After getting all up in the Lakers' business by blowing the champs out by 19 last week in Los Angeles, the Bucks followed it up with a disappointing stinker at home against a playoff rival their fans hold no love for. Now they head down I-94 to play their actual rivals, the Central Division-leading Chicago Bulls.
These are the worst of times for the Milwaukee Bucks, who are missing injured point guard Brandon Jennings for another few weeks. Yet there may be no better time for the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that despite never suiting up a full squad this season has yet to back down from a challenge—when it realizes it's facing one. Ask the Lakers, the Mavs, the Celtics, the Spurs, the Jazz and the Heat.
The Bulls and Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng are a challenge.
Unfortunately, the Bucks haven't been good when they don't necessarily feel like they've got a challenge on their hands. They don't respect the Atlanta Hawks, so it seems, not when they're playing them with center Andrew Bogut. After humbling the Hawks by taking them to seven games without Bogut last April in the playoffs, the Bucks stuffed the Hawks and their new coach, Larry Drew, in Atlanta in November.
Same old mentally challenged Hawks, blinking at adversity, bad on the road, flinching when the Bucks flexed their muscles—the worst opponent for the Bucks to play at home before a Bulls game. The 15-point loss Monday to the Hawks was almost predictable. Almost. Predictability still eludes the Bucks.
The Bulls have problems of their own. Center Joakim Noah's broken right hand will be in a cast for at least another month. Bogut is healthy, generally playing his best basketball since his season-ending injury last season and will be guarded by Kurt Thomas, Bogut's backup last season. The Bucks will have a difficult time with Rose in Jennings' absence, given BJ's ability to stay in front of the Bulls point guard on D, but these are the best of times for the Bucks in the paint against the Bulls, despite the presence of Boozer at power forward for the Bulls.
Bucks sixth man Corey Maggette looked more out of sync than his out-of-sync teammates did against the Hawks, a sign that the Bucks' on-court chemistry with the new additions is still a work in progress. The worst of times.
But Maggette hasn't been the "bad porn" player for the Bucks that he was with the Warriors and the Clippers, when he went through the motions, selfishly got his points and didn't seem to care who was winning the game. He's been determined to make this sixth man thing work in Milwaukee—he's a tough matchup for the Bulls and he's due for a big game. The best of times.
Ditto for Bogut, forwards Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute and Chris Douglas-Roberts, minus the chemistry question and the bad porn.
Only the Dallas Mavs and the Denver Nuggets have played tougher schedules than the Bucks, according to NBA summary" target="_blank">today's Strength of Schedule rankings. The best of times now that it's behind them.
Over the next 10 days the Bucks' schedule gets tougher with the Mavs, two against Lebron, D-Wade and the Heat, and then the Magic, the Hawks again and the Spurs. The worst of times.
The Bucks are playing the Bulls, Coach Scott Skiles's old team, against whom they won three games from last season and let the fourth slip away. The best of times.
Hawks power forward Al Horford had an efficient and workman-like 18 pts and 12 rebs Monday against the Bucks, possibly solidifying an All-Star vote from Bucks Coach Scott Skiles. Yes, power forward Al Horford—he didn't start the game on Bogut, who spent much of his 40-plus minutes on the court guarded by seven-foot center Jason Collins.
Yet this was a startling development for Bucks broadcasters Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin, who hyped the Bogut-Horford matchup as a battle for the East's backup center All-Star slot behind Dwight Howard. When Bogut opened the game by taking Collins baseline for a layup, Paschke identified Collins as "[pause as he was about to say Horford] ... um ... the big man guarding [Bogut]." The charade continued for the rest of the game, with neither Paschke or McGlocklin—who work for the Bucks—bothering to correct the "Al Horford—center" misconception.
It's not as though an inefficient 14 points on seven of 19 shooting is going to get Bogut to Los Angeles in February, but is it any wonder that events in the East conspired last season to deny Bogut his first All-Star appearance? Is anybody working in the Bucks P.R. department?
At least TNT analysts Kevin McHale and Charles Barkley ("he's undersized;" "I still don't think he's a center;" "his mid-range jumper has made Horford one of the better power forwards;" etc.) have paid attention to what position Horford actually plays. So does Atlanta Coach Drew, obviously. One can only hope that the rest of the East coaches are doing the same.