Following his 30-point effort in the Bucks’ 117-90 win in Detroit, things were looking up for Jennings. He had gotten his team five games over .500 for the first time all season. His 20-point third quarter spearheaded an outburst where the Bucks outscored the Pistons by a 72-28 margin. And Rajon Rondo’s ACL injury had left an open spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star roster, one for which Jennings was clearly auditioning.
Then the Bucks got stuck in Detroit overnight, which was unpleasant because the team wouldn’t get back to Milwaukee until hours before the game. Also, it’s Detroit.
It got a lot worse from there.
Jennings found out that an All-Star team consisting of eight frontcourt players and three guards would be replacing guard Rajon Rondo with — wait for it — Brooklyn center Brook Lopez. In a year without Rose and Rondo, Jennings saw a chance to sniff an All-Star roster, and if he couldn’t make it this year, well, then he may never make it, no?
Whether he actually deserved it or not is another matter entirely. Jennings saw the commissioner of his sport go out of his way to pick a player at the wrong position. It wouldn’t be too difficult for him to perceive a slight of some sort.
Then before the game, Jennings found out that his center (and defensive security blanket) Larry Sanders would sit out with an illness. Jennings can play aggressively out on the perimeter, gambling for steals and the like, in part because he knows Sanders is behind him to erase his mistakes. He would have no such luxury against the Bulls.
During the game, he had to match up against Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson. Hinrich, in particular, gets leeway from the officials to ride opposing guards with armbars as they try to maneuver with a dribble. This game was no different. How he gets that leeway, though, is befuddling. (Seriously, if anyone knows the answer to this mystery, please tell me.)
Before halftime, Nate Robinson slipped away and cut hard to the hoop behind Jennings for his first in-game dunk in two years.
In the third quarter, Brandon Jennings tried to pull the Bucks up by their bootstraps. He had a streak of impressive spurts after halftime, and he sat poised to do it again. He scored 11 points in the frame, and at one point, he hit a three-pointer that cut the lead to seven points. (The Bulls were up by 18 at halftime.)
Without Sanders, though, the Bulls were able to re-establish their cushy lead with a flurry of dunks and layups. Robinson made nearly every shot he took, too.
Then Jennings tried to free himself for a shot in the fourth quarter and a bad night got a whole lot worse.
Personally, what I had hoped for was to see Jennings ride Hinrich and Robinson defensively in the same way that they were nudging him. Instead, he tried to do it on the offensive end — an unsurprising tactic, I suppose, if you’ve watched Jennings closely for any length of time.
In any case, the outburst couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Jennings, who has struggled through the Februarys of three consecutive seasons. Last January, I pegged him as All-Star worthy. I still think that he deserved the honor at the time, but his follow-up act (shooting 33.6% in February) proved otherwise.
So which Brandon Jennings is going to be the Brandon Jennings of February 2013?
It’s completely stupid, but the cruel NBA schedule that offered no favors last night offers redemption on Friday. Jennings gets a chance to play in Madison Square Garden, not far from where Lopez plies his trade. The Knicks are the only Eastern Conference team against whom Brandon has a career average 20+ points per game. He seems to love playing in the spotlight there.
And again, stupidly enough, he’ll probably be extra motivated to do so in the Bucks’ 90s throwbacks.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see him having a dud in New York in throwbacks. Bright lights and daring fashion styles are the extra little quirks that give him a spark — Brandon being Brandon, if you will. Expect him to have a big game on Friday.
If he doesn’t, February may still be the cruelest month of all.