Bucks’ Rollercoaster Season Hits Rock Bottom Right Before Playoffs

The Milwaukee Bucks’ roller coaster season has hit its nadir with the playoffs less than two weeks away

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The Milwaukee Bucks’ roller coaster season has hit its nadir with the playoffs less than two weeks away.

The Bucks have lost four straight games and six of their past seven. They’re 15-17 under coach Doc Rivers after going 32-14 before his arrival.

Although Milwaukee (47-31) has a one-game lead over the Orlando Magic (46-32) and New York Knicks (46-32) in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs behind the Boston Celtics, the Bucks could be facing another early exit if they don’t turn things around.

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“Definitely not a good feeling,” two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said Sunday after the Bucks’ 122-109 loss to the New York Knicks. “Kind of the environment on the team doesn’t feel right.”

Antetokounmpo then went into more detail regarding his comment about the environment.

“When you lose games, you don’t feel good,” he said. “You’re not happy. If you go back home, you cannot sit down and watch Amazon Prime and be relaxed and enjoy your steak (or) some guys who drink, drink your wine or beer or whatever they drink. Or in my case, do my Legos. When I try to put my Legos in place, I’m more frustrated and I’m hurting my fingers and stuff. That’s what I mean by the environment not feeling good.

“We’re not a losing team. We don’t have that mentality. That’s not in us.”

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The Bucks have been through plenty of upheaval ever since they had the league’s best regular-season record last year, but lost to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

They fired coach Mike Budenholzer and acquired star guard Damian Lillard. Budenholzer was replaced by Adrian Griffin, who got dismissed midway through the season despite having a 30-13 record. Joe Prunty went 2-1 as an interim head coach before Rivers came aboard.

The coaching change was an indication the Bucks weren’t satisfied with their struggles on defense and uncomfortably close wins over losing teams during Griffin’s brief tenure. But the inconsistency has continued under Rivers.

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The Bucks lost seven of Rivers’ first 10 games. They won six straight after the All-Star break. Now they’re slumping again.

“These are the moments where you find out who’s a real one and who’s not, because everybody’s going to be saying negative stuff, how wrong it is and how bad it is,” Lillard said. “You can fold or not fold. That’s what we’re going to learn about ourselves going into the playoffs, based on the experience we’re having right now.”

Any comparison of the records under Griffin and Rivers should mention the extenuating circumstances.

Milwaukee’s schedule got significantly tougher after the coaching change. Sunday’s loss to the Knicks marked just the fourth time in the past 29 games that Antetokounmpo, Lillard and three-time All-Star Khris Middleton were all available, and Middleton left after getting hit in the mouth midway through the second quarter. Those three players were together for about two-thirds of the pre-Rivers games, though Middleton was on a minutes restriction for many of them.

But even without all of their top players, the Bucks have far more talent than the Washington Wizards, Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors. All three of those teams have beaten the Bucks over the past week.

“This team is too talented, in my opinion, to go through this, no matter who’s been in and out,” Rivers said. “Every team has guys out. I’ve got to figure that out.”

Reserve guard Pat Connaughton said after the loss to the Raptors that the Bucks needed to play with more joy. Antetokounmpo agreed with that assessment Sunday.

“It’s almost like we’re going through the motions,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’ve got to find that joy back. In order for us to find that joy back, we’ve got to move the ball. … When everybody touches the ball, everybody has that energy.”

The Bucks don’t have much time to find it before the postseason. Milwaukee has just four regular-season games left, and all are against playoff-bound teams. They host Boston on Tuesday and Orlando on Wednesday before visiting Oklahoma City on Friday and Orlando on Sunday.

The Bucks are confident they can still turn it around because of how well they’ve played when they’re at their best. The Bucks blew out Oklahoma City 118-93 just before the start of this tailspin.

“Everybody just kept one another accountable (against the Thunder),” Antetokounmpo said. “I think sometimes we just don’t. We just pick and choose. But the belief is there. The belief is there. But we’ve got to get better. Throughout these four games, five games left, we’ve got to build good habits. We’ve got to watch film. We’ve got to spend time together. Because if we don’t, we’re probably going to be in trouble.”

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