With the season nearing a close, the playoffs are starting to become more evident for many teams. Milwaukee is in the midst of a final push towards the playoffs, and every game has become essential as it attempts to beat out Philadelphia or New York for a spot in the playoffs.
That magical run starts today, especially with the Knicks coming to Milwaukee, which jump starts their final stretch.
The Bucks have nine games remaining in the 2011-12 season, and it's not a favorable stretch of games to say the least. Milwaukee will play Indiana twice and finish out the season playing Boston and Philadelphia.
But with the way Milwaukee has been playing since the trade for Monta Ellis happened, a late push for the eighth seed is not out of the picture. Here are five keys that should help the Bucks down the stretch.
Milwaukee has a winning record at home with a 15-13 record at the Bradley Center. However, away from it, the Bucks haven't been as impressive. The Bucks have served up a 13-16 road record this season, and if they expect to make a run towards the playoffs, road wins in this final stretch are essential.
If they want to make that late playoff push, the Bucks will have to show their toughness and grind out wins on the road, which haven't been a problem as of late. In their last 10 road games, the Bucks have won seven of 10.
It's no secret that one of the biggest problems for Milwaukee this season has come on the defensive end. The Bucks are statistically one of the worst defensive teams in the league, yielding an average of 98.4 points per game to opposing teams.
Not to mention one of the worst rebounding teams as well, grabbing an average of 41.4 per game.
It all goes back to the old saying that defense wins games. Locking down on the defensive end has to be a key part of this final stretch for the Bucks. This can be done if they continue to work bigs like Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh in the rotation.
Milwaukee has played most of the season without a true NBA center. Drew Gooden has been used as the team's center for most of the year, but with defense becoming a more apparent problem for the Bucks, it's time to start rotating in more true centers.
The headliner of the trade that took place right before the deadline was obviously Monta Ellis, but Ekpe Udoh, who was also traded from Golden State, should be given more clock for his defensive ability at the rim. Not just Udoh, but also Larry Sanders.
Both players are instant upgrades defensively at the rim for Milwaukee than what the Bucks have been accustomed to this season with Gooden in the paint. Both are offensive liabilities, but they'll also give the guards a little more freedom and it's a bigger chance for Ersan Ilyasova to be productive in their system.
Ersan Ilyasova has to be considered one of the most improved players this season. Ilyasova is averaging 13 points and 8.8 rebounds this season for the Bucks.
He's had a 30-point game against Chicago, who's one of the best defenses in the NBA, and a career-night against the Nets, where he pulled down 25 rebounds and became the first Buck to have a 25-25 game in over 35 years.
With quick guards, the Bucks could certainly utilize their 6-10 forward in the pick-and-pop game. It all starts with the guards sharing the ball and being willing to utilize their frontcourt players, starting with Ilyasova and Gooden.
No doubt Milwaukee, or any team, is better when the three is falling. But, that's not always the case. As a team, the Bucks nearly average more three-point attempts than free-throw attempts.
That has to change if they want to make that late push for the playoffs. Milwaukee is one of the top free-throw shooting teams in the league, but don't get to the line enough during the game. That all can change if the Bucks change their mentality.
The team as a whole has to be more aggressive on the offensive end and attack the defense instead of settling. Once the Bucks start getting to the line more, they can get the other team in foul trouble, disrupt their offensive rhythm and dictate the pace of the game .