It’s almost hard to believe that there are only five games remaining in the regular season for the Milwaukee Bucks, but here we are!
After all of the injuries, illnesses, up-and-down play, and surprise performances, there are only a handful of games left before the real stuff begins. However, even with a playoff spot locked up and the team resting its stars, there are still things to keep an eye on in these remaining games.
Three of them come against playoff teams in the Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls, and Boston Celtics. Another one is a play-in team; the Cleveland Cavaliers. And the other is a lottery team that has been playing well lately in the Detroit Pistons.
Although the Bucks may not take all of these games seriously (read: resting anyone in the rotation), there are still some quality opponents for them to fine-tune a specific area of their game: defense.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ defensive effort and intensity will be key down the stretch
To say that the Bucks’ defense has been a roller coaster would be an understatement. It has truly been all over the place due to multiple factors, be it injuries or scheme-related things. This is their defensive rating by month and where they ranked for that month.
- October: 7 games, 109.1 defensive rating (bottom 10)
- November: 14 games, 104.0 (top five)
- December: 16 games, 109.5 (top 10)
- January: 15 games, 111.4 (middle of the pack)
- February: 10 games, 114.6 (bottom 10)
- March: 14 games, 114.3 (middle of the pack)
It hasn’t been consistent from month to month, but that’s understandable with all of the key players who have been in and out of the lineup on any given day, primarily Brook Lopez.
A big reason why they slipped after such a dominant November was that they weren’t able to sustain the energy from playing their two-on-the-ball pick-and-roll coverage with Bobby Portis as the starting five.
The more important stretch, though, is the one since Brook Lopez has returned. In four games since he returned, the four-man combo of Lopez, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday have posted a 104.9 defensive rating. It’s a small sample (only 37 minutes) but that would be the best defensive rating in the league! That’s very good!
They have also posted a 101.2 offensive rating in that span! That’s very not good!
Overall, though, since Lopez’s return (and not including the game against the Los Angeles Clippers), the Bucks’ defensive rating of 113.4 is just outside of the top 10.
After a stretch where their defense was lagging badly behind their offense, their defense has not only caught up to the offense but has passed it.
So why am I more worried about how the defense looks down the stretch than the offense? Because the defense has been less consistent overall. We’ve seen how good the offense can be and they have guys who can get them buckets when needed.
I don’t like using raw points per game for teams instead of offensive rating since pace can vary by team and some teams get more possessions than others, etc. However, the Bucks’ 118.9 points per game in that eight-game stretch is seventh in the league.
The Bucks’ defensive intensity even wanes during the course of a game. In the first quarter, they have a defensive rating of 106.2 (which would be near the top of the league), after that, it goes 112.7 in the second, 118.3 in the third, and then 116.8 in the fourth.
We’ve seen them flip the switch in fourth quarters and that is what has led to a bunch of recent comeback wins.
That’s what I want to see in these last five games, though, can they sustain that defense we see in the opening quarter and late in games for a longer stretch. Again, there are still some very good teams on the schedule and that’s perfect for fine-tuning if you’re the Milwaukee Bucks.
It’s all well and good to think that they can flip the switch in the playoffs, but it would be good to see them flip it a little earlier too.