Bucks Right to Seek Seeding Improvement


Amid Friday’s impressive rout of Detroit, Bucks radio announcer Dave Koehn had sound advice for his listeners.

“Take nothing for granted,” Koehn advised. “You are experiencing the golden years of Milwaukee basketball.” So why, then, do some fans wish for the Bucks to lose to avoid a potential matchup with the Brooklyn Nets?

Unfortunately for those fans, Mike Budenholzer played all his starters this week as his Bucks downed Boston and routed the Pistons. And Budenholzer has the correct strategy, with the Bucks one win or a Celtic loss from clinching the East’s second seed. Milwaukee is correct in playing to win this week for three crucial reasons, even if the Nets are their first playoff opponent.

1. A Team Learns By Winning

In his informative book The Last Season, Phil Jackson shared thoughts on his 2003-2004 Lakers. (Ironically, it ended up not being his last season.) Los Angeles faced a similar situation to this year’s Bucks. If the Lakers won the Pacific division, they would likely meet the defending champion Spurs in the second round.

Would Jackson tank the last two games to slip to the other side of the bracket? Nope.

Jackson explained that a win helps build momentum. By emerging victorious, a team gains confidence and learns the best route to success. By losing on purpose, the starters learn nothing as they idle on the bench (although, as seen by Wednesday’s Suns near-comeback, sometimes bench players are pretty darn good too.)

Jackson’s argument that the Lakers needn’t fear San Antonio proved correct, as Derek Fisher’s heroics downed the Spurs. Thankfully for last season’s Bucks, Budenholzer experienced similar success.

On the penultimate day of the 2021 season, a reporter asked Budenholzer pre-game about the visiting Heat. If the Bucks won, Milwaukee would probably have to play Miami. But, like this year’s Nets, the Heat presented a challenge many didn’t want.

Bud responded, “we’re just going to go out there and play.”

And play they did!

The Bucks proceeded to sweep the Heat in their first step toward their second world title. Milwaukee isn’t afraid of anyone; it seems to Bucks Lead that fear should be directed towards and not from the champions.

2. Tempting Fate Is A Suspicious Strategy

The great Irish playwright Oscar Wilde once quipped, “when the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” He was a bit off in one case: Wisconsinites who prayed for a Bucks championship cherished their reward. But when it comes to wishing for a specific playoff matchup, no one knows with certainty which matchup would be best.

Consider the Bucks’ predicament in the Jason Kidd era. Then-Bucks radio host Ted Davis openly pleaded for a matchup with Toronto in 2015, arguing that the Raptors would be a lesser foe than Chicago. But, alas, the Bulls won their last game, securing a matchup with Milwaukee.

While the Bucks didn’t win the series, their impressive victories in games four and five marked Giannis’s first postseason wins as he began learning postseason basketball.

(And game four was awesome.)

True, his flagrant two against Mike Dunleavy in game six probably wasn’t the proudest moment in his career.

Without initial disappointment, however, a player won’t become a champion. The Bucks weren’t quite ready in 2015, but they fared no better when they got a chance against Davis’s preferred opponent.

Milwaukee lost to Toronto in six games in 2017 and 2019, the same outcome as the Bulls series. And while the Bucks eventually experienced success, lesser teams weren’t as fortunate.

Longtime Hampton men’s basketball coach Edward Joyner Jr. expressed a lamentation after a tournament loss to Kyrie Irving and Duke. “Every college team [watches] TV and says, ‘I want to play Duke, I want to see what it’s like to play Duke.’ We sure found out.”

Although perhaps mostly set, the future contains enough shredders to foil any prognosticator’s flimsy plans for success. Whether it’s the Nets, Cavs or Bulls, it’s only in hindsight that fans realize who the best matchup was.

3. Awesome Series!

Sure, it’s understandable why many have concern that the Nets would be a difficult matchup.

It’s cliché to argue, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” So here’s a more accurate explanation: winning the championship is a beautiful experience, but it’s especially remarkable considering the preceding wins.

Imagine Adam Silver declared, “season over, Bucks are automatically the champions.” Not so fun! Success only brings satisfaction in the intended competition’s context. Even “winning” teams detest forfeits.

That’s why fans should welcome a Nets series: the process of winning in the NBA playoffs brings joy. It’s fun to win a championship, yes. But it’s also, and arguably, even more fun to win close playoff series during the path to the top.

If (and, again, no one can prove this scenario) the Bucks swept the Bulls, that would be entertaining.

But a fierce, six-game showdown against Kevin Durant‘s too-big shoes and Irving’s vengeance in an America emerging from COVID purgatory proves an irresistible hypothetical.

Friday’s victory proved so impressive that the Bucks’ bench still got to play freelance fun-ball.

If the Bucks want to achieve maximum happiness for Milwaukee fans while playing the great game of basketball with respect, the rim-rocking reserves must defer to starters Sunday as the Bucks down Cleveland, unfearful of a Nets team that can’t match a Deer’s heart.

About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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