For all their troubles this season, the Milwaukee Bucks sit just a half game back in the standings for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed.
Brandon Jennings scored 36 points, passed out 5 assists, and continued his 2012 trend toward efficiency, hitting 15 of 26 field goal attempts. He also hit a long, late-game 3-pointer that clinched the victory with 1:33 left, drawing the ire of Carmelo Anthony (35 points, 5 rebounds). Anthony’s jawing antics earned him a second technical foul and the requisite ejection.
By beating the Knicks — the current holder of the eighth spot — the Bucks picked up their first road win of the season.
Stephen Jackson was inactive for the game after missing the pregame shootaround. His replacement in the starting lineup, Shaun Livingston, scored 18 points. Livingston established his favorite shot early in the game; he made all three of his short jumper attempts in the first quarter.
The Bucks also got contributions from the bench. Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova combined to grab 20 rebounds. In his first action of the season, Luc Mbah a Moute scored 6 points and nabbed 7 rebounds, in addition to flashing glimpses of the defensive prowess the Bucks are going to need from him this season.
MVP: Brandon Jennings
Late in the first quarter, as the Knicks were bringing the ball up the court, Carmelo looked cross-court to make a basic, gentle pass to Toney Douglas. It was a simple “Get the point guard the ball to initiate the half-court offense”-type of pass. But he telegraphed it. By being so slow and deliberate with it, Anthony gave Jennings time to dart in, swipe the pass, and fly in for a huge dunk.
It’s the type of smart, savvy play that is beginning to make Brandon Jennings looks less like a young learner and more like a must-see performer.
LVP: Stephen Jackson
The only good thing that can be said about Jackson after his absence is that the Bucks got their first road win of the season without him. Is that causation or happenstance?
Things that should please you… : The Knicks had 13 assists.
After getting sliced up for 27 assists by the transition-happy Nuggets at home on Tuesday, the Bucks froze out the Knicks offense. New York only managed 13 assists while relying heavily of the isolation game (i.e., ballstopping hoggery) of Carmelo Anthony.
… and things that remain worrisome: Milwaukee lost the battle of free throws (again).
Call it defensive intensity, physical hackery, or a lack of love from the refs, but the Bucks seem to come out on the short end of the free throw line nearly every game. Milwaukee cannot afford to get outscored from the charity stripe with such regularity, or they will only be able to pull out wins when they get fiery hot from the field (as Jennings did tonight.)
Six teams are soaring in the Eastern Conference standings, and they sit far above everyone else. To wit: the Hawks are the current sixth seed with an 11-5 record and the Cavaliers are seventh with a 6-8 record.
That leaves nine teams — including Cleveland, New York, Boston, and Milwaukee — fighting for two spots. If/when Cleveland swoons, the Bucks will then be fighting two of their higher-salaried brethren for a playoff berth. Winning tonight propels them a long way toward that end.