ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

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Last season: The Bucks went 38-44, reaching the playoffs despite a mid-season firing of Scott Skiles. Their high-scoring and high-shooting backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis defined the team, but it was really as a team without a strong identity. Before the playoffs began, Jennings predicted the Bucks would beat the Heat in six games. Miami swept the series.

Signature highlight from last season: The terrible shot selection of Milwaukee’s starting backcourt finally paid off in the closing seconds of a February game in Houston. Brandon Jennings dribbled on the perimeter and off balance into a shot that even he realized was too bad to take. So, he passed to Monta Ellis, a bad-shot aficionado himself. Relying on all his bad-shot experience, Ellis delivered.

Key player changes: The Bucks were nothing if not busy this summer. Here’s the synopsis:

  • In: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nate Wolters, Carlos Delfino, O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, Zaza Pachulia, Caron Butler, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Luke Ridnour
  • Out: Samuel Dalembert, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, J.J. Redick, Ish Smith, Gustavo Ayon, Drew Gooden

Yes, Kravtsov appears on both lists. Milwaukee was just wheeling and dealing like that.

Keys to the Bucks’ season:

1) How good do the Bucks want to be/how good can their point guards let them be? Third-year point guard Brandon Knight frequently struggled with turnovers in Detroit the last two years, so extremely that it had a big negative effect on the Pistons’ offense. If Knight makes a jump in ability, the Bucks have no problem. Their top point guard will also be their point guard with the most potential, and that’s easy.

If not, Milwaukee must decide between Knight (the sometimes erratic point guard who needs experience to get better, but would mean more losses this season) and Luke Ridnour (the steady veteran who has nowhere to go but down, but will mean a little more short-term success). It could be a direction-defining decision.

2) Are any recently signed free agents underpaid? Why did the Bucks sign O.J. Mayo ($8 million per year), Zaza Pachulia ($5.2 million per year), Carlos Delfino ($3.25 million per year) and Gary Neal ($3.25 million per year)? I can’t pretend to know the exact answer to that question, because it doesn’t’ make the most sense, but I’m guessing Milwaukee didn’t want to pass on available value. Those four players might not generate a playoff berth, but if they’re underpaid, it’s easier for the Bucks to trade them or upgrade the team elsewhere next summer.

3) Can Larry Sanders be a good team’s best player? Second best? Sanders’ four-year, $44 million extension makes him, barring other moves, Milwaukee’s highest-paid player in 2014-15 and beyond. He’s a defensive force, but not quite in the discussion as one the NBA’s very best defenders. Offensively, he’s more limited. He’s a very nice player to have, and the Bucks definitely paid enough to ensure they have him. As he grows from his breakout season, we’ll get a better sense of just how good Sanders can be.

Why you should watch the Bucks: You won’t understand Larry Sanders’ value by looking at just his common statistics. Watch Milwaukee, and you’ll get a better sense of how he impacts the game defensively. Otherwise, this is a blah bad team, and I don’t have much here.

Prediction: Bucks in six. 33-49. The Bucks will be OK. Probably not OK enough to make the playoffs, but they have at least an outside chance. Probably not bad enough to land a premier draft pick, either, but they have at least an outside chance.

The Bucks are very different from last season. Yet, they’re very much the same.

Grizzlies beat slumping Pacers, who fall into tie for final playoff spot

AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Conley matched his career high with seven 3-pointers on his way to 36 points, helping the Memphis Grizzlies rout the Indiana Pacers 110-97 on Wednesday night.

Vince Carter had 21 points and eight rebounds, and Zach Randolph finished with 17 points as Memphis snapped a four-game losing streak. Conley went 13 for 21 from the field.

Paul George led the Pacers with 22 points, Aaron Brooks, who provided an early spark from outside the arc, had 18 points, and Thaddeus Young finished with 16.

Indiana lost for the fourth time in five games.

Memphis played without All-Star center Marc Gasol, who missed his third straight game with a left foot strain. But Conley helped the Grizzlies get off the fast start, and Pacers were never able to catch up.

Memphis led by as many as 22 in the second quarter and carried a 72-53 advantage into the break. Conley scored 22 points in the first half, and the Grizzlies went 10 for 17 from beyond the arc in the first two periods.

Brooks made four 3-pointers and scored 14 in the first half for Indiana.

The Grizzlies led 96-79 after three, and the sliding Pacers never threatened in the fourth.

Indiana (37-38) dropped into a tie with Miami for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Both are two games behind Milwaukee and Atlanta.

The Heat, Bucks and Hawks all won Wednesday night.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Brooks made a 3-pointer in the first quarter to reach 800 for his career. … Indiana dropped to 0-8 in road games on the second night of a back-to-back.

Grizzlies: JaMychal Green was out with left shoulder soreness. That caused Memphis to use its 22nd different starting lineup this season. … Memphis scored 38 points in the first quarter, matching its highest point total for any quarter this season. … Memphis has made at least 10 3-pointers in 36 games. … In the third quarter, Carter passed Ray Allen (24,505) for 22nd in NBA history for career points scored. … Reserve guard Andrew Harrison left in the third quarter with a right ankle injury.

PACERS HOMECOMINGS

Pacers forward Thaddeus Young played high school basketball in Memphis and still lives there. Pacers guard Monta Ellis has a home in the Eads community east of Memphis.

HOME STRETCH

Memphis (41-34), which sits seventh in the Western Conference playoff race, has a beneficial schedule down the stretch. Of its seven remaining games, five are at home, and five are against teams with losing records.

UP NEXT

Pacers: Visit Toronto on Friday.

Grizzlies: Host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.

Three Mavericks teammates restrain Devin Harris, who still gets ejected (video)

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Dallas guard Devin Harris was ejected from Wednesday night’s 121-118 loss to New Orleans after angrily protesting calls made by official Ben Taylor.

Harris was assessed two quick technical fouls by Taylor, the first after Harris protested Taylor’s decision to whistle him for a personal foul when he collided with Pelicans’ guard Jordan Crawford.

The impact with Crawford sent Harris crashing to the court, marking the second time in the period that Harris had gone down hard. The first time, no foul was called when a collision with Pelicans’ guard E'Twaun Moore left Harris flat on his back.

When Harris was assessed the first technical, he went into a tirade and had to be restrained by teammates as he advanced toward Taylor. That triggered his ejection.

Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon beats shot clock, Celtics with dagger (video)

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Who should win Rookie of the Year?

Joel Embiid has been, by far, the best rookie while on the court, but a season-ending injury will limit him to just 31 games. Malcolm Brogdon has been next best over the full course of the season. Dario Saric is making a heck of a finishing kick, and with a couple weeks left, he can still catch Brogdon.

But Brogdon got his own late signature moment in the Bucks’ 103-100 win over the Celtics tonight.

With the Bucks up one in the final seconds and the shot clock nearing expiration, Brogdon hit an off-balance jumper with 3.9 seconds left to produce the final margin.

Milwaukee’s win drops Boston (48-27) to second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Cavaliers (47-26). The Bucks (39-36) keep pace with the Hawks in a tie for fifth.

Russell Westbrook scores most points ever in triple-double, 57

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Russell Westbrook led a double-digit comeback in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Been there done, that.

Westbrook hit a defining buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Been there done, that.

Westbrook posted a historic triple-double. Been there, done that.

All three in one game?

That’s a new level for Westbrook, who lifted the Thunder to a 114-106 win over the Magic tonight while posting an incredible stat line: 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

James Harden scored 53 in a triple-double just this season, and Westbrook has already one-upped that record.

This MVP race is one for the ages.