The Milwaukee Bucks have been "working out the kinks" defensively for the entire season thus far.
There have been times when they've seemingly flipped the switch mid-game, but for the most part, they've been unable to find any stability on that side of the court. Opponents are getting wide-open looks on their shots, driving to the hoop with little to no resistance, and just simply having their way against Milwaukee's lesser defenders.
However, in the team's most recent outing, a tough loss against the Houston Rockets, they were able to flip that mid-game switch. Even though they ultimately lost the matchup, it was great to watch the team finally show some fight on that end. It started with a second-half lineup change that was more focused on the defensive effort.
Could the Bucks make a lineup change? Loss to Rockets shows they may experiment
At the end of the first half, the Rockets had a 63-43 advantage, having shot 50 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. They had their way with the Bucks, who looked incredibly sluggish and sloppy defensively. It felt like this team needed a jolt of energy to inspire them on that side of things, and Coach Griffin did so by starting Andre Jackson Jr. in place of Malik Beasley.
It felt like AJJ did provide an added element of intensity for the Bucks, as the youngster hustled and made his presence felt on every possession. His tough defense helped him snag two steals and be a legitimate pest on that side of things in his 10 minutes of second-half action.
Jackson was not the lone young Buck to see more minutes in the second half, as MarJon Beauchamp also saw extended time, logging the most minutes of any reserve. The guard provided assistance on both sides of the ball and was active on defense all night.
The Bucks did play much better in the final two quarters, holding the Rockets to 26 points in the third and 23 points in the fourth. Not all of that was due to the play of the young guys, but there's no doubt that they gave this team much-needed life on the defensive end. It's just further confirmation these two need more minutes going forward.
With these two playing more minutes, Malik Beasley logged just five minutes in the entire second half. Could he possibly lose his starting spot if the team wanted to utilize one of the young guys for a more defensive-minded approach? At this point, it's unlikely. Beasley will likely remain the starter, but this may have been a step that shows the team is willing to alter the lineup combinations.
The defense wasn't the lone problem in this defeat, as the offense, outside of one player, could not get it going. Giannis Antetokounmpo had another incredible performance with 48 points, shooting an efficient 16-of-25 from the floor. However, the rest of the Bucks hit just 19 of their 51 shot attempts and scored 60 points. That's horrific.
This cannot happen. It's bad enough that the defense was sluggish, but when the offense is also not clicking outside of one player, the Bucks are doomed. It all starts with their top players. Giannis held up his end of things, but Khris Middleton and Damian Lillard did not. Middleton had just 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting, while Lillard was 5-of-16 for 18 points.
After it seemed like he was trending in the right direction, Lillard finds himself in a massive slump lately, and the team desperately needs him to shake it off; it's clearly hurting the team. In four games this month, he's shooting just 34.8 percent from the floor and a vile 16.1 percent from three. He's got to get it going.
Outside of these three, no other Buck cracked double figures, so Lillard is not the only one at fault. The role players, especially the veterans, have struggled to contribute as of late.
On the opposite side, the Rockets had seven double-digit scorers. As mentioned, they got pretty much whatever they wanted in the first half and still had solid performances in the final 24 minutes despite the tightened-up defensive effort.
It'll be fascinating to see where the Bucks go from here and whether they make any lineup changes.
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