The Milwaukee Bucks are off to a “hot” 15-5 start. (Let’s see how the nationally televised game Friday goes on ESPN vs the Lakers.) I’m not great at Math, I actually have a B.S. degree in English literature, but that would be, over an 80 game season, 60-20. However, the NBA season is 82 games- so let’s just give the Bucks a split and say they end up at 61-21. Seems plausible. That would be a tremendous regular season. For a dose of perspective, that would be the Bucks 3rd best all-time regular season. In 2018-2019 they were 60-22, in 1980-1981 the Bucks were 60-22, in 1971-1972 they were 63-19, and in 1970-1971 the Bucks were 66-16 and NBA champs.
Now that Khris Middleton appears ready to return, fans of the team continue to have even more optimism. Joe Ingles should be a nice “midseason” pick-up as he returns from injury. The trading and buyout market are things GM Jon Horst will certainly work. There isn’t any reason to expect different veterans like Wesley Matthews or Bobby Portis to step up against weaker opponents.
Why shouldn’t fans be optimistic? This veteran team seems to keep everything in front of them and under control.
According to Team Rankings, a sports analytics site, the Bucks projected record is 54-28. (Both are very good records.) So what accounts for the difference between our “guesstimate” of 61-21 vs 54-28? Will the 76ers or Nets or Bulls finally start to play better basketball? Where do you think the Bucks might end up on April 9th, 2023?
61-21 vs 54-28
The Bucks have had a favorable home schedule so far. They started the season in Philadelphia and then pivoted to a six-game home stand. They have also had some well timed back-to-back games, including a home-in-home against Detroit. They appear to have health on their side. So what lies left on the road? Is that where the difference is?
The team has two 4 game road swings but nothing highly unusual. In January their first 4 game road trip ends with a home-in-home in Miami. (As per George Hill’s wishes.) A tougher trip awaits Friday March 24-29. That includes a back-to-back in Denver. But it also includes a winnable game in Detroit.
A three game West Coast Trip (Portland/LA) awaits but that is pretty boilerplate in the NBA.
Maybe it has to do with strength of schedule?
Strength of Schedule
According to Tankathon.com, the Bucks are smack dab in the middle of the pack with the 14th hardest remaining strength of schedule. They still need to play the Celtics three times but they also need to play the Magic three times. (Boston is 18-4, Orlando is 5-17). That is good news for Bucks fans as last year ended with some brutal stretches. Some teams do not have it so lucky.
The hardest remaining schedule in the NBA belongs to the Orlando Magic. In a possible unlucky break for the Bucks, the easiest remaining strength of schedule belongs to the Boston Celtics with whom the Bucks will be battling it out for the #1 seed.
It is also important to note that the season will waver with teams getting hot at certain times. Many analytics sites seem to believe the big difference will come with tougher games, on the road in the spring. Thursday March 30th looks like a “last big match-up” on the season against the Boston Celtics at home. Which takes us to Christmas day, in Boston against the team that appears to be their main competition.
Celtics vs Bucks Christmas Day
There is a saying in baseball that you shouldn’t look at the standings until Memorial Day. In essence, the NBA season really does truly begin with the Christmas day showcase games. Thankfully for us, we get BOTH Bucks basketball and Packer football. (Anyone heading down to Miami?) The Bucks play at 3pm. Green Bay plays at noon.
This match-up is already on everyone’s calendar with many Vegas odds makers setting the odds at the Celtics +5.5 points. With the Celtics at home this one will be a tough “get” for the Bucks. It should certainly be a game to look forward too!
Along with the reminder of the season, that game just seems to prove it continues to be a good time to be a Bucks fan.
Note: The NBA Draft- Bucks 2nd round picks
Projecting into the future, the Bucks currently have two second round picks in the 2022-2023 NBA draft. The Bucks hold the 56th and 59th picks. The Bucks do not have a first round pick. They traded that pick for PJ Tucker.
That does not leave them with a lot of ammunition to make a big move at the deadline. But it certainly gives them something they might be able to exchange.
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