LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — This could have marked the time for the Milwaukee Bucks to build championship habits. Instead, they have looked far from a finished product during the beginning stages of the NBA’s restarted season.
The Bucks clinched the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed with a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday, but it required them to stage a 23-point comeback against a team that played without injured Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Milwaukee (55-14) failed to do the same thing against an undermanned Brooklyn Nets team (32-36) after falling to a Houston Rockets team determined to show they can win an NBA title with tons of 3-point shooting and a small-ball lineup. The Bucks have not looked the same since beating the Boston Celtics last week.
Should this concern Milwaukee, though? Not really.
3⃣3⃣ apiece for Giannis & [email protected]_An34 and @Khris22m combine for 66 PTS as the @Bucks clinch the East’s top record! #FearTheDeer#WholeNewGamepic.twitter.com/n0gYdDFP6u
Sure, the Bucks have not shown the same kind of hunger the Toronto Raptors (49-18) have shown during its undefeated restart. Yes, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has blemished his dominant performances (30.3 points, 12.8 rebounds) with some sloppy habits (3.5 turnovers, 3.5 fouls). And the Bucks are not guaranteed to waltz through the Eastern Conference because of Toronto and Boston.
Yet, the Bucks’ inconsistent play has more to do with its own circumstances than any fundamental issues.
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The Bucks struggled with complacency against a Heat team that always exploits a team’s lack of effort. While Miami on paper could have gotten an upset over Milwaukee with a fully healthy roster, the Bucks may have been inclined to try harder. After trailing by 16 points at halftime, the Bucks then outscored the Heat by 31 points in the second half.
Milwaukee could not stage such a comeback against the Nets. The main reason: Coach Mike Budenholzer opted to sit Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in the second half, while sitting Brook Lopez and Wesley Matthews for the entire game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are the top seed in the East for the second year in a row. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
The Rockets deserve plenty of praise for defeating the Bucks by closing out the game with a 16-4 run and forcing 22 turnovers. But Milwaukee was also missing Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton, and they have since used the following two games to shed rust.
This might not be what the Bucks envisioned in the resumed season. But previous NBA championship teams have also spent the late part of the regular season maximizing rest and fighting complacency. So even if the Bucks are not exactly showing championship dominance, they are also aware they are not playing yet in a championship setting.
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