The Milwaukee Bucks have hit their roughest patch of the season so far. It may extend for a few more games yet, but that doesn’t need to be cause for panic.
The Milwaukee Bucks have lost three games in a row, and four of their last five. Bucks fans will be able to remember a time when that kind of streak wasn’t all that uncommon, but this is just the second occasion where it’s happened on Mike Budenholzer’s watch, with the other being the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
Perhaps just as important to consider, though, is what’s coming up next for Milwaukee. The Bucks’ next three games come against the Boston Celtics, Stephen Curry‘s Golden State Warriors, and the Miami Heat.
With the Celtics and Heat already owning victories against the Bucks this season, and the Warriors providing a very different proposition with Curry back in action, there’s a real opportunity that this Bucks’ run could yet get even worse. That’s something that would have been unimaginable just a couple of weeks ago.
Of course, injuries have played a major part in that. Giannis Antetokounmpo has now missed the Bucks’ last two games with a knee injury following a collision with Avery Bradley in the Lakers loss, while Eric Bledsoe and George Hill also had to deal with injuries as they missed the Bucks’ clash with the Nuggets.
Those latter two injuries may have convinced Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer to essentially pull the plug on that Denver game, as he ultimately gave Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo, and Marvin Williams the night off as healthy scratches.
That in its own right made for a very interesting decision but it’s one that speaks to where the Bucks find themselves at this point in the season, and one that warrants closer examination when considering how their regular season could finish up.
With the injury to Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ path to 70 wins started to look increasingly impossible. Now, two losses later, the Bucks would be required to finish the season on a 17-game win streak to hit that milestone.
It may never have been the players’ focus, but it seems logical to suggest that while 70 wins really seemed to be in play, it’s something that both the coaching staff and players would have been content to push on in hope of achieving. Comments from Marc Lasry certainly made it clear that the owners were interested in seeing the team push for 70 wins too.
With that goal no longer looking realistic, though, the question then becomes what do the Bucks have left to prove and achieve in this regular season?
The Lakers have closed the gap on the Bucks for the league’s best overall record, but Milwaukee is still two games up in the loss column with four wins more overall. In the East, the cushion to secure homecourt all the way through to the Eastern Conference Finals is even more significant. The Bucks have a 6.5 game lead over the second-placed Raptors, and would still seem like a near lock to wrap up the Conference’s top spot.
With that in mind, we truly are at the point in the season when Milwaukee’s priority can only be to ensure they’re in the best place they can be heading into the postseason. If that means playing it extra safe with Giannis’ knee in the days ahead, that’s what they should do. Likewise, if Eric Bledsoe’s knee or George Hill’s adductor contusion need some extra time to heal up.
The Bucks have proven to the rest of the NBA, and perhaps most importantly to themselves, just how dangerous and dominant they are when firing on all cylinders, so making sure they can get to that point in the postseason is key.
Of course, momentum is also important heading into the playoffs, but it doesn’t take all that much to build that up again either. For what it’s worth, the Toronto Raptors had a shaky March last season that included a 6-6 spell before ultimately going on to win the championship.
If some more losses are coming up for the Bucks over the next week or so, the feeling will be jarring but it shouldn’t necessarily be a cause for panic. The playoffs is the one and only goal that really matters at this point, and positioning themselves to be at their best at that point needs to be Milwaukee’s focus.