Fresh of an embarrassing two game skid, Milwaukee head to Phoenix Wednesday night for the first of a four game road trip in which they will try to get things back on track. After starting the Bledsoe era 4-0, everything was positive in Bucks nation, as the players, media and fans alike began to feel the good vibes about the newest era in Milwaukee basketball. Unfortunately, true to form, the Bucks produced two of the worst performances possible against first Dallas, and then Washington, keeping a lid on any potential fantasy’s the fans might have been starting to believe.
Head coach Jason Kidd missed the game in Dallas after his wife Porschla gave birth to their daughter Cooper Anne Kidd on Sunday. Assistant coach Joe Prunty took the reigns Monday, but unfortunately for Bucks fans the result remained the same. Before the game Prunty toed the business as usual line, declaring that he would continue to run the offense. Unfortunately for Prunty, that was not exactly a claim to fame as the Bucks only managed 19 points in the first quarter, going in down 8 and 1-6 from deep.
The Bucks defense, found wanting in the first quarter, cranked into gear in the second quarter sparked by an unlikely lineup of Gary Payton II, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson, Over a five minute span to end the half the Bucks were everywhere defensively, blocked shots, incredible deflections and stolen balls leading to transition opportunities on the other end that somehow the Bucks couldn’t convert. Three straight stops were converted into a Payton missed alley-oop, a Giannis missed layup and then another attempt by Giannis swatted emphatically against the back board. It was just one of those nights and despite the brilliant defensive stand, the Bucks still found themselves down by a point at the half.
The wheels fell off in the second half as the lid refused to lift itself off the rim and the Bucks fell further behind. The eleven point margin in the end felt like it should have been a whole heap more. The positive vibes from the four game win streak had well and truly dissipated and the Bucks now need to respond, and quickly.
The first stop on the road trip is the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, a matchup that has Milwaukee’s past written all over it. Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe, the key players in a major trade only two weeks ago find themselves coming up against their old team for the first time. After a sour exit from the Suns in which he was banished from the team in the weeks preceding the trade, Bledsoe will be out to make a statement Wednesday night. After a short honeymoon period in which the Bucks won four in a row, Bledsoe’s struggles offensively are starting to come to light, in particular from mid range and beyond. Through six games Bledsoe is shooting a horrific 35% from the field and an even worse 17% from deep. Whilst he has never been a flamethrower from the outside, this is certainly out of character and you’d imagine/hope he is just finding his legs.
Greg Monroe was quoted as being “blindsided and shocked” by the trade sending him to Phoenix. Whilst that seems hard to believe given he was arguably the most publicly available big name in the league since landing in Milwaukee, it leads you to think he will be out to prove a point against the Bucks. Milwaukee’s starting center John Henson has been ruled out of this one after undergoing an eye procedure on Tuesday morning. This spells danger for the Bucks as Monroe, one of the leagues most talented players in the post, looks set for a duel with Milwaukee sophomore beanpole, Thon Maker. The Suns, ranked 6th in the league for total rebounds per game, present a huge challenge for the Bucks, still by far the worst team on the glass in the league.
Maker, averaging only 18.3 minutes per game, figures to play a key role for an undermanned Bucks frontline coming up against Suns bruisers in Monroe, Alex Len and veteran Tyson Chandler. Staying out of foul trouble will be key for Maker who averages 5 fouls per 36 minutes so far. Expect the Suns to get the ball into Moose early and often in an attempt to expose the Bucks shorthanded big man stocks. With Henson out, two way contracted player Joel Bolomboy figures to see his first meaningful minutes of action for Milwaukee. Bolomboy is a rugged rebounder, and will certainly not be afraid to throw his body around against the Suns, a trait that may come in handy Wednesday night.
The Bucks will need to avoid jumping Monroe and the fellow Suns bigs on the early double team as the Suns posses one of the leagues most lethal shooting guards, Devin Booker. Booker, averaging 23 points per game, is a volume shooter that on any given night can get as hot as anyone, his 70 point night last season against Boston an example. Already boasting seven games of 30+ points, Booker is going to be a key player to stop for the hot and cold Milwaukee defense.
Along with Monroe and Bledsoe, the Milwaukee/Phoenix connection runs deep in this one with former Bucks Jared Dudley and Brandon Knight on the Suns roster and Mirza Teletovic and head coach Jason Kidd former Suns.
After a horrific performance in Dallas, somehow the Bucks came out flat against Eastern Conference rivals the Wizards on Monday night. The start of this game will tell the story. Post loss, a familiar line came from the Bucks players that the effort and energy isn’t good enough. As a fan that simply is no excuse. Coming off two horrible performances in a row we should expect the Bucks to bounce back Wednesday night, though undermanned, with Henson (eye), Teletovic (knee) and Dellavedova (knee), set to stretch the Bucks depth.
No road trip out West is easy, but with Giannis, Bledsoe and Middleton coming off poor performances against Washington, a bounce back effort is desperately required. If not, the blow torch will be continued to aimed directly at the Bucks. As it should.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus