The Milwaukee Bucks turn in best game of the year against the 76ers

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Spencer Hawes, Larry Sanders, Keyon Dooling

AP Photo/Jim Prisching

It’s amazing that the difference between success and failure in the NBA can sometimes boil down to one simple action: making shots. Of course, that concept is just the end result of combined success moving off-the-ball, running the offense, and making decisive, quality passes.

All of that winning was the Milwaukee Bucks in a nutshell in their 102-74 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night. After handily beating two NBA Eastern Conference doormats in the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bucks strung together their best 48 minutes of the season against a quality 76ers team that laughed last against Milwaukee in nine of their last 11 meetings.

By Jake McCormick

Other than the first quarter, where the Sixers outshot the Bucks 73.3% to 40.9%, Milwaukee finished out the game locking down the interior (7-26 fg from the Sixers’ bigs) and preventing Philadelphia from utilizing their wing athleticism that has so often left Milwaukee defenders in the dust (five Philly fast break points).

Each recent win has been sparked by an early game run, and the Bucks rode a 17-2 advantage halfway through the second quarter to effectively force the Sixers to play perfect against Milwaukee’s third ranked scoring defense.

Instead, it was the Bucks’ crisp ball movement (27 assists), efficient three point shooting (9-17 3fg, 52.9%), and turnover conversions (28 points off 21 turnovers) that led Milwaukee to their first win over a playoff-caliber team since January 26 (a 98-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks).

Milwaukee Bucks starting lineup:

Brandon Jennings (15 pts, 5-15 fg, 4-5 3fg, 5 asts, 2 stls) opened the game with back-to-back three pointers, and drained another before the first quarter clock expired (3-6 fg overall for the quarter). Fittingly for Jennings, who’s been a steady scorer in March (20 ppg, 44% fg), he finished the game connecting on 2-9 shots. Then again, that icy performance is irrelevant when the initial success blew the game open.

Marreese Speights, Brandon Jennings

Marreese Speights, Brandon Jennings

Andrew Bogut (17 pts, 7-12 fg, 9 rbs, 6 TO) didn’t have a completely dominating performance, but the last time he scored more than 17 points in a game was on February 8 (18 points in a loss to the Detroit Pistons). Bogut looked refreshingly comfortable offensively, mixing together a collection of pivot moves, hook shots across the lane, and a pretty sweet alley-oop dunk in transition courtesy of Earl Boykins.

March has been good to Luc Mbah a Moute (14 pts, 4-8 fg, 6-7 ft, 12 rbs, 5 stls, 3 asts), who has averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds in four games this month. Mbah a Moute’s athleticism around the hoop and decent mid-range shot have turned the formerly exclusive defender into a solid all-around player worthy of increased playing time. In a season of constant disappointment, the young Prince’s development has been something to build on.

Take this for what you will, but Corey Maggette has been absent from the Bucks lineup throughout their three game winning streak. It’ll be interesting to see if and when he returns and how that will affect the team’s chemistry.

Pessimist: Nada

The Bucks outshot, outrebounded, outstole, outassisted, outplayed, and outeverything else’d the Sixers. In a season rife with easy-to-spot negatives, why nit-pick in a very solid all-around win?

Optimist: Turnovers turn into offense

The Bucks’ transition offense and ability to capitalize off of errors caused by their stingy defense have been key components in their recent resurgence. Through the past three games, Milwaukee has averaged well above their seasonal averages in turnovers (19.3 to 15.2), points off those turnovers (24), fast break points (16 to 10.3), and steals per game (12.3 to 7.2).

The Bucks’ failure to convert turnovers and transition opportunities into consistent points has been a nauseating theme throughout their 2010-11 season. The last week has been a sample sized-look into Milwaukee’s potential if they ever figure out how to hit shots, and their “corner turn” will be tested tonight against the turnover-challenged Celtics.

Realist: Just a half game out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and gaining steam

The Bucks three-game winning streak may not include wins over NBA juggernauts, but they’re showing signs of becoming the well-rounded team we expected to see in October. It’s only fitting that Milwaukee ends their best seven day stretch of the 2010-11 season against the team that started it in the Boston Celtics.

The Bucks’ performance against the Celtics tonight isn’t an end-all determination of Milwaukee’s playoff chances. Rather, it’s a benchmark for estimating just how far the underachieving Bucks have come since the end of February. Milwaukee may not finish the season with a .500 record, but they could very well be the most dangerous sub-.500 playoff team ever if the offense continues to match the defense’s intensity and success.

Follow Jake on Twitter.

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