The Milwaukee Bucks Are Concerning

The Milwaukee Bucks' 120-113 overtime loss in Chicago was the fourth game in the last seven days the Bucks had no business playing to the final buzzer.

The Bucks are currently 13-6, winning three of the last four games. It's true that all wins look the same in the standings. However, given the competition, their recent way of winning is concerning.

Milwaukee entered the 2023 season slightly behind the Boston Celtics as the NBA championship favorite. But squeezing out wins against some of the league's worst is inexcusable.

Last Friday, the Bucks were 13.5-point favorites against the then 2-12 Washington Wizards. The Bucks won by three. Two days later, the then 4-11 Portland Trail Blazers came to town as 12.5-point underdogs. The Bucks needed to pull off a 26-point comeback to win by six.

The following two games are even more alarming. The 4.5-point favored Bucks visited a Miami Heat team without its best scorers, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. Milwaukee trailed for most of the fourth quarter but won by seven. Once again facing a team without its two stars, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, the 10.5-point favored Bucks lost by seven in OT to the Bulls.

Any team can win on a given night because basketball is a make-or-miss sport. So, the Bucks' loss to the dysfunctional 6-11 Bulls would not be as big of a deal in a vacuum. However, four-straight games playing bad or injured opponents down to the wire is concerning.

So, what's wrong with Milwaukee? The team no longer has one of the league's premier defensive units.

From the 2018 to 2022 seasons, the Bucks's defensive rating ranked 1st, 1st, 9th, 14th, and 4th in the league. In 2023, they have the 20th-best rating.

When the Bucks shocked the league by trading for superstar Damian Lillard, the team sacrificed their perimeter defense. The deal included shipping out three-time All-Defensive First-Team guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday held down opposing perimeter players for the Bucks. Now, he's in Boston.

The Bucks have zero defensive talent on the outside. Lillard is a liability in the pick and role. Offseason pickup Malik Beasley looks lost whenever on an island. And Kris Middleton is having his worst season regarding defense rating.

The Wizards are awful. But the Bucks allowed an embarrasing 70 combined points from a Jordan Poole, Tyus Jones, and Kyle Kuzma trio.

In place of injured Tyler Herro, Miami's Josh Richardson started alongside Kyle Lowry against Milwaukee. Before the match, Richardson and Lowry averaged around eight points per game on low efficiency. The Bucks gave up an efficient 41 points to that backcourt.

Last night, Chicago's Nikola Vucevic had his way in the paint, dropping 29 points. The last time the big man scored at least 20 points was against who else but the Bucks over two weeks ago.

The Bucks shouldn't hit the panic button because they're the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The franchise can thank the greatness of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lillard for the success.

The duo has combined for at least 60 points in five of their last seven games. The Bucks lost the two contests the duo fell short.

The 60-point threshold seems like the Bucks' only way to win. Without Dame in an early November matchup in Indiana, Giannis had 54 points himself. But the Bucks lost by two, surrendering 55 total points to the Pacers starting backcourt.

Sometimes, Dame and Giannis recording more than 60 total points isn't enough. In the particular game against Washington, the Bucks needed 35-year-old Brook Lopez to turn back the clock by tying his career-high of 39 points.

Still, the Bucks are a great team. With a duo as excellent offensively as Dame and Giannis, the team should win most games. However, defensive issues are holding them back from being the near-championship favorite, as projected in the preseason.

People don't say "defense wins championships" for no reason. Only one Finals winner in the last 43 years had a defensive rating ranked 20th or below: the 2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq and Kobe combined for nearly 60 points a night to hide the Lakers' inabilites.

If Milwaukee doesn't make a move at the trade deadline for a perimeter defender, the Bucks' duo should prepare themselves to handle a historic workload. If not, they'll continue to find themselves in games like the recent ones.


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