What happens to the pax? Three reasons why struggling Milwaukee lost its way

Milwaukee – When Milwaukee Bucks Their four-game road trip begins by taking New York Knicks At Madison Square Garden Monday night, they’ll do so as a team desperate to reclaim their identity.

Once 9-0 and to the best start in franchise history, the Bucks are now 25-14 and clinging to third place in the Eastern Conference after an embarrassing 138-109 defeat at home to the lowly Charlotte Hornets On Friday, they gave up an NBA record 51 points in the first quarter and trailed by as much as 32 points.

The Hornets disaster was the latest in a string of blowout losses dating back to December 15, when the Memphis Grizzlies He knocked them out of the gym by 41 points – the second largest defeat in the Mike Budenholzer era. Over the past 3 weeks, forex has been 5-7 and has lost by more than 20 pips four times; In Budenholzer’s first four seasons combined, they had 13 such losses.

“We haven’t matched what it takes to be competitive in an NBA game on multiple occasions now, and that’s worrying,” Budenholzer said.

Ahead of this crucial four-game trip, in which they will exclusively face other teams fighting for a playoff spot in the East, here’s a closer look at what’s going wrong for the Bucks.

1. Ill health

Health has always been and always will be a primary concern. This is true for every team, but especially so for the Bucks given their lack of depth, and they haven’t been healthy this season. Bobby Portis and Jevon Carter are the only players to appear in every match, while Chris Middleton (32), Joe Inglis (30), Pat Connaughton (16) and Giro Holiday (11) all missed double-digit matches. The Big Three, Giannis Antitekounmo, Middleton and Holiday, have only played five games together.

“It’s tough,” said Brook Lopez. “I don’t want to drag out any excuses. I’m sure you guys have a couple, you guys are smart.”

It was one thing to play shorthand early in the season when everyone else was fresh and had an easy schedule that was heavily weighted towards home games. But as opponents level up and more wild rides are added to the mix, the health issue gets amplified.

Nobody missed more than Middleton, who sat out the first 20 games while recovering from off-season wrist surgery, returned for seven games and then shut out again with a mysterious knee problem. While Budenholzer said there’s no concern that this will ultimately end Middleton’s season, he also wouldn’t commit to any timeline for his return. At this point, Middleton could be considered out for an indefinite period. Until he gets back on the court and returns to playing at the All-Star level, the Bucks won’t be at their best.

2. Defense disappears

The Bucks have been one of the best defenses in the league since Budenholzer’s arrival in 2018, and that trend has continued since the start of this campaign. During the first month, especially, they were way out of league class. Recently, not so much. During this 5-7 stretch, the Bucks allow 115.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 21st in this stretch.

Health, again, is part of that equation; Holiday is perhaps the best defensive guard in the league and missed five games during the 12-game downturn. But this does not explain everything.

“One of the things we’ve done well, especially in my first few years here, is that it didn’t matter who was in the game,” Connaughton said. “We had players who played exactly the same way, we tried to get the best shot we could, we tried to defend our bottoms and we played with a chip on our shoulder. That’s the identity we need to find and here’s where consistency will come from. That’s what we lack a bit.”

The Bucks have never been a team that forces too many turnovers, but over the past 12 games, they’ve been last in the league with an average of 11.3 opponent turnovers per game. Nor was their edge defense as dominant as usual; Opponents shoot 68.6 percent in the restricted area, up from 62.6 percent previously, and give up 55.5 points in the paint per game, which ranks 28th in the league over this stretch.

Perhaps more troubling, however, is that the dollar has been crushed in the first quarter recently. Over those 12 games, the Bucks have an amazing net rating – 22.5 in the opening frame, the worst mark in the league by a wide margin; The team with the 29th-place net ranking for the first quarter during that period is Phoenix Suns at -15.0.

How do we explain this trend? Even dollars are not sure.

“In the Grizzlies game, I feel like it was fast,” Holiday said. “They came out and punched us in the mouth and we couldn’t recover. I feel like a game [the Hornets loss] It was the same way. I don’t know [how to explain it]. “

Brook Lopez was similarly ambiguous: “We just need to be better, we need to be better and more consistent regardless of all the variables and stuff like that. We just need to be ready to go.”

3. Too many transitions

On the other side of the ball, the Bucks wouldn’t be elite without Middleton. His iso scoring gets them out of the tough spots, he’s one of the better 3-point shooters on the team and takes some of the starting burden off Antetokounmpo’s shoulders by making plays that aren’t appreciated.

The biggest problem in offense was the inability to take care of the ball, something you should be able to do regardless of the personnel on the ground. While Budenholzer doesn’t mind what he calls “turns of aggression,” when you try to make a play, he’s seen a lot of the other kind.

“When we throw it away and give it away, maybe we’re hesitant, we’re not strong, we’re not aggressive and we tap the ball when they score, we need a little bit of them,” Budenholzer said. “We took it up and talked about it some, we have to get better with it.”

Over this 5-7 period, the Bucks are last in the league with a turnover percentage of 16.4 percent. In other words, they tip the ball on one in five possessions. Even worse, Budenholzer stated, many of them were moving the live ball which resulted in easy points the other way. Opponents averaged 20.1 turnovers per game over this stretch, so fouls hurt them on both ends of the floor.

In addition to their poor injury record, slow starts and frustrating turnovers, there is something less tangible with this team.

Budenholzer lamented that they “didn’t match what it takes to be competitive in the NBA game on multiple occasions.” Holiday noted that there were “things we have to reckon with as a team… win or lose, we just have to be competitive.” “It’s about putting in the work every day, having the right energy, trusting each other,” said Lopez, while Connaughton added, “I think we have to have real conversations.” ”

The Bucks have had their mistakes during this rivalry, but there have been no questions about the team’s competitiveness, especially from inside the locker room. This is uncharted territory for this group, but they still have the best player in the league, and he’s confident they can find their way again.

“There is no panic,” said Antetokounmo. “Have you ever seen the scene from, What do you call it? Bob Squarepants? SpongeBob? He goes into his brain and he looks for something and he goes crazy and starts burning stuff, and I feel like when we lose this happens. Like no, it’s okay, we’re going to lose a few games and we’re going to win a lot.” matches.

“I’ll go to war, I’ll go to battle any day. I’ll take my chance with these guys any day. Whatever happens, it will happen. I’m proud of the group we have, but we have to be the best out there. I think I know my teammates, they understand that and we’ll be better.” “.

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