NBA Power Rankings Week 20: What history will Milwaukee Bucks make?

Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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NBA Power Rankings Giannis Antetokounmpo
Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks joined an exclusive club and hold an iron grip at the top of the NBA Power Rankings. They’ll make history in 2019-20 … but what kind?

After eviscerating the Oklahoma City Thunder 133-86 on Friday night, the Milwaukee Bucks joined an exclusive group of just six teams in NBA history to win at least 51 games in their first 59 games.

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Wilt Chamberlain was part of two of those teams, the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers (started 51-8, finished 68-13 with an NBA title) and the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers (started 51-8 including a record 33 straight wins, finished 69-13 with an NBA title).

The Chicago Bulls in Michael Jordan‘s first full comeback season in 1995-96 were the next to turn the trick, starting 53-6 en route to a then-record 72 regular-season wins and an NBA title.

The following season, Chicago opened 52-7, finished 69-13 and won another NBA title.

It would be nearly 20 years before another team turned the trick and when it did, the entire paradigm shifted. The Golden State Warriors in 2015-16 were 54-5 after 59 games, broke the Bulls’ old mark by finishing 73-9 — the first team in history to finish 82 games with less than 10 defeats — and …. didn’t win the NBA title.

The Warriors came close. They were within one victory of completing what would have been considered the greatest season ever (taking into consideration — as few actually do — that Chicago’s 72-win season was in an expansion year).

But after taking a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, Golden State lost three straight games for the only time all season and their legacy was tarnished.

And now that the Bucks have joined the 51-in-59 club, there is no shortage of skeptics.

Part of that is because of what happened to the Warriors because, as we all know, whatever happened most recently is the only historical trend that matters. That’s patently false, but it a byproduct of the 21st-century mindset of “rangzzzzz” being the only measuring stick that matters.

But the other part of this equation of doubt surrounding Milwaukee is self-inflicted. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Bucks because only the 12th team in NBA history to lose a best-of-7 series in six games after winning the first two games.

After beating the Toronto Raptors at home 108-100 and 125-103 in Games 1 and 2 of the series, Milwaukee lost on the road by six (in double-overtime) and 18 points, came home for a six-point loss and had its season closed out with another six-point loss at Toronto in Game 6.

While they were the first team to lose in such a fashion in the conference finals since the 2012 San Antonio Spurs, the Bucks were also the third team in the last four years to go out with a 2-0 lead followed by four straight losses. The other two came in the first round — the Chicago Bulls in 2017 and the LA Clippers the previous year.

Here’s the complete list of teams to go from up 2-0 to out 4-2:

  • 1968-69 San Francisco Warriors (lost to Los Angeles Lakers in Western Division Semifinals)
  • 1976-77 Philadelphia 76ers (lost to Portland Trail Blazers in NBA Finals)
  • 1992-93 New York Knicks (lost to Chicago Bulls in Eastern Conference Finals)
  • 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs (lost to Los Angeles Lakers in Western Conference Semifinals)
  • 2004-05 Chicago Bulls (lost to Washington Wizards in Eastern Conference First Round)
  • 2005-06 Dallas Mavericks (lost to Miami Heat in NBA Finals)
  • 2006-07 Detroit Pistons (lost to Cleveland Cavaliers in Eastern Conference Finals)
  • 2011-12 San Antonio Spurs (lost to Oklahoma City Thunder in Western Conference Finals)
  • 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers (lost to Memphis Grizzlies in Western Conference First Round)
  • 2015-16 LA Clippers (lost to Portland Trail Blazers in Western Conference First Round)
  • 2016-17 Chicago Bulls (lost to Boston Celtics in Eastern Conference First Round)
  • 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks (lost to Toronto Raptors in Eastern Conference Finals)

The 2019 Bucks also joined the 2012 Spurs, 2007 Pistons, 1993 Knicks and 1977 76ers to go out via this particular route at No. 1 seeds.

So the angst is somewhat understandable. And unfortunately for the Milwaukee Bucks, nothing they do between now and April 15 — heck, nothing they do between now and the NBA Finals — will matter … unless they win it all. Then and only then, will they get some credit for one of the greatest regular seasons ever assembled.

And now, on with the countdown.

30. team. 41. . 13-47. Previous: . Golden State Warriors

Last week: Lost to New Orleans 115-101, lost to Sacramento 112-94, lost to Lakers 116-86, won at Phoenix 115-99

This week: Sunday vs. Washington, Tuesday at Denver, Thursday vs. Toronto, Saturday vs. Philadelphia

The Golden State Warriors went into Phoenix Saturday night with just eight players dressed, an eight-game losing streak and trailed by 18 points after 13:29. And they came away with a 115-99 win, outscoring the Suns 87-53 the rest of the way. That came after three losses at home ran their skid at Chase Center to eight games; their last home win was over the Magic on Jan. 18.

The Dubs might have a shot at ending that streak, but they’ll have to do it on a back-to-back, returning home Sunday to host the Wizards. The rest of the week could get dicey for Golden State — at Denver and back home for the Raptors and 76ers — and Stephen Curry‘s return will be delayed for a bit longer.

Damion Lee, whose contract was converted from a two-way in mid-January, had a terrific week, averaging 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 33.9 minutes per game. Lee shot 46.2 percent overall and 40.6 percent on 8.0 3-point attempts per game. On Saturday, Lee went for 20 points with eight assists and zero turnovers in 37 minutes.