So close, yet so far.
The Bucks were in Memphis on Tuesday night for their fourth preseason game against the Grizzlies at the Fedex Forum. Milwaukee trailed for most of the game, until Khris Middleton and Brandon Knight led an electric 14-4 run midway through the fourth quarter that gave the Bucks the lead and propelled them into a position to win. A sweet O.J. Mayo three pointer from the top of the key extended Milwaukee’s lead to 5 points with just over a minute to play.
Then, youth and inexperience happened.
Two defensive breakdowns in the final minute of the game led to three point plays for Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies took control of the game in the blink of an eye. Down three with 10 seconds left, John Henson passed up a wide open dunk opportunity (off of an inbounds pass) in favor of a kick-out to wide-open Khris Middleton sitting at the three point line. Middleton’s shot went half way down and came out, and Memphis held on for the 102-99 victory.
Milwaukee is now 0-4 in preseason play, alone in last place in the NBA. Good thing preseason doesn’t count, right?
Brandon Knight (19 pts, 8-16 FGs, 5 reb, 4 ast) had a good game scoring the ball in 27 minutes of play. Knight was finishing strong inside in addition to knocking down jumpers consistently, something we hadn’t seen him do in his first three games. It’s interesting to note that Larry Drew had Knight in at two guard (with Ridnour running the point) on Milwaukee’s final possession of the game.
O.J. Mayo shot extremely well from beyond the arc (4-5 3PT FG’s) in route to scoring 14 points. A number of Mayo’s made three balls were tough shots with guys in his face, as well. One area of concern is Mayo’s turnover issues, as he had 5 on Tuesday after recording 4 on Saturday. Efficiency and taking care of the ball is something O.J. needs to focus on.
Larry Drew called Mayo’s number on the offensive side of the ball late in the game. Mayo went to work in isolation on two possessions in the closing minutes, making a clutch three pointer as well as missing a toughly contested fadeaway. We will see if Mayo takes the role as Milwaukee’s “closer” from here on out. He’s certainly the most qualified to do so at this point.
Khris Middleton (15 pts, 7-14 FGs, 4 reb) looked very comfortable on the offensive side of the ball on Tuesday, scoring in a number of ways. Middleton most definitely has potential to develop in to an offensive weapon for Milwaukee off, and could earn some big minutes off the bench this season.
Not so good…
Fouling has definitely been the biggest issue for the Bucks thus far. Memphis shot 41 free throws in result of 29 Milwaukee fouls, not including the two technical fouls from Larry Sanders (that’s a given by now, right?) and Brandon Knight. Larry Drew wants his team to play tough and aggressive defense, and the team fouls are racking up because of this physical play. The Bucks are obviously still adjusting to this new defensive philosophy, and the fouls are the result of it. In time they’ll figure out what they can get away with defensively.
On offense, the Bucks tallied up 17 turnovers. That is obviously going to be an area of concern for Drew, but again, with a new team full of youth, you can expect turnovers this early on.
The Bucks’ trend of defensive lapses are concerning, but understandable with such an unexperienced team. Expect the defense to be better as players become more familiar with each other and communication improves. On the bright side of things, Milwaukee’s defense forced 13 turnovers and allowed Memphis to shoot just 42.3%. In addition, the Bucks shot a solid 46.2% from the floor.
The growth and improvement from the Bucks is definitely visible. They’re building chemistry and getting better each game, although their record would suggest otherwise. The Bucks got oh-so-close to putting a complete game together Tuesday against a very good team.
So the answer is no, Herb Kohl is not “Tanking for Wiggins”.
Milwaukee is back in preseason action on Monday against the Bulls in Chicago at 7:00 PM CT.