In between Christmas and New Years, there’s usually a lull in which the average person recovers from the holiday season as they anticipate entering new year. That little lull isn’t really that bad because it gives that person time to remember what they did during the holiday season while thinking about what they can change/improve during the upcoming season. An exception to that rule has been the Bucks as they’ve been in a permanent rut since the start of the regular season.
Another and more publicized version of this very syndrome has been the Brooklyn Nets as they continue their downhill stretch towards the NBA equivalent of a brick wall. While Milwaukee has some sort of potential on their side in the mold of young talent (i.e Antetokounmpo, Henson, Middleton, Sanders) and a possible top-5 pick, Brooklyn entered this season being completely reliant on their core of veterans. But as this season went on, a slew of injuries to the majority of the key veteran pieces has left the Nets in an awkward position because they have no notable prospects while being in full control of an 1st round picks for the next few seasons.
Both of these struggling franchises met in Brooklyn as the Bucks were looking at newly returning center Larry Sanders to help give them the necessary boost to overtake the Nets. To slowly ease Sanders back into the Bucks lineup after his controversial injury, coach Larry Drew has implemented a minute limit which will feel like deja vu after spending the majority of his first three seasons as a rotation player.
With Sanders starting the game on the bench, Brooklyn took advantage of Milwaukee’s front-court issues. Despite the loss of Brook Lopez, a variety of different Brooklyn players were able to move past Milwaukee’s defense to score on the inside. While the Nets were driving to the paint to be an extremely effective offensive force, Milwaukee appeared to have used the Doug Collins approach as they continued to take shots from 20-22 feet away from the basket. The team’s offensive approach was pretty bad throughout the game but the 1st quarter was the tipping point as Milwaukee shot a horrid 29% from the field during the 1st.
While Milwaukee’s shooting woes stayed with them as they entered the 2nd, the entrance of Larry Sanders helped fortify the team’s inside defensive unit. As Brooklyn’s inside game was stopped by Milwaukee, their entire offense fell off the face of the earth as Paul Pierce and Mirza Teletovic were the only Nets players that scored a field goal in the entire quarter.
Despite the fact that they were both ineffective, Brandon Knight did a good job of keeping the team’s offense relatively alive during the 1st half as his overall energy helped keep the team close to New York as they headed into halftime.
As the 2nd half started, so did the play of teenage phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo. Typical of a young rookie like Giannis, he was basically silent throughout the first half but really came into his own as the 3rd quarter started. While his energetic defense was always on display, Antetokounmpo’s aggressive offensive nature lead the Bucks as he was able to glide his way through the Nets defense as he worked his way to the basket. Antetokounmpo’s work from the perimeter will continue to be extremely exciting, his work as an all-around offensive weapon and performance around the rim that will be his meal ticket during his career.
Despite the best efforts of Milwaukee’s 2nd unit that included Larry Sanders, (finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes before fouling out in the 4th) the team was never really able to overtake the Nets in the 2nd half. They were able to look competitive against the downtrodden Brooklyn team but their real lack of a go-to offensive weapon was a defining factor behind their inability to comeback.
This defeat against Brooklyn is another loss that will put them deeper and deeper into the Eastern Conference cellar. With that said, Milwaukee fans should still be somewhat optimistic about the future after witnessing the likes of Khris Middleton, John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo perform relatively well as starters. While that core probably won’t remind people of the cores in Oklahoma City, Miami or San Antonio, that trio plus some other smaller pieces could be a good sign of what could happen in the future.
Optimism for the future is the only way that Bucks fans can stick with this horrible season. While the present can be a horrible mess that shouldn’t be seen by a sane person, the future of the aforementioned youngsters and a probable lotto pick is what the team needs to look forward to rather than dwelling on the present day situation.