The 2004-05 Phoenix Suns are alive and well about 800 miles northeast of the Valley of the Sun.
The Denver Nuggets ran, dunked, and triple shot the Milwaukee Bucks to death for a 105-95 victory Tuesday night at the Bradley Center. If the points weren’t coming from shotgun (15-33 at the rim) or sniper range (12-25 on threes), a red carpet helped guide Denver to the free throw line (29-37 to 12-14 FT advantage).
The Nuggets entered the game with the NBA’s fastest (98.7 pace) and best offense in transition (22 fast break ppg), and second most opportunistic defense (17.9 TO/game). The Nuggets are also the league’s top distributors (24 assists per game), and dunk more than any team not playing in Florida (21.5 NBA-leading baskets at the rim).
In short, the Bucks did very little to slow, stop, or out-run the Nuggets. But that was, and never will be, Milwaukee Bucks basketball as long as Scott Skiles is coach. That isn’t so much an indictment of Skiles’ ability as it is a call-out of the Bucks’ well-documented troubles against pressure-happy athletic offenses.
MVP: Brandon Jennings
When Brandon Jennings (30 pts, 13-22 fg, 3-6 3fg, 6 asts, 3 stls, 3 rbs) said he worked on his strength and inside game in the offseason, he apparently meant it. Jennings closed out the game strong (5-7 fg, 12 points in the fourth quarter) and got the Bucks within nine, but one man can’t carry the weight of a 36-minute deficit alone.
Jennings scored all of his fourth quarter points beyond the arc or inside the circle, and continued to show marked improvement finishing around the rim (6-9 for the game). Credit Brandon Jennings’ competitive streak for working so hard, so late against insurmountable odds; he may just have this NBA thing figured out by season’s end.
LVP: Andrew Bogut
There Andrew Bogut (2 pts, 1-5 fg, 5 rbs, 3 blks) was drop stepping to an easy lay-up for the Bucks’ first score, and there he went draped in an invisibility cloak. Playing just four ticks over 19 minutes, Bogut was comprehensively outworked by Nene, and sat out most of the second half (just 7 minutes).
Inconsistency has its own cubby in the Bucks’ locker room, but Bogut somewhat gets a pass here. He logged 41 minutes just one game after experiencing “concussion-like symptoms,” and Skiles admitted as much after the game. Stephen Jackson also played as many second half minutes as me (after a 39 minute effort in Philly), but he was a little more vocal about it.
This should concern you…:63-44 first half deficit
Milwaukee consistently starts games fast before entropy sets in, but the Bucks got down early and it only got worse from there. Denver piled on with a 37-23 second quarter advantage that enticedthe Bradley Center faithful to practice their Jonathan Lucroy chants by half.
The Bucks’ streaky offense can’t climb its way out of a 21-point hole without equally stellar defense or a chance opponent cold streak. Milwaukee wins through a combination of early scoring and sustained defensive effort. As Tuesday night proved, comebacks are hard to come by when the Bucks are forced to race at the same speed as their opponent.
…And this should sedate you: The 2011-12 fawns find their footing
The jury is still hung in the case of “Larry Sanders vs. NBA Potential,” but 2011 Bucks draft picks Tobias Harris (14 pts, 5-10 fg, 4-4 ft, 8 rbs, 3 asts) and Jon Leuer (11 pts, 4-5 fg, 3-3 ft) are scoring early victories in similar trials. Both rookies are contributing immediately at major areas of need.
The chatter about Harris post-draft was more gossip about his weight than discussion over his actual ability as a 19-year-old. But Harris was a scoring machine in his only season at Tennessee, and has shown a bloodhound’s nose for the basket in the NBA.
Much has been written about the many writings about Jon Leuer’s NBA game. He plays with non-stop energy, already has a signature jumper, and has the brains and instincts you would expect from a UW-Madison graduate. Harris is more likely to pay off as a long-term investment if the “R” word becomes a reality, both John Hammond deserves continual credit for finding two promising non-lottery players in a very underwhelming draft.
Verdict: An Optimist Is What A Pessimist Calls A Realist
We all expected to see a different Bucks team this season…sort of. Getting proven scorers with personalities is great, but it wasn’t realistic to expect Milwaukee to flip the switch and become a 100 point scoring machine.
Optimist: The Bucks are still playing their toughest stretch of the 2011-12 season early, and the 46-win squad from two years ago capitalized off second-half momentum built from beating cupcake teams. These Bucks aren’t Milwaukee is balanced enough to copy that same path, if time allows.
Pessimist: Skiles has a tendency to wear on a team after four years, and the Bucks play in that big, gray elephant of an arena desperate for success ASAP if it’s to be replaced anytime soon. A month from now “rebuilding” may be a trending topic among Bucks writers, fans, and upper management; guaranteeing a few years of failure doesn’t do much to generate ticket sales or optimism for a new arena.
Realist: Breath. It’s still early, the Nuggets are good, scoring problems aren’t surprising, and the Bucks are better constructed than last year. If things fall apart, they fall apart, but declaring victory or defeat based on 13 games is almost always premature.