The Milwaukee Bucks currently sit at 7th in the Eastern conference at 27-22. However, they are only 2.5 games behind Cleveland, 1 game behind Miami, and a .5 game behind Washington and Indiana. The Bucks are 2 games ahead of Philadelphia who currently sit at the final playoff spot. With how close the current playoff standings are, it is easy to see just how vital these next 8 games for the Milwaukee Bucks are.
The Bucks are rising in power rankings, gaining confidence, and seeming like the team we thought they could be. Riding a 4-game win streak into tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves is a great test to see where this team is heading. This 4-game win streak is something I would be hesitant on. It was against teams all well below .500 except for Philadelphia who are exactly at .500. We are beating the teams we should beat which is nice to see, but can we beat the teams with better records than us?
The Bucks’ next 8 games will be mainly against teams below .500 and only 3 teams are above that mark. The teams that the Bucks will play, in order, until the break are Minnesota, New York, Brooklyn, New York, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, and Denver. Seeing this schedule makes me confident, but if we lose to the 3 teams above .500 and fall to a trap game, we will have finished these last few games at 4-4. Not a success if you ask me. What will actually happen? Let’s dive into each game and see.
Thursday, February 1, at Minnesota Timberwolves (32-22) 7:00PMCT
This will be the second and final meeting of the season for the Bucks and Timberwolves. The first meeting was a December 28th victory, 102-96. If you watched this game you will remember how badly the Bucks played in the first half. Minnesota seemed like they had this game in their hands but simply dropped the ball. They became tired after playing a game the night before in overtime. Minnesota had a 20-point lead in the second quarter but ended up only being up 10 at half. And after the Bucks played great team basketball in the fourth quarter by winning the quarter 27-12, they came out on top with a 5-point win.
Minnesota will be out for revenge. They will have the home court advantage this time around, but I’m not certain this will give the Wolves a W. Minnesota is 1-4 in the last 5 games with opponents averaging 112 points per game. Defense has always been their worst trait well before Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau arrived. The 4 games they lost were all on the road and the one home game was a win.
This game will come down to a few large variables. Will the Bucks play well enough in the paint to at least slow down Karl Anthony-Towns or will he shine? Can the Bucks stop what little outside shooting the Wolves already have? And perhaps the biggest question, how will Milwaukee play without Eric Bledsoe? Bledsoe left Monday’s game against the 76ers very early in the first quarter after Joe Prunty pulled him for a sore left ankle. Bledsoe put up 26pts the last time these two teams met and his defensive skills to contain their pass savvy point guards will be missed. Jason Terry was recently listed as out of this game too. He has had some excellent play of late thanks to Joe Prunty’s new rotations. According to ESPN.com the Wolves have a 64% chance to win this game.
My Prediction: 110-100 Timberwolves
Friday, February 2, home against the New York Knicks (23-29) 7:00PMCT
This will be the first meeting of the season with the Knicks and the second meeting will come just 4 days later. A big night for all Bucks fans in the nation and around the world as Jabari Parker makes his season debut after tearing his ACL for the second time on his left leg almost exactly 1 year ago. The energy and enthusiasm in the BMO Harris Bradley Center Friday night will be something to remember. Jabari will come off the bench but that doesn’t matter. The amount of pain, sacrifice, and heart this young man has put into his recovery and game will be recognized by everyone there. This atmosphere will definitely be something to watch and makes me feel very confident in this game.
New York has been slightly overachieving this season with only 6 more losses than wins. At this point in the season I would have thought that they were at best 18-33. Kristaps Porzingis has been a wrecking ball for this team but has slowed down since the first 2 months of the season. The Knicks and Bucks have been very similar this year when looking at their team stats. Both average 105 points per game and 106 to 105 in points against in favor of Milwaukee. Knicks average 47% from the field and the Bucks 48%. However, the biggest category may be that the Knicks average 44 rebounds a game with Enes Kanter and Porzingis. While the Bucks average 39 rebounds a game. 5 rebounds may not seem like a big difference, but the Bucks have struggled all season with big men. The fact that they have basically two starting centers will be scary. The Bucks need to get out to a fast start and use their pace to control the game. Giannis Antetokounmpo will have his hands full all night with the Knicks’ big men. However, with Jabari most likely taking some of his minutes, this may actually keep him energized towards the end of the game and may not have to put in 37 minutes like he usually does.
The key factors will be the Knicks’ rebounding versus the Bucks’ energy. Also, which team will get the best looks and hit those shots? Rebounding, energy, and best field goal percentage will win this game. Because of the return of Jabari, I can’t pick against the Bucks on this one especially against a team below .500. ESPN.com also gives the Bucks a 65% chance to win.
My Prediction: 112-102 Bucks
Sunday, February 4, at Brooklyn Nets (19-33) 11:00AMCT
January 26, 2018 was the last time the Bucks and Nets met. It was the second game of the Joe Prunty era and the Nets got run out of the building. I don’t necessarily see this as a trap game, but the Bucks need to keep level headed. They cannot start to think to themselves that this team is an easy win because ESPN is only giving Milwaukee a 52% chance to win. The thing that scares me the most is that it is a 12:00PMET in Brooklyn. Early Sunday games tend to have teams start slow and end slow, especially for away teams. Milwaukee is 1-1 on early Sunday games and the last one was a blowout thanks to the Miami Heat. The Sunday game the Bucks did win was at Atlanta. An away game against an inferior team and Milwaukee came away with a convincing 117-106 W.
The Nets don’t shoot well, have a bad defense, and don’t cause turnovers. They do rebound well and can tend to get hot. The best thing the Bucks can do in this game is jump out a head of the Nets and create as many turnovers as possible. I’m going to be honest, I’m not worried about this game. I just hope the Bucks don’t feel that way as well. If they do, it will come down to the wire.
My Prediction: 108-90 Bucks
Tuesday, February 6, at New York Knicks (23-29) 6:30PMCT
**TRAP GAME ALERT*
This game will come 4 days after these two teams met for the first time. I’m labeling this a trap game because of various reasons. One, it’s an away game at a hostile environment that remembers just exactly what happened the last time Giannis was in the building. Two, the Knicks really aren’t that bad and should definitely get some respect from Milwaukee. Like I mentioned earlier, the Bucks need to keep level headed in this game. Third, rebounding. Fourth, rebounding, and fifth, rebounding. The Bucks need to keep the rebounding as close as possible in this game. I do not want to see Enes Kanter grab 20 boards and Kristaps Porzingis to get 15. Our lack of quality big men that can rebound will potentially be our down fall in this game.
Hopefully, the Milwaukee Bucks will make a move before the trade deadline that gets us a big man for little in return. DeAndre Jordan would be magnificent, but it doesn’t seem possible. The same goes for Hassan Whiteside. Dwight Howard would be very good for us, but I’m concerned Charlotte wants more than what he’s actually worth. Dewayne Dedmon may be the perfect option because he is at a low cost and Atlanta seems as if they are trying to sell everything they can. But, I would not be surprised one bit if the Bucks stay still at the deadline on February 8th. Perhaps this will be the game that pushes Jon Horst’s buttons to pull the trigger on a trade for a big man.
I’m very concerned about this game especially seeing that ESPN is favoring the Knicks by 53%. The Bucks will need everything they’ve got in this game. The Knicks will be hungry for a win and if the Bucks underestimate them then they just might get it.
My Prediction: 107-101 Bucks
Friday, February 9, at Miami Heat (29-22) 7:00PMCT
This is the biggest game of these next two weeks. The Miami Heat have beaten the Bucks twice this season and are climbing the Eastern Conference standing and may not be stopping that climb anytime soon. After starting the season 15-15 the Heat have come together behind their well-rounded team and cornerstone Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside single handedly defeated the Bucks January 17. The Bucks can beat this team no question. They led most of that game on the 17th but struggled in the fourth to close out the game. The Bucks simply cannot beat themselves. Limit the turnovers, play at your pace, and get everyone involved. The biggest difference I can see from the change of Jason Kidd to Joe Prunty is that the rotations and bench have been playing more and much better.
Contain Hassan Whiteside and do not let Goran Dragic, Wayne Ellington, or Kelly Olynyk get hot from deep or slash through our defense. The Bucks have to play well but the key for this game is to not try and dismantle the Heat for some revenge, but to play the game and just win. By trying to dismantle a team it could possibly end up causing the Bucks to play through Giannis or Middleton alone. Causing no team basketball, no ball movement, and the Heat being able to focus on those two will make their lives much easier. Go in and execute the game plan that Prunty draws up, trust one another, and move the ball on offense.
Defensively, Whiteside crushed us in the paint the last time these two teams met. It is hard to play against Whiteside because of his size and skill. If you double him he could hurt you by making the right pass to a shooter. They have done enough to surround their big man with capable shooters to hurt teams who double him. Henson will have his hands full but if the Bucks choose to double team him I would expect Prunty to come up with a quality defense to create quality rotations and hopefully Whiteside’s passing will give us some easy turnovers. But, if the Heat get hot, this game may be hard to watch. This will be the game to watch in this run to the All-Star Break.
My Prediction: 104-98 Heat
Saturday, February 10, at Orlando Magic (15-35) 6:00PMCT
This will be the Bucks’ last game of a 4-game road trip on the east coast. The last time we played Orlando was mid-January. Milwaukee won that game easily thanks to a big third quarter and won 110-103. It was a much larger win than it seems according to the final score. The Bucks did not shoot well in this game from three or the line. A strong defensive third quarter was the key in this game.
The Magic are not a team to be all that concerned about. With sound defense and good bench play I think the Bucks could take control of this game from the tip off to the final buzzer. We may even see a DJ Wilson and Rashad Vaughn appearance late in the game. The Bucks have been shooting very well of late and if that happens in this game it will be an easy W for Milwaukee.
My Prediction: 115-95 Bucks
Tuesday, February 13, home against the Atlanta Hawks (15-36) 7:00PMCT
The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks have not met since a Sunday afternoon in October in a 117-106 win for Milwaukee. Atlanta, like Orlando, is a team not to fear. I believe Giannis, Khris, and Bledsoe will all have over 20pts this game. My advice for the Bucks would be the same as usual. Stay level headed and jump out on top early and fast.
A lack of energy and effort leading to poor shooting is just about the only thing I am concerned about. If that does happen look for this to be a much more competitive game than it should be. Even ESPN is giving the Bucks a 78% chance to win. Sorry Atlanta.
My Prediction: 109-94 Bucks
Thursday, February 15, home against the Denver Nuggets (26-25) 7:00PMCT
Last game before the All-Star Break. A tough match against Denver who has been slightly below par this season despite having some really good young talent on their roster. Don’t let their record determine just how good they are. You’re usually only as good as your record but this team is much better than 26-25. ESPN gives the Bucks a 57% chance to take this game but I’m not so certain. The Nuggets have height and rebounding between Nikola Jokic, Paul Milsap, Mason Plumlee, Trey Lyles, and Kenneth Faried. They have quality scorers in Gary Harris, Nikola Jokia, Will Barton, Paul Milsap, Trey Lyles, occasionally Wilson Chandler, and most obvious Jamal Murray.
This team’s depth is something that the Bucks should strive to have. They have 10 players that average more than 5 points per game and 6 of those players are averaging over 10 points a game. The Milwaukee Bucks must play some of the best defense they have all year in this game. If not, they will get burned by numerous players. Denver the past few years has been able to handle the Bucks quite well unfortunately. This game will be close. Even if the Bucks jump to a big lead I would expect a comeback from the Nuggets.
Other than defense, the thing that could either hurt or help the Bucks is timing. A game away from the All-Star break usually makes team relaxed and not as focused as they normally would be. If the Bucks get relaxed a day early this game will be lost. However, if Denver comes into the Bradley Center and thinks of this game as the beginning of the All-Star break, watch the Bucks come out on top. If both teams come to play though, this game will be one of the best all season. To me, this game is a complete toss up at the moment.
My Prediction: 106-104 Bucks
This two-week stretch is vital to the Bucks’ success this season. There are a lot of game we should win and a few tough games as well. I believe that if the Bucks only win 4 games in these upcoming weeks, it is a disappointment. I am hopeful that the Bucks can go 6-2. Yet, they need to be worrisome of the Wolves, Knicks, Heat, and Nuggets. If not look for this run to be nothing short of mediocre. There are many other factors that come into these games. Injuries, Jabari, and the trade deadline to name a few. Hopefully everything falls into the Bucks’ hands and they take care of business. Look for Milwaukee to play some quality basketball and to stay relatively quiet in trade talks. If they do anything it will be at the center position and maybe some bench depth. Even then, I think the only thing we would actually do is a deal for Dewayne Dedmon. The other centers that have been linked to the Bucks are too costly for us because we would have to give up either Brogdon or Jabari, and some future draft picks.
My Final Prediction:
Bucks will go into the All-Star Break at (32-24) and be tied for the fourth seed in the East.
By: Devin Bergasse