Momentous Stretch Sets Table for Optimistic Finish in Milwaukee


How we look at teams can change quickly. Take the Milwaukee Bucks for instance.

Last month, the Bucks were losing their fifth-straight game and people were clamoring for coach Mike Budenholzer to lose his job.

But sandwiched around Milwaukee’s five-game losing streak were five-game winning streaks. Now, optimism surrounds the Bucks for a second-half push.

Are there still some concerns? Sure. People aren’t ready to trust the Bucks based on their past playoff disappointments and propensity to be bombarded by 3-pointers. But after an exciting way to enter the All-Star break with Jrue Holiday’s game-winning jumper to dispatch the Grizzlies, here are the top reasons to be optimistic about the Bucks’ sizzling play carrying on to another dominant regular season.

Khris Middleton continues to add to skillset

Khris Middleton was great last year. He is matching that play, but is averaging nearly six assists per game this season.

That number is up nearly two assists per contest. As Holiday continues to gain traction within the offense, the Bucks could have a scary three-headed combo of Giannis, Middleton and Holiday to keep defenses off-balance.

Giannis is in MVP form

Was Giannis playing poorly at the start of the season? No.

But he wasn’t the MVP either. Now? Giannis has been unreal and on par with his back-to-back MVP seasons’ level of play. In February, Giannis averaged 30.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. He also seemed to get back in a strong(er) groove at the free-throw line, shooting 74.7 percent for the month.

Bobby Portis a “big” upgrade

Bobby Portis has been a clear upgrade over Robin Lopez as a big off the bench. In the Bucks’ five-game winning streak in early February, Portis was a plus-111 in 104 minutes. Portis stretches the floor and is switchable on the other end. He also is a great fit next to Giannis if teams go small against the Bucks like Miami did in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals.

More playmaking with shooters everywhere

The Bucks continue to grow its options outside of Giannis. Acquiring Holiday alongside Middleton’s improved playmaking each year are helping ease the load off Giannis. And the Bucks have surrounded them with shooting everywhere highlighted by Bryn Forbes. The Bucks currently have the No. 2-ranked offense in the NBA with a team offensive rating of 117.9. Giannis’ ability to slash and kick to guys shooting 40 percent from 3 is key.

But so is Middleton and Holiday creating for themselves and others.

Bud has shown he will actually adjust

Earlier this season, the Bucks surrendered three-straight games allowing 21-plus three-pointers on their road trip.

It was the first time in NBA history.

Since then, Bud has actually made some adjustments to either switch or go over the top of screens to avoid being continuously cooked from beyond the arc. Well it may have taken longer than fans would like, at least the adjustments are now coming. The time is now to tinker to have them in the holster come playoff time– like when Bud altered schemes against the Clippers to force Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to go 0 for 9 from the floor in the final four minutes.

Well the Bucks haven’t really played their best this season, they remain third in the Eastern Conference at 22-14 and winners of six of their last seven games.

There is plenty of reason for optimism in Cream City.

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About Mitchell Skurzewski

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