By Jake McCormick
The 2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks season has been a rollar coaster identity search sandwiched between two winning streaks. But what does that mean for their post-All-Star Break run?
After carrying a 7-3 record over their last 10 games, including Saturday’s win against division foe Indiana, the Bucks will finish their pre-ASB schedule against two of the league’s worst teams, Detroit and New Jersey. Coach Scott Skiles said he set a goal for the team to head into the break on an 8-4 run, and if Milwaukee continues their trend of beating clearly inferior opponents, Skiles admitted he may have sold the team short.
History (and simply watching any Detroit or New Jersey game) suggests the Bucks will get their wish, and potentially be one game below .500 for the first time since Dec. 9, relatively healthy, and in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race when they host Houston on Feb. 17.
I argued earlier in the season that the Bucks are a better team without pure scorer Michael Redd, and their 11-8 swing after the New Year only supports the notion that Milwaukee is a much more cohesive team with defined roles. This also includes a 7-0 record at the Bradley Center since the ball dropped on Times Square.
“There are several reasons we’ve played better recently,” Skiles said. “Carlos (Delfino) play has been very, very good, Bogus been very consistent, Luc (Richard Mbah a Moute) is getting his game back again, and Ersan had big night against New York.”
Center Andrew Bogut said that the team had to retool itself when Redd came back from his knee injury, but Milwaukee has found a rhythm with its current lineup.
“We’re starting to get our rotations down,” Bogut said. “You never want to have injuries, but when Mike was playing, we had to rethink things offensively. Now we have our rotations down again. Everyone knows their role, and it definitely helps.”
Heading into the All-Star Break on a hot streak is especially encouraging for the Bucks, given the uphill battle for a playoff spot and the tough schedule they face down the stretch. First half trends can shed some light on how the Bucks might perform in the second half of the year, and the easiest comparison comes from their record against quality and inferior teams.
Milwaukee’s 16-7 home record can be split into an 8-6 record against current playoff teams and 8-2 against non-playoff teams. The Bucks’ 7-19 road record splits into a brutal 2-16 against playoff-quality opponents and 4-3 against non-playoff caliber teams. Milwaukee has more games at the Bradley Center than on the road remaining (18 and 15, respectively), with 11 of those games against postseason contenders and seven against lottery teams. Likewise, the Bucks will play seven road games against playoff teams and eight games against lottery teams.
Taking into account the Bucks’ recent upswing and their overall home/away record as well as that of their opponents, Milwaukee should go 13-5 (7-4, 6-1) in the second half at home and 6-9 (2-5, 4-4) on the road. This simple projection is predicated on Milwaukee balancing their record out (especially against quality teams) in games decided by three points or more. After carrying a dismal 3-10 record in those games in the first half, the Bucks’ solidified rotations and home court advantage should give them a few more close wins than close losses.
If Milwaukee finishes the year 19-14, that gives them a record of 42-40, which would all but guarantee a playoff spot in the top heavy Eastern Conference. I’ll have more on the Bucks’ first half on Thursday, including team awards, and what they need to continue to do in order to finish above .500 for the 2009-10 season.