Normally, a Milwaukee Bucks win over the Orlando Magic would’ve been classified as signature or a great upset. But against a Magic team with Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Mickael Pietrus, and most importantly, Dwight Howard battling a nasty stomach flu in Florida, the Bucks 96-85 win was just a quality start to a four game home stand.
By Jake McCormick
The Bucks’ offense certainly didn’t put up a season high in points, but it certainly was their most encouraging performance out of their six previous wins because of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). The end result was a 96 point showing against the league’s top rated scoring defense.
Milwaukee opened the game with the clear intent to get the ball to center Andrew Bogut early and often, and Bogut, who missed the previous five games with back spasms, was happy to oblige with a vintage 2009-10 performance.
Bogut finished the game with season highs in points (31) and rebounds (18), while connecting on 13-20 from the field. He carried Milwaukee with 12 of their first 22 points, and looked more aggressive and comfortable under the basket than he has all season.
Speaking of 2009-10 relapses, Brandon Jennings (10-20 fg, 27 pts, 7 rbs, 6 asts) and John Salmons (7-15 fg, 16 pts, 4 rbs) were the only other Bucks to score in double figures. Jennings especially looked sharp at times, mixing in a variety of polished runners with some mid-range jumpers from all over the court.
As for the Bucks’ defense, it certainly helps to have two of the Magic’s top three scorers retching into toilets instead of draining threes (Orlando leads the NBA in percentage of field goal attempts taken from the perimeter) and dunking (Dwight Howard’s abilities are self-explanatory).
The Magic lead the NBA in three point attempts as a percentage of their total shots (32.5) and take the least amount of attempts in the league from long mid-range, both of which say a lot about Orlando’s ability to avoid bad shots from the floor.
Marcin Gortat deserves credit for probably being the best backup center in the NBA, but Milwaukee really only had to worry about Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis going off, and Carter was the only one who got close to it (7-21 fg, 20 pts, 7 rbs, 6 asts).
Milwaukee also did a great job of containing the Magic shooters on the perimeter, as Orlando only connected on six of 22 three point attempts, five of which came in the fourth quarter when the Magic were forced by time and the deficit to shoot along the perimeter.
It wasn’t the highest scoring game of the year for Milwaukee, nor was the win against a full strength Eastern Conference heavyweight. But considering the way the Bucks have been playing lately, and their upcoming schedule, a win at home was sorely needed.
Pessimist: 23-43 free throws
One of the loudest collective cheers of the night came when Andrew Bogut made his first free throw in eight straight fourth quarter attempts (5-16 overall for the game). The Magic whittled the lead down to six when they decided to (wisely) start playing Hack-a-Bogut at about the 3:55 mark.
Despite Milwaukee’s season high in free throw attempts (43), they only sunk 23 (53.5%, a new season low), and it allowed a three point shooting Magic team to stick around far longer than they should have, given all the factors against them.
Ultimately, it didn’t help Orlando pull out a win, but Bogut and the rest of the Bucks’ charity stripe failures late in the game are just more examples of Milwaukee’s inability to convert defensive stops into offensive production.
It was all the more noticeable because of the timing at the end of the game, and had Howard or Nelson actually suited up, things probably would’ve ended much more in the Magic’s favor.
Optimist: 13/20 fg, 31 pts, 18 rbs (8 offensive)
In Andrew Bogut’s first game since November 20, the Aussie put together his most impressive performance of the season with 31 points and 18 rebounds (including eight offensive). The Bucks’ offense is most effective when the Bogut is aggressive under the hoop, mostly because it keeps opposing defenses on their toes against Milwaukee’s shooters and slashers.
Bogut showed an impressive array of right and left hook shots, and power forward-like agility under the basket. He was able to switch shooting hands accordingly all game, and it seems that the five games off really did help Bogut’s elbow as much as they helped his back.
Defensively, we also got a potential glimpse into the future of an Andrew Bogut/Larry Sanders pairing under the hoop, as both were effective switching on drives and preventing Orlando from getting any outside looks early in the game against their zone defense.
As Bogut goes, so does the Bucks’ offensive options, and with the exception of his Shaq-esque free throw shooting, Andrew Bogut looked every bit the player that The Sporting News ranked 2nd overall in the NBA.
Realist: December opponents record of 138-72 (.657)
This game was somewhat of a win-lose for Milwaukee, as they played a depleted, eight man Orlando Magic team without the best interior defender in the NBA. However, good teams take advantage of their opponents deficiencies, and the Bucks got the job done as expected (unlike the Detroit Pistons the night before).
Some jubilation has to be tempered because of the absence of Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson (a combined +/- differential of +13.1), and JJ Redick, and Mickael Pietrus. But the Bucks effectively trumped Orlando’s season averages in three point shooting, points, and defensive points allowed.
Any way you slice it, a win with the 2009-10 formula going into Monday’s game against the Miami Heat and the other two games next week at home could go a long way in getting the Bucks to believe they are as good as they look on paper.
The Bucks need all the confidence and health they can get throughout the holiday season, as their December opponents (minus Sacramento and Houston) are a combined 138-72 (.657).
Follow Jake on Twitter.Follow paulmbanks