Bucks offseason homework: Figure out what kind of team they are

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There is a dump truck full of questions the Milwaukee Bucks need to answer this offseason — what to do with interim coach Jim Boylan, should they expend a lot of energy to keep Monta Ellis and/or J.J. Redick, how much to offer Brandon Jennings, and many more.

But the answers to all of those questions start with the answer to another question:

What kind of team do the Milwaukee Bucks want to be?

Because the past couple seasons they have looked like a collection of mismatched parts with no overarching plan. They have two ball-dominating backcourt guards (that when paired on the court had the team -2.7 points per 100 possessions compared to their opponents) and they threw J.J. Redick in the mix, but that mesh was up and down. The Bucks played fast but were a bottom 10 offensive team, it all didn’t work.

So pick a style, Milwaukee. If you want to be defense-first then great, slow the pace down and get some better defending role players on the roster. Want to be a running team? Great, you need a roster that starts with guards who mesh better.

My guess is they stay up-tempo (the Bucks played at the third fastest pace in the league).

Once you pick a style, then get a coach that fits it — if that is a Jennings led up-tempo style Boylan is not your guy. Boylan took over the job mid-season after Scott Skiles left (they were .500 when he did). There are a host of good top assistants out there, each bringing a different feel and style to the dance (there is Mike Malone in Golden State, Brian Shaw in Indiana, but the rumor is the leader would be Kelvin Sampson of the Rockets).

Then the Bucks need to figure out the backcourt — do they want to make a big offer to Monta Ellis and let Brandon Jennings go, or watch Ellis leave and match any offer (short of a max deal) for Jennings? And what about J.J. Redick? Both Ellis and Redick are unrestricted free agents — they have the freedom to sign anywhere. Jennings is a restricted free agent, the Bucks can match any offer he gets — which makes him the most likely of the trip to stay.

Let me just note this for fun: As mentioned, when the backcourt was Jennings/Ellis the Bucks were outscored -2.7 points per 100 possessions. Ellis and Redick were +6.2; Jennings and Redick were -10.5. So you may seriously want to rethink plans for a Jennings/Redick backcourt.

The Bucks will have Ersan Ilyasova back, as well as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Larry Sanders and Drew Gooden. Mike Dunleavy is a free agent but said he would be open to staying.

The result of all tis is likely the Bucks take a step back next season. That’s fine if there is a solid plan being followed to move forward after that.

What I fear for Bucks fans is another roster made up of whatever guys they can grab, with little concern for how it all fits together. We’ve seen that movie, and how it ends.

Three Things to Know: Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder against Warriors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. As a matter of housekeeping, this will be the last Three Things of this week, as we take a holiday break. Happy Thanksgiving!

1) Angry Russell Westbrook sparks Thunder we’ve been waiting for. Don’t make Russell Westbrook angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Unless you’re a Thunder fan, then you’ll love him. Westbrook came out with an edge we haven’t seen from him this season as he has tried to play nice and integrate Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Not Wednesday night. Wednesday night Kevin Durant and his Warriors came to town, and Westbrook was not taking it from anyone.

That sparked the Thunder team we have been waiting for all season. Westbrook finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and he was joined by Anthony with 22 points, and George with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals. The Thunder used a 22-10 first-quarter run to take the lead and never looked back, leading by 26 at one point and going on to win 108-91. This was by far the best the Thunder have looked all season as they have stumbled to a 7-9 start before Wednesday. Maybe this game was the spark they needed to start playing well at the end of games — they closed out well against Golden State. Maybe this was what the Thunder needed to find themselves and become the playoff threat to the Warriors we expected.

As for the Warriors… ¯_(ツ)_/¯. We haven’t said this about them this season (only the Cavaliers), but they looked disinterested much of the night (outside of Durant). Give credit to the Thunder, physical and aggressive defenses that can overplay the Warriors (and recover) give them trouble, and OKC did that. The Warriors just didn’t care to counter. They looked like a team coasting through a road trip (2-2 in their last 4), and when they ran into a quality, motivated team they didn’t have the gear. That doesn’t mean anything long-term, but it means they may be vulnerable during the season until they find their edge again. Whenever they flip the switch.

2) Miami ends Boston’s win streak at 16. For a couple of weeks now the Celtics had been living dangerously — they had to come back from double-digits to win four of their last five games heading into Wednesday night.

Their luck ran out against the Miami Heat.

Miami raced out to a double-digit first-quarter lead, pushed that lead to 19 and were comfortably ahead most of the game, and we kept waiting for the Boston run. It came in the fourth, a 13-0 push that made it a game again. However, Miami responded with a 5-0 run of their own, Dion Waiters seemed especially motivated to take on Kyrie Irving, and the Heat held on for the 104-98 win. Goran Dragic had 27 points, Waiters 26 and 6 assists.

Boston’s streak was bound to end, but they established themselves as a strong defensive team during that run, and the squad in the East best poised to knock off LeBron James and the Cavaliers. We’re a long way from the games that matter in that push — the Cavs have won six in a row, and are playing defense again — but we know the pecking order for who gets a shot at the champs. Boston will get their shot, and early on they look like they will be ready.

3) Patrick Beverley is out for the season and the Los Angeles Clippers have some hard questions to answer. For the first four games of the season, we saw the potential of what this Clipper roster could be — four head-turning wins. Then the injuries started to pile up — Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and starting point guard Patrick Beverley — and so did the losses. Nine in a row, until they picked up a road win in Atlanta Wednesday.

Now comes a brutal blow — the Clippers have lost point guard Patrick Beverley for the season. He had microfracture surgery on his knee and will be out until next season.

That’s a real blow to the Clippers, and it means they may need to answer some harsh questions. If the losses continue to pile up and this is clearly not a playoff team by the time we get to Christmas — a reality that became a more possible on Wednesday — do they need to trade free agent to be DeAndre Jordan? Other teams are already calling and asking if he is available in a trade, if the Clippers think they can’t resign him this summer (or at least the odds are lower than they like) they have to consider the move. Los Angeles wouldn’t get a lot back for a rental, but they would get something to help the rebuild they need to consider.

The other question: How much longer is Doc Rivers the coach. The sense from many around the league is the reason he wasn’t let go when he was stripped of his GM powers this summer was he is making more than $10 million a year and had a couple of years left on his deal, and that was too much for even Steve Ballmer to just eat. Plus Rivers has shown he can coach. Whether he can coach this team still is a different question entirely. Right now, this team is not responding to him, and the sense around the league is the question is when, not if, he will be let go.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.

Heat snap Celtics’ 16-game winning streak

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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The Celtics didn’t have another comeback in them.

After overcoming a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Mavericks on Monday to extend its winning streak to 16 games, Boston lost to the Heat tonight, 104-98. The streak ends as the NBA’s longest since the Hawks won 19 straight during the 2014-15 season.

The Celtics trailed Miami by 16 in the fourth quarter then cut the deficit to only one with three minutes left. But Dion Waiters hit back-to-back 3-pointers, helping the Heat pull away.

Goran Dragic (27 points) and Waiters (26 points) led Miami, which needed a reason to feel good after losing three of four to fall to 7-9.

The Celtics, on the other hand, still have a four-game cushion over the rest of the Eastern Conference. This might help them regain focus.