Milwaukee Bucks shoot below freezing in loss to Miami Heat


LeBron James

It wasn’t LeBron James’ drives at a sports car’s speed and truck’s power, Dwyane Wade’s foul drawing ability, or Chris Bosh’s freakish athleticism and shooting range that gave the Miami Heat their fifth win in a row from an 88-78 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Monday night.

It was Carlos Arroyo and the rest of the Big Three’s nondescript entourage, and their habit of missing shots after quality defensive stops.

By Jake McCormick

You knew LeBron James (7-16 fg, 17 pts, 6 asts, 6 rbs), Dwyane Wade (8-20 fg, 25 pts, 14 rbs, 5 asts) and Chris Bosh (8-17 fg, 16 pts, 12 rbs) were going to fill up the stat sheet before the game even started, but the Milwaukee Bucks managed to reasonably prevent each one from taking over the game for more than a minute or two at a time.

But that emphasis on stopping the only recognizable players in Heat uniforms is always going to leave open the possibility of a lesser role player coming through with a big game. Holding the fourth most efficient offense in the NBA to 88 points is a victory in its own right, but that doesn’t stop a mediocre player from knocking down jumpers when no one is within 10 feet of him.

Arroyo’s season high of 18 points and perfect 6-6 shooting (including 2-2 on three point attempts) was due, in large part, to kick out passes and wide open looks when Milwaukee collapsed on the middle.

The Bucks started the game slowly, allowing the Heat to get out to an early 14-4 lead before drawing within four by the end of the first quarter. Milwaukee had a few other times where they looked down for the count, including a 17-2 Miami run over a nine minute period in the third quarter capped by 15 straight missed shots, but found ways to keep the game reasonably close.

“As bad as we played, we still kept them to 88 points,” Brandon Jennings said. “We just couldn’t knock down shots. We were executing well, but we just couldn’t knock down shots when it counted.”

But once again the historically inept Bucks offense prevailed over any sustained consistency (although Miami does have the third best defensive efficiency rating in the NBA). In big games such as this, Milwaukee needs to rely on its star players to set the tone and do some heavy offensive lifting when the time is right.

Andrew BogutUnfortunately, center Andrew Bogut was never able to get anything going against an over-matched Miami front court that still found a way to trap him anytime Bogut touched the ball. Point guard Brandon Jennings also couldn’t hit the shots needed to push Milwaukee into a tie or lead, and both players fell victim to the top ranked Miami defense around the rim.

It was nice to see Corey Maggette return to the stat sheet in a big way with a team leading 20 points, but as has been the case for most of Maggette’s career, the team lost in spite of his scoring efforts. It’s very nice to have a guy that can get to the line consistently, but if he’s Milwaukee’s go-to option on offense, then you know things are going terribly wrong.

Pessimist: 2-11 fg, 0-4 3fg, 7 pts, 4 asts
The John Salmons you knew and loved in 2009-10 seems to have wilted like so many seasonal plants in the Wisconsin winter. The man who averaged 20 points in Milwaukee over 30 games once again looked more suited for the inactive list than a starter role.

Salmons went 2-11 from the field, and looked like he had never dribbled or shot a basketball in a Bucks uniform. His game consisted of a slew of hesitant pump fakes (which seemed to be in excess from all the Milwaukee players), indecisive and ineffective drives into the paint, and a few air balls and clear misses that were obvious when he released the ball.

Milwaukee Magazine’s Howie Magner tweeted that Salmons told him the last time he was in a career-worst slump like this, the remedy was a trade, but that option is as far as ever from the minds of Salmons, coach Scott Skiles, and GM John Hammond.

Because of his potential production and contract, Salmons won’t be seeing many games of reduced minutes. It may take an Austin Powers-like trip back to February-April 2010 in order for Salmons to find his mojo, but that’s a long shot until time machines become feasible.

Optimist: 5-12 fg, 10 pts, 6 rbs, 2 blks
Often the guys from Brew Hoop, Bucksketball and myself joke about how Scott Skiles like to give rookie power forward Larry Sanders back-handed compliments anytime a reporter asks about his playing time, increased production, or general development in the NBA.

It certainly comes as no surprise that Skiles wants to keep the expectations in perspective for a player as raw as Sanders is coming out of college, but this was another game where the lanky power forward showed some compelling sneak previews of what’s to come.

The most crowd-pleasing play of the night didn’t come at the hands of any of the Big Three, but rather from a connection between the Bucks’ last two first round draft picks.

Streaking down the left side of the court along the perimeter, Brandon Jennings heaved a pass to a sprinting Larry Sanders, who palmed the ball on the other side of the hoop and slammed it home for a reverse dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.

Scott SkilesSlowly but surely, the game is slowing down on both ends for Larry Sanders, and for all the grumbling about Corey Maggette, John Salmons, Keyon Dooling, and Drew Gooden, it’s a good feeling to know that GM John Hammond may be as successful at the draft and talent evaluation as another Wisconsin GM (Ted Thompson, in case you are part of the .2% of the state that doesn’t like football).

Realist: 34.6% fg, 78 pts
The Milwaukee Bucks needed the Jennings-Bogut connection to step up on offense and defense against a rising Heat team, and although they had spurts of success, the big picture showed a team able to get stops and be stopped as well.

It’s very difficult to win when we’re shooting the ball like that,” Skiles said. “You can see guys getting discouraged by it. Early in the game we were moving the ball around pretty well and executing pretty well, we got some open looks and missed them.”

Considering they have not put together anything close to a perfect game on either end of the court, much less combined the two for a full four quarters of NBA basketball, the chances were slim to none it was going to happen against Miami.

When Heat role players barely fit for NBA level competition start playing above their role, it becomes nearly impossible for a team ranked dead last in true shooting percentage, shooting percentage, offensive efficiency, and assists to come away with a victory.

Follow Jake McCormick at Twitter.

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