10 Keys for the Milwaukee Bucks in the Stretch Run
The Milwaukee Bucks are hanging onto the edge of a cliff for their playoff lives. With every loss in the remaining season, one more finger loses its grip.
But Milwaukee is not yet dead.
Going forward there are 10 things they must focus on if they want to have a chance to sneak into the playoffs.
Play More Zone Defense
There are solid individual defenders on the Milwaukee Bucks squad.
Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute lead the team as defensive stoppers.
Despite strong performances from these players, the Bucks do not have a true center on the team. They also are undersized at both starting backcourt positions.
When they are matched up against a team with a dominate center or big guards, the team struggles. To counteract this problem, the Bucks need to play to their strengths on the defensive end.
Between Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings the Bucks have arguably the quickest backcourt in the East. While they may get overpowered in one-on-one situations, they have the ability to play pass lanes and use their speed when playing zone defense.
Jennings and Ellis have the ability to fly all over the court if they are not tied to one player. The 2-3 zone would allow them to play the perimeter and create confusion for opposing offenses.
The 2-3 zone could also benefit the bigs for the Bucks. By allowing someone like Gooden to stay near the rim and not have to face-up defend a specific player, he has the ability to be in better positions to provide help-defense on slashing players.
The zone can get ripped apart by a hot shooting team from the perimeter. But this is not a full-time defense. Depending on matchups on the court, more zone defense can be effective.
Find Monta's Role in the Offense
Monta Ellis is still trying to figure out where he fits in the Milwaukee Bucks' team puzzle.
He has had a few great games since joining the team, but overall has been inconsistent in what he brings on an every night basis. This is both his fault and the team's.
From the small sample we have, Ellis seems content to pass the ball and shoot jumpers. In most situations this would be ideal. But he was brought here to get to the hoop and score. He needs to assert himself down the stretch. Obviously we don't want a selfish player. But if he is feeling it, take over the game like we all know he is capable of.
The team has not aided in the process that much. From outside observations, there were no real changes to the offense or game plan. Adding a player the caliber of Ellis should require some adjustments in what it is a team is trying to do on a nightly basis.
Monta Ellis and the Bucks feel like an awkward first date. No one is really sure what to do, or who is going to make the first move. Time should make things more comfortable, but waiting too long will ruin the relationship.
Let's just hope someone makes a move to bring Ellis and the Bucks in sync.
Run, Run, Run!
Milwaukee's half-court offense can be brutal to watch.
There are times you are left wondering if they are even running an offense or just trying not to run into each other.
High-octane, selfless basketball seems to be the recipe for success for the Bucks. When they are getting up and down the court, they are sharing the ball. They are beating the opposing bigs back, which allows for easier penetration to the hoop.
Being a young team allows for them to take advantage of some of the old legs on other teams with heavy miles on them.
If you have someone like Rip Hamilton of the Bulls chasing Monta Ellis through double and triple screens all night, he's eventually going to wear down and get beat.
Quickness, youth and three-point shooting are the strengths of this Milwaukee Bucks team. Running on every possession plays into all three strengths and is key if the Bucks want to make the playoffs.
Find Time for Shaun Livingston
It is possible that the most under-utilized player on the Milwaukee roster in Shaun Livingston.
He is a 26 year old 6'7" point guard who is shooting 48 percent from the field this season. Yet for some reason, the guy can not get consistent minutes.
Here is a case of why Coach Skiles can be baffling. He will start Livingston on a given night and play maybe 15 minutes. Then he will set out for a game. The next game he will get five minutes off of the bench.
It has to be difficult to get into any sort of basketball rhythm with no consistency on any level in terms of playing time.
Livingston is a good defender who creates nightmare matches for other teams. He can post up smaller defenders with ease, and has the ability to kick it to shooters when help comes to the post.
Because of his size, he can play either guard position or small forward. Against smaller teams, you can have three point guards on the floor.
There are not many players that have the physical attributes of Livingston. He can be a key piece to a playoff run if used correctly.
What's the Game Plan?
There is no doubt the Bucks enter every game with a game plan.
Do you ever recall thinking "Ahhh, that's what they are trying to do!?"
The answer is likely no. It is very difficult on any given night to see the team playing toward the same goal other than winning.
It is key for the future of the team for the players to be on the same page on both the offensive and defensive end. If the plan is to shut down Derek Rose and let the rest of the team beat you if they can, then they all need to be working toward that same goal.
The team lacks a fluidity that would lead most to believe their is a concise driving plan as to how best to reach the ultimate goal of winning.
Outside of Ersan Illyasova, the Bucks do not have a dominant rebounder on the team.
When you lack someone who is going to give you 10-plus rebounds on a nightly basis, the team as a whole needs to put extra emphasis on rebounding the basketball in order to compete.
Rebounding is not just about size and leaping ability. Many boards are secured through positioning and boxing out. Even slapping the ball back to the perimeter can aide in securing rebounds.
The Bucks guards and small forward need to crash the boards more to support their undersized big men. The will allow for more second-chance opportunities and putbacks.
This is key going forward, as the Bucks need to find a way to get rebounds against teams that are much bigger.
Consistent Play from Role Players
The bench for the Milwaukee Bucks has been a bright spot all year. Their bench rivals any other team's in terms of depth on nightly contributions.
As it stands Coach Skiles is simply playing the hot hand off of the bench. That can be anyone from Larry Sanders to Mike Dunleavy.
The problem with this is that it usually takes a bunch of missed shots and bad play before Skiles can tell who is going to give you what you need on any given night. There really isn't a player coming off of the bench in which you know exactly what you will get.
Dunleavy can go off for 30 points, or he can give you two points like he did against the Thunder on Monday.
The inconsistency has led to the Bucks falling into holes early, and having to dig their way out after finding the hot player off the bench.
Play Brandon Jennings More off of the Ball
Brandon Jennings is scoring guard. He will never be the type of player to average more than five or six assists a game.
With this being the case, the Bucks need to play to his scoring ability going down the stretch. There are three point guards, and roughly seven players on the team with the ball skills to bring the ball up the court.
Jennings has great speed with a quick release jumper that he can hit at a decent rate. He also can finish at the hoop from a slashing spot.
Allowing Jennings to move off of the ball more will allow him the ability to get better looks at shots. He will be able to use his quickness off of screens to beat defenders and score like he is capable.
No matter how bad the team wants him to be a distributor, he is going to be a score-first type of player. As long as that is the case, the team might as well play to his strength.
Follow the Leader?
There are very few cases you can point to where a group of people was successful at achieving a goal without an effective leader.
Who is the leader for the Bucks? Who is the guy setting the example and firing up the rest of his team? It is impossible to know what is going on behind closed doors. But from what the public has seen on the court, there have been very few times where the Milwaukee squad has had a player step up and take the lead.
Drew Gooden seems to be a respected veteran on the team. Jennings became the franchise player when Andrew Bogut was traded. Someone from the team needs to step into the key role of leader on the floor for this team.
Play with Some Passion
It was apparent the other night versus the Thunder that the Bucks became too emotional. They let anger cost them throughout the game, and crumbled under the pressure.
There is such a thing as good emotion in the NBA. It is key for the Milwaukee Bucks to play with some passion down the stretch. Get excited, get the fans excited.
Remind the city of Milwaukee how much winning a game means to you.
There are few occasions where you will see a member of the squad get visibly pumped after hitting a big shot. They just don't demonstrate a confidence or "swag" other teams have.
Getting a little demonstrative after hitting a big shot can fire up your team and your fans. Of course there is a line to where you are just showing someone up.
But the right amount of confidence and emotion can bring a team together in a tough game and get them rolling in the right direction.
The Milwaukee Bucks find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the 2012 playoffs. There are many things that need to happen for them to get over the hump.
They only can realistically control what happens with their team, and the previous 10 slides have outlined how the team can help secure a playoff birth down the stretch.
Thanks for the read. Are there any keys to the Bucks success down the stretch you feel I may have missed? Let's discuss below.