Milwaukee Bucks: Coming up short in ‘measuring stick’ games

Jan 18, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
Jan 18, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports) /

One month into their 2020-21 season, the Milwaukee Bucks have faced some encouraging highs and some slip ups.

They find themselves in a down period once again after having fallen in two straight games, both of which have come against title favorites such as the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers.

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After going toe-to-toe and valiantly falling to the new-look Nets at the final buzzer, the Bucks’ defeat to the reigning champion Lakers Thursday night has hit on the same familiar beats that have come in losses under the Mike Budenholzer era.

Certainly, the Lakers going 19-for-37 from beyond the arc (51.5 percent) is a recipe for victory and that was certainly helped by LeBron James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combining 13 of the team’s total triples.

Meanwhile, the Bucks struggled to match even half of the Lakers’ 3-point firepower as they went 9-for-28 from three (32.1 percent) and their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo accounted for 9 of the Bucks’ 14 turnovers.

While the variables change behind every game the Bucks win or lose, the same ingredients keep recurring on the nights they do fall to their opponents.

The Milwaukee Bucks have struggled in their early tests against winning teams this season.

Now 9-6 on the season, the Bucks are 3-4 when facing off against opposing teams that are above .500 at this stage of the season. Along with the Lakers and the Nets, that includes their 13-point loss to the Utah Jazz earlier this month and their heartbreaking season opener against the Boston Celtics.

Of course, the Bucks have been integrating new changes and players into the fold while changing up how they have historically operated under Budenholzer. That involves altering their offensive system that has led to them having the second-highest efficiency while looking to switch or even trap ball handlers at times on the other side of the ball.

For all of the changes they made deep within their roster, their bench just hasn’t given enough support in these more high-profile tilts, further putting the onus on the Bucks’ starters. And when the two-time MVP has played as erratically as the Bucks’ results themselves, it’s led to the ups and downs we’ve seen to this point in the season.

These ups and downs do come foreign to Bucks fans, given how the last two regular seasons have gone for the team under Budenholzer. It’s been in the postseason where heartbreak has followed Milwaukee, which set off the long string of moves they made in hopes of proving themselves better in a playoff setting than they have shown over this era of Bucks basketball.

It’s that sentiment that Bucks All-Star forward Khris Middleton echoed earlier this week and ahead of the team’s clash versus the Lakers last night as The Athletic’s Eric Nehm tweeted.

There’s no question that all Bucks fans would agree with Middleton in this regard. Milwaukee is now the standard bearer that regular season success doesn’t guarantee an easy road to an NBA Finals, much less winning an NBA title. No matter what transpires this regular season for this vastly different Bucks team, they will ultimately judged to whether they can right their previous wrongs.

With that said, these bigger clashes provide a glimpse in how Milwaukee will hold up to competition that is either on their level or greater than them like both Brooklyn and Los Angeles both pose themselves to be.

dark. Next. Panic or patience on three struggling Bucks

It’s a long season, but as the Bucks continue to struggle when faced with the handful of tests that have come their way, addressing their recurring issues that have plagued them so far this year is necessary to overcome moving forward.