The Bucks and Washington Wizards both have losing road records. Unfortunately for Milwaukee’s team, the Wiz host tonight’s game, a scenario in which they are 6-2 with the D.C. crowd cheering in the background. The Bucks enter the evening seeking to avoid a 14th loss in 15 tries (shout out to the Boston Celtics), whereas Washington is vying for a better-than-.500 for the first time since going 2-1 to open the 2009-2010 season.
From a long-term perspective, it’s tough to determine which team stands to gain the most from a win tonight. The Wizards have endured a glut of bad luck in the recent past — from injuries to off-court issues during the Knucklehead Era of Gilbert Arenas/JaVale McGee/Andray Blatche/Nick Young — and breaking the 50/50 threshold could be seen as the jump-off point entering a new phase of basketball life in which Washington is a perennial playoff participant, potentially beginning this year. A loss would drop them into the No. 6 slot in the Eastern Conference with plenty of chances remaining to rise above the .500 plane with the postseason still in the picture.
Things are a bit more complex for the Bucks. Beating the Wizards means not only grabbing a bit of retribution after Washington felled the Bucks in a close contest in the BMO-Harris Center last week, but it also ushers in a (possibly momentary) period of relief from losing in what has been a long less-than-half-a-season. It’s still early enough to stage a turn-around and post a respectable record, one which could sneak Milwaukee into a low playoff seed and satisfy their yearly quest for just that. Maybe the confidence gained from besting the Wiz translates into a hot streak.
At this point in the season, every projection is closer to a newly coined hypothesis rather than a nearly-concrete idea. The Miami Heat, for example, are struggling without Dwyane Wade suiting up as ailing joints and sickness combined with age catch up with him. Say he comes back and the Heat reel off victory after victory before capturing the top seed in the East playoffs, but Wade goes down once again at the end of the regular season. Could this be the season in which a No. 8 Bucks team knocks off the LeBron James Gang that has plagued it for the past few years? Probably not, but no one can say with 100 percent certainty now, at the beginning of December, and if someone other than a Heat fan can say so with 100 percent confidence, it isn’t without at least a shred of hope that a scrappy small market team could eliminate the defending champs in the first round.
A “W” would be a welcome sight on the schedule, undoubtedly, but it would also adversely affect the Bucks’ inadvertent trajectory to collect the NBA’s worst record and, likely, the No. 1 draft pick next summer. In such a loaded draft, where any of the top five or so picks are considered sure-shots, it wouldn’t be necessary to have the top choice. Although, a general manager who has drafted wisely and taken time to allow for player development, such as John Hammond, could quickly assemble a playoff-worthy team if he were to have the top overall selection. While the Bucks (supposedly) aren’t purposely bombing 2013-14, a league-worst 3-15 record is a good start if sights are set on bringing in an instant-superstar to take the reins of the franchise. In that case, a win tonight coupled with a Utah Jazz loss (they’re facing a white-hot Trail Blazers team in Portland) takes the Bucks out of the tanking-not-tanking driver’s seat, with those potential outcomes raising Milwaukee to 4-15 and giving the Jazz a two-game lead(?) at 4-17.
There’s a lot on the line for the Wizards tonight, but, win or lose, the game is arguably more important for the Bucks.
What to Watch For
- Bradley Beal Not Scoring: Washington averages a middle-of-the-pack 99.1 points per game, with Beal accounting for 20.6 ppg. The Wiz’s average team scoring trumps Milwaukee’s usually terrible 90.3 ppg, but with the second-year shooting guard sidelined, the Bucks have a fighting chance to keep things close, particularly if someone (you know who you are, O.J. Mayo) finds it in himself to go on a scoring tear.
- Post Play: Without Larry Sanders patrolling the paint, John Henson has slowly been finding his feet defensively. He’s averaging a team-high 2.2 blocks per game (3.1 per 36 minutes, behind only Sanders) which also qualifies as fourth-best in the NBA, while Ekpe Udoh (2.2 per 36) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (1.5 per 36) are putting quality numbers. With starting center Zaza Pachulia out, Henson and Udoh will have their hands full with efficient score-first center Marcin Gortat (13.3 ppg, 9.2 rebounds per game) and a wild card like Nene, who is equally adept at putting low or high figures on the stat sheet.
- Overtime: When the Wizards visited Milwaukee last week – also minus Beal – it took OT to decide a winner, with Washington outscoring its hosts 13-5 in the extra period. A repeat trip into additional minutes is not out of the question for tonight’s game.