It would be a pointless exercise to try and spot trends in the Bucks’ first two games, except to say that the team’s play was inconsistent and uneven within each. As such, a 1-1 record is a reasonable if not wholly satisfying outcome.
That mark was secured after Kevin Love missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, giving Milwaukee a 98-95 win over the Timberwolves (0-2) in its home opener. The Bucks will host Washington on Friday before embarking on a challenging five-game West Coast swing next week.
Milwaukee is glad it won’t have to see Love again this season. Minnesota’s star power forward finished with 31 points and 20 rebounds, with 17 of the points coming in the first quarter. Love’s binge was fueled by a laughable free throw barrage, as he went 13 of 15 in the quarter and 19 of 24 for the game.
Offensive balance was the theme of the night for the Bucks, and, one hopes, a developing pattern for this abbreviated campaign. Brandon Jennings led the way with 24 points and seven assists, Andrew Bogut tallied 15 points and nine rebounds before fouling out, and Steven Jackson added 16 points and five boards after falling flat in Charlotte Monday.
Arguably the most pivotal contributions of the night came from rookie Jon Leuer. The UW graduate and instant fan favorite had 14 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench, including a critical three-point play off a feed from Jennings on a busted sequence that gave the Bucks a five-point lead with 1:17 remaining.
“The things he (Leuer) does. He takes the right shots; he moves the ball and he just plays hard. For a rookie, he’s good in my book,” Jennings said after the game.
Leuer benefited from Drew Gooden’s suspension, but the ex-Badger’s play Tuesday merits him consideration for backup center minutes even with a full roster.
The victory saved Milwaukee from having to explain an 0-2 start, and coach Scott Skiles justifiably lamented his squad’s inability to play with big leads. Monday’s third quarter was eerily reminiscent of last season, and nearly all of a 20-point bulge slipped away Tuesday.
With all due respect to the season’s first two opponents, good teams will run away from the Bucks if they have extended lapses. Milwaukee certainly figured it would beat Charlotte, but a slew of turnovers, untimely fouls and being dominated on the glass prevented that. The Bucks have one game to tidy things up before the schedule turns rugged.
In fairness, the full team hasn’t suited up yet. Carlos Delfino and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are expected to return from injuries as soon as Friday. But given the lack of practice time, many players will have to adjust on the fly to new roles. It’s too early to talk about shortening the rotation, but mix-end-match must end sooner than later if the Bucks want to compete with established playoff teams.
All of this means the players must perform consistently so Skiles knows what he has. Jennings clearly has the coach’s trust, so the preference here is that he becomes the primary scorer, deferring to Jackson when appropriate.
The key to the offense, however, is Bogut. The former overall top pick, already a vocal leader, must be a better finisher (just 7-20 on field goal attempts Tuesday) and use his superior passing skills to produce All-Star-caliber numbers in his seventh season.
Management likes Shaun Livingston, though he is a candidate to lose minutes when Delfino returns, though it will likely depend on whether Livingston or Beno Udrih fits better with Jennings. Larry Sanders has shown flashes as a reserve big man, but may surrender time to the more polished Leuer as the season wears on.
The eminently beatable Wizards should give Skiles a little more time to tinker with combinations. But in a 66-game sprint where every result is magnified, the clock is already ticking.