When you assume, the old adage reminds us, you leave yourself open to being seen as what the first three letters of the word describe.
Any Bucks-at-the-halfway-point-of-the-season screed has to address the obvious: the desired goal to not just reach the playoffs but to land a top-four berth in the Eastern Conference to insure an opening-round home court advantage. To fans still jazzed about last season, anything less will be seen as holding ground, at best.
Their world got thrown for a loop last month when management abruptly fired Jason Kidd. The lights weren't even on in the rumor mill when the ax fell and the Joe Prunty era was upon us. All the understated assistant with the rich resume did since was go 9-3, showing a team struggling to stay above .500 could play better hoop than it had been. Granted, some of those wins came against lesser foes but that's just the point: the Bucks of the Kidd incarnation consistently played down to the level of the competition, and that cost them some easy victories.
Then there's defense. Milwaukee is grasping the concept again. Factor out the Thursday night loss to Denver, a night during which the hot-shooting Nuggets would've beaten the Russell/Havlicek Celtics, what with the way they were hitting three's: fact is the Bucks are playing a different game when the other team has the ball. No more do we seem a Milwaukee defender madly sprinting toward a wide-open opponent in the corner loading up for another tray. With Kidd, it seemed the Bucks' best defense for foes launching beyond the arc was to hope they'd miss.
Rebounding remains an issue, and newly acquired Tyler Zeller has yet to bake into the team's cake. Credit the front office for acknowledging the squad wasn't at its best with only John Henson (injured at the break) and Thon Maker (too thin from the get-go) trading time in the pivot. GM Jon Horst's decision to trade Greg Monroe way for Eric Bledsoe was, at that point, the move that could've defined the season--until Horst took Kidd out for pizza last month.
The one thing Prunty and his predecessor share is a lack of luck when it comes to health: Jabari Parker had yet to break a sweat in his second comeback before Malcolm Brogdon blew out, followed a few games later by Matthew Dellavedova. This could be a helluva team, once all of the assembled pieces are suiting up simultaneously but then, every NBA team can sing the injury blues. Fact is, the Bucks are playing fine despite the number of folks in street clothes, a credit again to Prunty.
The healthy and lame have until Feburary 23rd to recover and regenerate--that's when the second half starts with a trip to Toronto, a team the Bucks gave what-not to in the playoffs last spring but never seem to match up well against no matter the occasion. The month ends with tiffs against the Pelicans, Wizards, and Pistons before March arrives, with the Rockets, Spurs, Cavs and Warriors among the 15 foes they'll see. March ends with a home clash against San Antonio before a western road swing begins, a four game jaunt that includes both L-A teams and the aforementioned defending champs, not to mention another go-around with the under-rated Nuggets, this time in the mountain air.
It's already a season to remember, with a team full of budding stars making league noise and becoming a draw on the road (thanks, Giannis). Horst and the tri-headed ownership group aren't afraid of bold moves. Milwaukee is no longer an NBA fly-over. It's a franchise the league is gladly marketing. Games are not just on at the corner bar--locals get downright surly if the bartender misses the opening tip. April will be here soon, and baseball won't be knocking the Bucks off the front page. The team and the city will say farewell to the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a building that maybe fell short in terms of banners in rafters but one that fulfilled its mission statement each night its doors were open because it meant the Bucks were staying in Milwaukee. That wasn't a sure thing until Jane and Lloyd Pettit stepped up with one of the most generous gifts in local history--a brand new sports/entertainment venue. How long those doors stay open after the printed portion of the Bucks 2018 schedule is over depends on the folks on the floor. Maybe they can burnish the franchise's list of accomplishments at their current home with a bunch of fresh memories, starting with an extended playoff run.
There we go...assuming again.