The Milwaukee Bucks begin post-All-Star Game play on Thursday night riding high. They are atop the Eastern Conference standings and their 41 wins is matched by only one other team in the 30-team league: the Toronto Raptors.
The Bucks’ ascent can be primarily attributed to Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose sterling play has made him a certifiable MVP candidate. Throw in some quality coaching by Mike Budenholzer and his staff, strong showings by Antetokounmpo’s supporting cast and good health and it’s easy to understand why the Bucks have performed at such a high level.
Yet, there’s another reason for the Bucks’ sterling record, a reason that hasn’t been talked about much. And that is an undeniable soft schedule the last two months.
In a stretch from the middle of December to the middle of February, the Bucks played a litany of below average to just flat-out horrible teams. The Bucks played 30 games in that span – 23 of them against opponents with losing records.
That included a two-week stretch in January in which the Bucks played seven straight games against sub .500 teams: Washington, Atlanta, Miami, Memphis, Orlando, Dallas and Charlotte.
Suffice to say, the Bucks’ final 25 games of the regular season will be more challenging. Their first game after the All-Star break is Thursday night, at home, against the Boston Celtics. The Celtics, the consensus preseason choice to win the East, finally appear to be healthy after having have endured a rash of injuries.
The Bucks will then host Minnesota before embarking on a four game road trip. That will be part a nine-game stretch of which the Bucks will play seven of them away from Fiserv Forum.
Lastly, the Bucks will have 12 games – or almost half of their remaining 25 regular-season games — against winning teams.
Brogdon shoots for franchise record
Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon has a legitimate chance to set the Bucks’ single-season free throw percentage record.
Brogdon is connecting on .938 of his free throw attempts – 121 of 129 — the best percentage in the NBA. Golden State’s Steph Curry is second at .922, and San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli is third at .920.
Jack Sikma holds the Bucks’ mark, having converted on .922 of his free throw attempts during the 1987-1988 season.
Jose Calderon is the NBA’s all-time single season free throw percentage record holder at .980, which he set while playing for Toronto during the 2008-2009 season.
Brogdon’s current free throw percentage is the 12th-best all time.
Hail to the chief
While the NBA held its annual All-Star Game in Charlotte, a spate of NBA players headed to the Bahamas for some fun in the sun over the weekend.
Well, it wasn’t all fun and games for many of those players.
The National Basketball Players Association conducted some important business, electing several new officers. One of them was Brogdon, aka “The President’’ who has voted as one of the NBPA’s three vice presidents. The other new vice presidents are Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo and Boston’s Jaylen Brown.
Houston’s Chris Paul remains the NBPA president, while Golden State’s Andre Iguodala was elected as the first vice president.
Brogdon’s term as vice president is for three years.
–Neither Giannis Antetokounmpo nor Khris Middleton have any All-Star bonus clauses in their contracts.
— Former Bucks center Andrew Bogut was chosen the MVP of the NBL League. Bogut, who plays for the Sydney Kings, was also tabbed the league’s best defender.
— Marcus Landry was recently chosen the MVP of the Korean League All-Star Game. Landry, who plays for Busan KT Sonicboom in Busan, South Korea, is the second straight Milwaukee native to win the award. Deonte Burton was the MVP last season.
Burton is currently playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last week, in the Thunder’s 120-111 victory over Portland, Burton scored 18 points and had three blocks in 26 minutes.
n Several of Marques Johnson’s former Bucks teammates are expected to be in attendance when his No. 8 jersey is retired on March 24. Among Johnson’s former teammates who plan to attend the event are Sidney Moncrief, Junior Bridgeman and Bob Lanier – all of whom have had their jersey numbers retired.
–– Photo by Bill Tennessen