A lot has gone right during the last month or so for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The team has gone from below .500 to a 40-36 record and fifth in the Eastern Conference, all while having lost Jabari Parker for the season and Michael Beasley missing time.
Khris Middleton could be the simple reason for that success.
Middleton returned just before the All-Star break from a preseason hamstring injury. Milwaukee is 17-7 in games that Middleton has played since returning on Feb. 8. The Bucks’ 18-8 overall record is the third best in the NBA over that period.
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The Bucks could have floundered without Parker, who was having a good season before an ACL injury he suffered on the same night Middleton returned. Instead the Bucks have buckled down on defense and have moved up the standings.
Middleton has helped steady the team, averaging 15.5 points per game.
“Getting Khris back has really anchored us on both ends,” said Bucks coach Jason Kidd. “Our tempo is not as fast without Jabari and Beas’ in the lineup, but Khris has just a calming effect defensively and offensively.”
The Bucks’ defense ranks eighth in the league in allowing 102.3 points per game since Middleton’s return.
Losing Parker’s scoring, Kidd knew his team would have to grind out close games while relying less on offense. Now the Bucks are on track to reach the playoffs after missing the postseason last year.
“If you want to make it to the playoffs and you want to win in this league, you have to play defense,” Kidd said.
Beasley, who was brought in at the start of the season, returned to the lineup Friday from a knee injury that sidelined him since Feb. 27.
“The mentality here is next man up,” Kidd said. “You never want to see a teammate get hurt or be out for the season. We miss Jabari but it’s given Beasley and other guys opportunities to play, and they’ve taken advantage of it.”
Talent doesn’t hurt, either. Giannis Antetokounmpo, 22, emerged as an All-Star this season.
There’s also rookie guard Malcolm Brogdon, a second-round pick from Virginia who cracked the starting lineup. Kidd believes he should win Rookie for the Year for his contributions.
Brogdon is averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 assists.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do – start, come off the bench. He loves the challenge of guarding the best offensive player. He understands how to run a team,” Kidd said. “His demeanor and composure out on the floor as one of our leaders has helped us, especially this month of March. We’re not surprised with what he’s doing. We’re just happy he’s being consistent.”
Now the Bucks will see if their good fortunes of late will carry them into May.
The This Can’t Be Life Award
Pinching folks on the court?
Are we in elementary school?
Golden State forward Draymond Green said Houston’s James Harden did just that. So in what would seem to be an appropriate response in grade school, Green hit Harden on his injured wrist.
“He pinched me,” Green told reporters after Friday’s win over the Rockets. “So I punched his wrist. That’s pretty much it.”
Green said it’s something Harden does “often” and is “kind of adolescent.” Green was called for an offensive foul.
As of Saturday the NBA had not announced discipline for the play, but perhaps someone should be put on timeout.
The Keeping it Way Too Real Award
Warriors forward Kevin Durant, on the NBA’s concerns over players sitting out games for rest: “The truth about it is, it’s only for a couple of players in the league. They don’t care if the 13th man on the bench rests. It’s only for like LeBron (James), Steph (Curry), Harden, Russell (Westbrook). It’s only for like five players. So you want a rule just for those five players?”
Durant is right. The Kings have been sitting players and no one cares. The Phoenix Suns are sitting high-priced veterans, too, just like the Lakers.
But when you’re a star, more is expected. Of course, no one cares if the 13th man rests because the 13th man on a team rests almost every night because he’s not in the rotation.
The NBA is a league of stars. The proof is fans still pay top dollar for the All-Star Game, even though it’s become a glorified walkthrough with players not even pretending to play defense most of the game.
So there might not need to be a special rest rule, but players cannot act as if they do not know why fans and sponsors are not happy about the rest days.