After starting the 2018-19 NBA season with an 8-1 record, the Milwaukee Bucks showed resilience by winning two big games on their latest West Coast trip.
The Milwaukee Bucks are shaping up to be legit contenders this year. They had a lot of question marks surrounding who would step up to help superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the early season results have been great. Through their first nine games, the Bucks were 8-1 and held the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.
However, the first big test for the Milwaukee Bucks was yet to come. Starting on Tuesday, Milwaukee set out on a West Coast trip to play four games in six days, all against teams with at least playoff aspirations.
Milwaukee had to go up against the top three teams in the Western Conference standings in the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets. Throw in another game against a scrappy Los Angeles Clippers team, and you see just how hard this stretch was going to be for Milwaukee.
If you look at their record and see the Bucks split the West Coast trip with two wins and two losses, one might not think much about it. However, people don’t tend to realize just how tough this duration is for a team, both on the court and off.
They were able to muster up two great wins over the Warriors and Nuggets, while dropping their matchups with the Blazers and Clippers. This competitiveness through adversity is a great sign for Milwaukee as the team tries to come out on top of the Eastern Conference.
Of course, we first have to talk about Giannis. With the wear and tear he takes every night as the focal point of the team, it would have been easy for him to take a game or two off during this difficult stretch. Thankfully for the Bucks, that didn’t happen.
Over the four-game West Coast trip, the Greek Freak averaged 24.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game. He also shot very well from the floor (as per usual), with a field goal percentage of 58 percent. Having Giannis perform at the highest of his ability every night is going to be a major factor in Milwaukee’s overall success, so seeing him do so through four tough games is a good sight.
Another great characteristic during the stretch was strong role play from the rest of the starters. Khris Middleton continued to score and do so efficiently, scoring 18.5 points per game on shooting splits of .467/.393/.875. The Bucks were a +8.5 when he was on the floor, best of any Milwaukee starter. Eric Bledsoe continued his steady play as well, including an incredible outing against Golden State where he led the team in scoring with 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
Maybe the most surprising detail from their West Coast trip came Sunday, thanks to Brook Lopez. The veteran center put on a shooting clinic from 3-point range against the Nuggets, hitting eight of his 13 attempts and putting up a game-high 28 points.
Lopez, who only started shooting 3-pointers two years ago, was brought to Milwaukee to be able to space the floor for Giannis. He was shooting a respectable 38.7 percent from behind the arc before Sunday’s performance, where he jumped his season average up to 41.9 percent. If Lopez can keep up the good 3-point shooting, there is no telling how great the Bucks’ starting lineup could be.
Overall, it was a very impressive showing by the Bucks. They started slow, losing to the Trail Blazers by 15 after an almost six-hour flight from Milwaukee to Portland, but were able to make up for it with a dominant 23-point win over the Warriors.
A heartbreaking loss in overtime to the Clippers was a letdown, but were able to hand Denver their third straight loss. Battling in the regular season night in and night out is great to see, and hopefully the Bucks can continue that when they are traveling around late in the postseason.