The Milwaukee Bucks have been far better than expected this season. Despite losing No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker for the season with an ACL injury, Milwaukee is still in the hunt for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. They ended the weekend at 14-14 and improving, but are the Bucks for real, or will they fade as the season continues?
During the 2012-13 NBA season, the Milwaukee Bucks seemed to be stuck in a never-ending cycle mediocrity. They were just good enough to make the playoffs and disqualify themselves from the lottery, and just bad enough to be swept in the first round. For fear of losing the fan base – and potentially the franchise – owner Herb Kohl refused to tank and consistently made offseason moves to show the fans he was trying. An Andrew Bogut/Monta Ellis swap here, a J.J. Reddick rental there, but nothing that was ever going to get them over the hump…or put them under it.
Then the 2013-14 NBA season happened. A number of injuries struck, a new head coach struggled, players were out of shape and that all led to a billboard begging for ping pong balls and one of the worst seasons in franchise history. As hard as Kohl tried to maintain mediocrity, every move he made flopped. Except for one.
Which leads us to the 2014-15 NBA season. There is new ownership, a new coach, a new team and a new identity. Led by two teenagers, the Bucks are trying to contend in a weak Eastern Conference. The conference is so weak, in fact, that the rumblings of realignment grow louder as I write this. Herb Kohl’s parting gift to the Bucks was Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 6’11” shooting guard/small forward/point forward/combo guard that most agree would’ve been the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft if they could do it over again. You cannot quantify Antetokounmpo he does via the box score, you have to watch a game to really appreciate his potential.
To match the final move made by old ownership, Marc Lasry and Wes Edens called Kohl’s Greek Freak, and raised them a Blue Devil. Jabari Parker was the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. Before his injury, Parker was most people’s early season pick for rookie of the year, and he was easily the most polished player coming out of the draft, Jabari led all rookies in points per game before getting injured. And did I mention that both Antetokounmpo and Parker are only 19 years old?
Along with the kids, Brandon Knight is playing extremely well, posting career-highs in field goal percentage, assists rebounds, and steals. He seems to be absorbing Jason Kidd’s point guard knowledge, and looks more natural running the position. O.J. Mayo Looks re-energized, whether its ultimately for Bucks or another team is to be determined. (If I were John Hammonds, I would be on the phone with Charlotte asking about that Lance Stephenson guy) Khris Middleton was another cog in the Jennings/Knight trade that has seemed to work out in favor of the Bucks. Middleton is another young player on a team-friendly deal the Bucks can build with.
All of this young talent is great, assuming these Bucks stay the “Milwuakee” Bucks. They need to get plans for an arena finalized before all of this promise becomes the “Seattle” Bucks.
Are the Milwaukee Bucks for real? Maybe not this season, but putting the plan in motion for the future is the key. Becoming a legitimate franchise is more important than having one legitimate season.
Each of the NBA’s Eastern Conference teams has now played at least 16 games. And entering Tuesday’s action, only two of them are currently above .500.
The two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat (14-3), and last season’s Eastern Conference finalists, the Indiana Pacers (16-2) are the only teams in the East that boast records above .500.
The Atlantic Division is so bad right now, all of its teams are below .500, and the Toronto Raptors (6-10) have the division’s best winning percentage at .375.
Let’s do a quick review of the Eastern Conference teams other than the Pacers and Heat that were supposed to be good this season: the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
Chicago has lost its starting point guard and former MVP, Derrick Rose, for the season with a knee injury. That will only compound the team’s problems. The Bulls had chemistry issues on the court and were stagnant on offense with Rose, so things will only get worse from here. The Bulls are currently 7-9 and are eight games behind the Pacers for first place in the Central division.
The Bulls have been a perennial playoff team in recent years and might make it again this season, but they can’t be counted on to be a contender.
The Knicks and Nets, at 3-13 and 5-12, respectively, have been abysmal, embarrassing, disappointing and are without any quick fixes. Both teams have multiple former Olympians, All-Stars and NBA champions. But they have dug themselves serious holes to crawl back out of.
The Knicks are currently on a nine-game losing streak and are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the worst record in the NBA.
The Nets have lost 10 of their last 13 games and look old, slow and completely lost. They are missing key players with injuries, including starting point guard, Deron Williams, starting center, Brook Lopez and Jason Terry
This season, the Eastern Conference Finals looks like a foregone conclusion, a repeat of last season’s matchup between the Pacers and the heat.
There is a wash of bad teams playing in the East. Most of them will be battling all season just to get to .500, waiting for the season to end and hoping for a good position in next year’s loaded draft.
The Chicago Blackahawks’ point streak was so much fun to watch I almost could not believe it.
For a league where it is so difficult to achieve success season after season, or even within the season, there should be no attempt to discredit what the ‘Hawks managed to do with their 24-game point streak.
Now that the party is over though, I’ve been able to focus more on what this all means for the Blackhawks and their chances at winning the Stanley Cup.
Once again the Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us. Leading up to the last day of the season, only one playoff matchup was carved in stone, as the parity in the NHL is as evident as its ever been.
The Boston Bruins look to become the first back-to-back champions since the Detroit Red Wings were able to accomplish the rare feat in the late 90s. Their road ahead is filled with difficult obstacles as there always are.
The 2011-12 season has blessed us hockey fans with many surprises along the way, most notably the St. Louis Blues. The Blues fired coach Davis Payne early in the season and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock which launched the club into the stratosphere finishing second in the Western Conference. They have sound goaltending, top-level young talent, and wily veterans who have been to the dance before, but will their lack of playoff experience sewer them down the stretch?
The Ottawa Senators bewildered most, spending almost the entire season sitting in a playoff spot in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The Florida Panthers won their first ever Southeast Division title and have made the second season for the first time since the lockout. The only team not to make the playoffs in that stretch: the Toronto Maple Leafs…so sad.
And then there are the perennial contenders who will once again compete for the most coveted trophy in the sport. The Red Wings haven’t missed the playoffs since the 1989-90 season and have four rings since. And then there’s Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago — all teams that compete year in, year out — but who will be the team to drink out of Lord Stanley’s mug this year?
Don’t let the one/eight seed pairing fool you. Unlike most sports, seeding in the NHL playoffs means virtually nothing except home-ice advantage. The Sens have had their way with the Rangers this season, holding a 3-1 season series lead. They have also had immense success at Madison Square Garden since the lockout, boasting an 11-2-1 record.
Keeps to the New York Rangers’ Success:
The Rangers are going to need their best players to be their best players as cliche as that sounds. Henrik Lundqvist will be the catalyst for how far the Rangers can go in the playoffs. If he’s on, the Rangers will be tough to beat. They will also need their top forwards to produce. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards will have to shoulder the load on a team where goal scoring isn’t exactly their fortay. The Rangers will also have to continue to block shots, which has been a large part of their success this season.
Keys to the Ottawa Senators’ Success:
Ottawa has one of the higher-scoring teams this season, both on the power play and at even strength. For them to be successful, they will need to get to Lundqvist early and shake his confidence. Scoring first will be key for the Sens since the Rangers have an .814 winning percentage when they score first. They don’t have a particularly stingy defence, so offensive production is the biggest key for their success.
Who Will Win and Why:
The Sens have overachieved throughout the regular season, but that will probably end in this series. New York is a better team in just about every major category. Although I wouldn’t expect the Rangers to break out the broom sticks, they should more than likely have what it takes to win those tight playoff games.
New York-Ottawa Prediction: RANGERS IN 6.
No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals
Both of these clubs have come into the playoffs riding a hot streak of sorts, but both teams have also had their ups and downs this season. The Bruins felt the Stanley Cup hangover and started the year 3-7. They also had another mini slump through February and mid-March. The Capitals have been one of the bigger disappointments this year spending the majority of the season on the outside looking in before stringing some wins together to clinch the seventh spot. They do hold the advantage over Bruins though, beating them in three of their four matchups.
Keys to the Boston Bruins’ Success:
The B’s need to play their style of game: up-tempo, fast paced and physical. If they are able to get under the skin of the Caps and force them to retaliate, it’s going to be hard for them not to win the series. The Caps goaltending situation is uncertain with injuries to Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun, so if Boston puts a lot of shots on inexperienced goalie Braden Holtby, they should have no issues with Washington and advancing to the second round. Balanced production has been key for them all season, and if that continues, look out for Boston.
Keys to the Washington Capitals’ Success:
The most important component to the Caps’ success is the play of the Alexes, Ovechkin, and Semin. Both players have had somewhat of a disappointing year but have picked it up down the stretch and are the biggest reason why Washington was able to secure a playoff spot. The Caps are 18-5-2- when Ovechkin scores a goal this season. He’s scored 11 goals in his past 13 games and appears to be returning to his MVP form. The Caps need to take a page out of the Carolina Hurricanes ‘book if they want to have a chance against Boston. The Canes were 4-0 against Boston this season by playing patient and disciplined hockey.
Who Will Win and Why:
Despite the slew of injuries plaguing the Bruins right now, they have far more depth and playoff experience. The Caps are also the worst road team in the playoffs, and with four games in Boston, it doesn’t look too promising. If the Caps had a healthy No. 1 goaltender, they would probably have a chance. But they don’t, so it’s going to be tough to dethrone the defending champs.
Boston-Washington Prediction: BRUINS IN 5.
No. 3 Florida Panthers vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils
These two teams split the season series 2-2 this year, but I wouldn’t expect the series to be very close at all. New Jersey is by far the superior team in this matchup. They have more depth up front, the best penalty killing in the league and arguably the best goalie of all time, although past his prime. The Panthers have the worst goal differential of any playoff team in the league (-24), and they are very poor 5-on-5,which doesn’t bode well in their matchup against the Devils. New Jersey is one of the biggest sleepers in the East and has the potential to upset the top seeds.
Keys to the Florida Panthers’ Success:
Jose Theodore has had a ressurgence in Florida. For them to be successful, he needs to be at the top of his game, but the offence needs to give him more help. Theodore has eight loses this season where he’s allowed two goals or less. Florida has lived and died with their PP and will to have to find a way to crack the leagues best PK. They also need more balanced production than they’ve had all year in order to reduce the pressure on their top line.
Keys to the New Jersey Devils’ Success:
Martin Brodeur needs to continue his solid second half play. If he can do that, it’s going to be tough to beat New Jersey. If he doesn’t, the Devils weak defence might be exposed for what it is. The Panthers aren’t exactly the deepest team in the league, so if the Devils can shut down the top line of Weiss, Versteeg, and Fleischman, then they should have few issues seeing the second round.
Who Will Win and Why:
The Panthers have had issues with a lack of depth all season, combined with the Devils holding opponents to less than 28 shots per game — second best in the league — and New Jersey’s legendary net minder, it’s going to be tough for Florida to pull off the upset. The Panthers have been trending downward coming down the stretch, so all signs point to the Devils advancing to Round 2.
Florida-New Jersey Prediction: BREAK OUT THE BROOM STICKS. DEVILS IN 4.
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers
Its unfortunate that we need to lose one of these teams in the first round, but this matchup may be one of the best EVER. The teams just plain don’t like each other, which goes beyond the players.Pens assistant coach Tony Granato and Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette stood on the boards yelling at one another for minutes as fights scattered the ice surface last week. The battle of Pennsylvania has never been more tense.
Philly leads the season series 4-2, but most of those games the Pens were without the league’s best player, Sidney Crosby. Both teams have firepower and are first and third in league scoring respectively, with the Pens holding the advantage.
Keys to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Success:
You can’t argue about the Penguins top skill. They have some of the best talent in the league. Top talent can only take you so far though. The Penguins will need their role players to contribute offensively and make an impact on the outcomes of the game in order for Pittsburgh to be able to beat Philly.
Keys to the Philadelphia Flyers’ Success:
Ilya Bryzgalov is the catalyst in this series for the Flyers. If he can play like he did in the second half of the season, they will have the ability to win this series. If he doesn’t play well, they have no chance at all. The Flyers need to take a page out of the Bruins’ book from last season’s playoffs and use their size and strength to intimidate the Penguins. If the pesky Flyers can get under the skin of the Pens and take them off their game, it will greatly improve their odds of winning the series.
Who Will Win and Why:
This series has all ingredients for a classic for the ages. Intense rivalry, bad blood, skilled players — you name it. The series couldn’t be more up in the air. I wish both teams could advance, but someone has to lose. What it’s going to come down to is the Pens have the best duo in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Although Philly is a skilled team, they just don’t have the same high-end talent.
Pittsburgh-Philadelphia Prediction: PENGUINS IN 7.
For the Western Conference previews and predictions, click here.
Coming back from such a deficit in a 7-game series is a feat that has not once been accomplished during the NBA’s existence, and it rarely happens in sports. The only examples are a handful in the NHL and the legendary ’04 Boston Red Sox, who came back from 0-3 against the Yankees.
To make things even worse for Knicks fans, there was a trending topic on Twitter that practically put a dagger in the back of each Knicks fan. It read “Massacre Square Garden”; enough said. Then this morning, I had to wake up to tweets about how Knicks fans are complaining about the calls and how it’s not fair that Chauncey and Amar’e are injured, and everything in between.
While I can agree that New York should have won at least ONE game thus far in the series, and should be putting up more of a challenge in a series we deemed the best in the first round, Knicks fans are forgetting to look at the big picture.
So for all of my followers, and for those Knicks fans who are disgusted with what is going on, let this article serve a positive note. Here is why even though your team is falling hard, and falling hard right now, there are still plenty of reasons for you to be happy and optimistic.