February 17, 2012; Orlando FL, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Tobias Harris (15) slam dunks during the first half against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Hole in the Middle: Orlando Magic 94, Milwaukee Bucks 85

The Milwaukee Bucks played some hounding defense and built and early 15-point lead.  The Orlando Magic stormed back to tie the game.

The Bucks worked themselves ahead by 10 points again. The Magic fought back to tie it.

In the fourth quarter, the Bucks lurched into the lead by 10.  Orlando came back to tie it shortly after, and by that point, the Bucks could not front any more resistance.  Injured (Tobias Harris), bloodied (Ersan Ilyasova), and foul-plagued (Larry Sanders and Jon Leuer), the Bucks had no answer for Dwight Howard (26 points, 20 rebounds).  Heck, even Jon Brockman had a fist-sized hole in the back of his jersey by the end of the game.

Stat of the game: the Magic ended the first and second halves of the game on 14-1 and 17-0 runs, respectively. Holy handbags, batman.

Brockman had a typical night.  Inserted when starting center Jon Leuer drew early fouls, the other Jon battled Dwight Howard in the paint, frustrating Dwight and even drawing a pair of offensive fouls (and indirectly, a Howard technical foul).  But in the end, he finished scoreless, didn’t rebound well, and ended the game with a team-worst -25 plus/minus rating.  It’s hard to outduel the best interior player of his generation with that type of performance, no matter how gritty it is.

MVP: Ersan Ilyasova

There were a lot of Bucks who played decent-but-not-outstanding games.  Ersan was one of them.

He finished with 14 points (5/11 FG), 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal and the usual amount of Ilyasova hustle mixed in with a few headscratchers.  No other Buck had more than 4 rebounds.

Nevertheless, it will be a sad day if Ersan gets traded.  As a free-agent-to-be at season’s end, and as a player who has never seemed particularly happy in Milwaukee, he could be included in a deal before the upcoming trade deadline.  And as one of the few truly watchable Bucks this season, it would be hard to say goodbye.

LVP: Brandon Jennings 

The tandem of Brandon and Stephen Jackson shot a combined 5-for-26 (19%) from the field.  The rest of the team hit on 44% of their shots on the evening.

Jennings was missing from everywhere, and he wasn’t particularly concerned with the quality of his chosen shots.  Many of his missed jumpers did not venture past the front of the rim, and his few forays to the hoop ended with a turnover or an egregious miss.

The suspicious slump continues.

This should please you: Tobias Harris

Compared to the rest of the Bucks roster, Tobias Harris possesses a unique skillset.

He is big.  He has the ‘soft’ hands that scouts love, and a sticky handle to boot.  Best of all, he can jump his way to an offensive rebound or two and move his feet quickly enough to recover on occasion from a defensive lapse (of which he’ll have many).

In 16 minutes of action against the Magic, Harris tallied 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and an assist.  He earned a pair of AND-1′s on slashing moves to the hoop.  His moves are crisp and athletic and ever-so-mature for a 19-year-old.

He had his own shots blocked a couple of times, too, but the Bucks get so little offense from the paint that they need to content themselves with both his successes of talent and foibles of aggression.  His presence will make his teammates better.

This should leave you pitchforks-and-torches angry: Tobias got broken on a Dwight Howard pick.

Is this a legal play?  It may be perfectly (or borderline) legal, but at the same time, is there any doubt that Dwight fully intended to deliver a knockdown here?

Final Verdict: Ship Still Sailing South

When the season is turning irrevocably sour, reverting course for quarter or two (tonight is was 21 solid minutes of basketball, after which the Bucks lead 45-30) isn’t really a reversion at all.  Short-term successes followed by game-deciding collapses will only lead to more frustration — as it has for the past two weeks.

Tags: Brandon Jennings Carlos Delfino Dwight Howard Ersan Ilyasova Milwaukee Bucks Scott Skiles Stephen Jackson Tobias Harris

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