Panic? Patience? What is going on with the Milwaukee Bucks right now?

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 19 (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 19 (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Bucks: Mike Budenholzer
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – JANUARY 22 (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /

Throughout the first 52 games this season, the Milwaukee Bucks have not quite looked like the Milwaukee Bucks. The defending champions currently sit at fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 31-21 overall record, riding the roller coaster of inconsistency nightly. Though they are just 1.5 games back of the top spot in the East at the time of this writing, the Bucks could be running away with the No. 1 seed right now if they simply handled their business.

To be clear, it is not time to outright panic about the Bucks, as throughout 52 games last season, they were just a tick better at 32-20. Everyone knows how that panned out as the Bucks entered the playoffs with their worst regular season in the Mike Budenholzer era and eventually went on to win the championship that season. Still, just because it happened last year does not mean it will happen again this season, as there are justifiable concerns about the current Bucks as they look to repeat as champions.

With that said, let us look at three reasons why the Bucks have struggled so mightily this season and whether these issues should cause concern.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ effort level differs from game to game

The Bucks have played like they have a switch this season. In one game, they will come out right from the jump and look dominant, putting their foot on the opposition’s neck and cruising to a win. However, the champs could then play the next night and lay an egg by getting blown out by a team they were highly favored to beat. This has been a nightly occurrence this season as the Bucks have had their share of statement victories followed by devastating defeats.

This was precisely the case throughout the entirety of January. After consecutive losses to the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors, the Bucks went on the road and outright manhandled the star-studded Brooklyn Nets, even without Jrue Holiday in the lineup. It was a feel-good victory that gave fans hope that the champs could establish some momentum, but the Bucks fell right back into the same trap as they then lost back-to-back games against the Charlotte Hornets. Just when it seemed like they were in trouble, the Bucks had another statement win as they simply dominated the Golden State Warriors, who have been as good as anyone this season.

Sure, it is great to see the Bucks take down some of the best in the business with wins against teams like the Nets or Warriors, but they have their share of frustrating losses as well. They seem to take certain games more seriously than others, and while last season proved that the regular season is not the determining factor in how good a team can be, it would be nice to see the Bucks beat the teams they should beat. A 36-point loss to the shorthanded Denver Nuggets in their last outing at Fiserv Forum fits the billing in that regard.

It seems like there are nights when the Bucks just need a boost of energy. There have been far too many games this year where turnovers, poor shot selection, and sloppy defense have all had the Bucks looking like a deer in headlights. The unfortunate part of it all is that they had that energizer on their roster throughout last year’s postseason, and the Bucks let him walk out the door in free agency to one of their biggest rivals. We will talk more about that decision in a moment.

Some will say, “The Bucks can flip the switch in the postseason, the regular season does not matter. They only get up for certain matchups when they play the best teams.” Well, that will be put to the test over the next few months as the Bucks have the hardest remaining schedule in the league with 30 games left to play, according to Tankathon. It will be fascinating to see how they perform in some of these upcoming high-profile matchups.