. Five or six defensive rebounds a game by the small forward used to be business as usual around here (Luc Mbah a Moute, Glenn Robinson et al., going all the way back to Marques Johnson and Bobby Dandridge). The idea is to get 5 or 6 D-rebs every game and hit the offensive glass for one or two possession-saving rebounds. The latter has happened less and less for the Bucks this season. Friday in Miami, they had all of two offensive rebounds in the game. Two. The Heat had 13.

The Bucks D-rebounding has improved this season, up to 17th in the NBA from 25th last season. But if not for Dallas, the Bucks would be dead last in offensive rebounding in the league, with an OREB% of 19.2 (Dallas is at 17.9). Cleveland is 28th at 19.3%, a function of Kevin Love playing center, Tristan Thompson‘s playing time being cut, Love breaking his hand and Lebron James either playing on the perimeter or simply electing to not rebound. Lebron has always been a disinterested rebounder, in contrast to Kevin Durant or Giannis, who lead their teams on the boards.

Michael Beasley, currently leading the Knicks in scoring off the bench, has been missed. NY Times photo. License: Standard non-commercial use.

The Bucks have similar personnel issues — they traded their best rebounder, Greg Monroe, were unable to resign Michael Beasley over the summer and Jabari Parker missed the first 50 games rehabbing from knee surgery. Beasley and Parker are small forwards in the classic sense — natural scorers with sweet shooting touch and instinctual drives for the ball on offense. They’ll hit the offensive glass even as the coaches are yelling at them to get back on defense, defense being something that neither is good at, but neither was the Big Dog or any number of good and great small forwards in NBA history. Dr. J didn’t care much about D until he realized he might never win a title if he didn’t pick it up, which he did.

Middleton’s no shutdown defender either, and he’s played most of his career with better rebounders — Giannis, Greg Monroe, Parker — so, like Lebron, he’s content to stay on the perimeter and take what rebounds come his way. To be fair (and the editorial board here at Bob Boozer Jinx does insist on fairness), part of it is a matter of coaching, and part the changing NBA game. Offensive rebounding is at an all-time low in the league at 22.3%. Small forwards don’t crash for rebounds like they used to, especially if they’re setting up at the 3-point line much of the game; and coaches often demand that they “get back” to defend against the fast break.

Yet neither changes in the game nor coaching mores have prevented the OKC Thunder from leading the NBA in OREB% by a mile at 28.1% while also rating 5th in defense. Russell Westbrook simply wants the rebounds more than his opponents do. His center, Steven Adams, is having a great year, emerging as one of the Top 5 impact centers in the league and leading the NBA in individual OREB% at 17.3%. Henson’s actually 18th in the league (9.5%) which isn’t so bad for J-Hook. It’s almost stunning to think that over the course of 100 missed shots on offense, OKC’s Adams will get to eight more rebounds than Henson, and six more than Dwight Howard or LaMarcus Aldridge. Westbrook and Adams are clearly reading from the same page in OKC.

Unlike Henson, who’s doing all he can, truly, and deserves at least some merit for having his best season as a pro, Middleton can hunt rebounds whenever he wants to, or when called upon to do so. The nine rebounds he pulled down in Orlando were well short of his career high of 14, set last month in Philly, and was the 3rd time this season Middleton has led the Bucks in rebounding. The Orlando game was the first time this season Middleton led the Bucks on the boards in a game where Giannis played. Here’s a look at the other two.

  • 01/20/18 vs. the Sixers in Philly. A dreadful loss as the Bucks played without Antetokounmpo, who stayed in Milwaukee to rest recurring soreness in his right knee — also the last Bucks game coached by Jason Kidd. Middleton posted the first triple double of his career AND his career high in rebounds — 14 — to go with 23 points and 10 assists. (There’s an irony in there, to Middleton’s first triple double being Kidd’s last game, if only because there isn’t another word to aptly describe it. Giannis not playing in the game might qualify it as one of those rare double ironies.) The Sixers blew the Bucks out, 116-94. The Bucks fired Kidd two days later. Here are Middleton’s ironic highlights.

  • 11/22/2017, Bucks vs. the Suns in Phoenix  Giannis sat out to rest his knee and Middleton dropped 40 points on the Suns and led the Bucks with 9 rebs. The Bucks won this sloppy, turnover-riddled game in overtime, 113-107.

Giannis has missed four games so far this season, all due to soreness in his right knee, a problem that cropped up over the summer and forced him to drop out of international play with Team Greece. The Bucks split those four games (they lost in Charlotte 12/23/17 and beat the Suns in Milwaukee Jan. 22). Middleton put up some superstar per game numbers,  32.3 pts – 8.2 rebs – 5 assists – 2 steals. He shot a ton — 89 times in the four games — and made 53%, hitting 10 of 28 from 3-point-land. 

I’m beginning to get a better sense of how Middleton arrived at the rather off-the-wall idea that the Bucks should have two All-Stars this year, and maybe he did get a vote or two. I’m also reminded that his 18.2 pts per game led the Bucks in scoring in the 2016-17 season. Over the 17 games Prunty coached that season while Kidd was recovering from back surgery, Middleton scored more, at a clip of 22.7 ppg.

Had the Bucks been winning (they won only 33 games), Middleton might have earned an All-Star nod with stats like those above — he was shooting close to 50-40-90. Middleton’s a bargain now and is due $13 million next season, and can (and almost surely will) opt out of the final year of his contract 2019-20. Sooner than later, the Bucks will be paying Giannis, Bledsoe and Parker more than Middleton, assuming the Bucks are able to resign Parker, which GM Jon Horst says he plans to do.

With Parker back from rehab and the Bucks (and Middleton) continuing to log games like Friday’s loss to the Heat, time is suddenly moving fast for this team. Or, as Steve McQueen so succinctly put it in the crime film classic, Bullitt,  “Time starts now.” 

In 322 games as a Buck, Middleton has led the team in rebounding a total of eight times. The three games this season were noted above. Here are the box scores from the other five, starting with the most recent first, in chronological order back to 2014.

  • 03/11/17 vs. the T-Wolves in Milwaukee. Karl-Anthony Towns had a big game but Monroe and Henson battled him well off the bench. Middleton led with 9 rebounds. Giannis played 40 mins yet somehow got to only 4 rebounds. Bucks won 102-95.
  • 11/07/15 vs. the Nets in Milwaukee. Middleton took only six shots in the Bucks 94-86 win, but led with 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
  • 03/07/2015 vs the Wizards in Milwaukee. Middleton led in scoring (30) and rebounding (9) as the Bucks won a close one to pull within a game-and-a-half of WAS in the East standings. Giannis, Middleton and Henson are the only current Bucks in the box score. Parker was out rehabbing from his first ACL surgery.
  • 02/11/15 vs. the Kings in Milwaukee. Bucks lose the rebounding battle to DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson but win the game, 111-103, pushing their record to 30-23. Middleton led the Bucks with 10 rebs, three on offense. Whatever happened to Jason Thompson?*³
  • 01/04/14 vs. the Suns in Phoenix. The Bucks shot 54% but turned it over 25 times to lose 116-100. Middleton came off the bench to score 7 and pull down 8 defensive boards in 22 minutes.

*¹ Referee Tyler Ford (he’s on pg. 42 of the 2017-18 Officials Guide), in his 3rd NBA season, is a former Big Ten ref from that part of west Ohio that’s more like Indiana and Ford is every bit that fresh faced Midwestern kid with big ears who’s in every Hollywood army unit. Ford called 23 fouls — 11 in the 4th quarter, of the Bucks-Heat game Friday. The Heat actually got the worst of it, but not until after the Bucks fell behind by 18 in the 4th after consecutive Wayne Ellington threes. The Heat could do little wrong for the first 15 minutes of the 2nd half, despite hacking at Bucks anytime the drove near the basket. I suppose by the 4th quarter Ford had realized that Aaron Smith, the ref under the Heat basket, wasn’t going to police the Heat defense, so he took it upon himself to make Smith’s calls for him, apparently unconcerned that his hyper-active whistle made him appear insane – on TV no less. I’ll salute anybody willing and unafraid to appear insane in the course of righting wrongs being committed all around him in Miami on Friday. Here’s to Tyler Ford.

  Prunty tied to trick the rotations by pulling Giannis out of any 3rd quarter after just 4:34. If the justification is to get the rotations started early, around the 5 minute mark, Giannis is the last guy you want coming out of the game. Add to this the fact that the game was close, 53-50, and Miami center Whiteside had three fouls when Prunty sent Giannis to the bench, and picked up his 4th a minute later and was taken out of the game. Giannis was not in the game to take advantage of Whiteside’s absence, obviously, and the deficit was 12 by the time Prunty subbed Giannis back in with about 3:40 left in the quarter. The Bucks scored a measly 8 pts in the quarter.

  • *² The tried and true strategy is to have the superstar play continuously for about 10 minutes in the 3rd quarter, then pull him inside of 2 minutes to go to steal some extra rest over the quarter change. Here’s a Pelicans – Pistons play-by-play from Monday night where coach Alvin Gentry manages to do exactly this with Anthony Davis’ minutes. The Pelicans won by 15.  

*³ Jason Thompson left the NBA for the Chinese league Shandong Golden Stars in 2016, and is currently playing pro ball in Turkey with Fenerbahce Dogus Instanbul. There are big men out there, playing in all four corners of the globe. I can’t imagine the Bucks billionaire owners having too much difficulty buying out the contracts of big centers like Thompson or former Buck Miroslav Raduljica, the tough Serb who powered Team Serbia past Andrew Bogut and the Aussie Boomers to the silver medal in the last Olympics. Raduljica’s now playing for the Jiangsu Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Assoc. — and it looks like their season has come to an end. (edit: I’m beginning to think that if the Bucks were going to sign Bogut, it would’ve happened already. The Bucks may not be on his list.)

Sourcerole – Gamebook, Bucks vs. Miami, 02/09/18. The Bucks regular season series against the Heat has turned out to be an important measuring stick for “how things are going”, and this final game of series was no different. https://data.nba.net/10s/prod/v1/20180209/0021700821_Book.pdf