NBA PM: Milwaukee Bucks Deliver The Dagger
A week ago the Milwaukee Bucks looked like they were dead in the water, on the verge of relinquishing their shaky grasp on the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed. They arrived in Dallas last Tuesday as losers of eight of their last 10 games with the Toronto Raptors moving in for the kill. As it turns out, the Bucks may have just been laying in the weeds, playing possum as they waited to spring their trap on the stalking Raptors.
The Raptors had recently taken advantage of Rudy Gay’s discontent in Memphis to finally land the star-caliber small forward they’d been trying to find. In the wake of that trade, they started to look like the playoff team many believed them to be at the beginning of the season. While the Bucks were losing eight of 10, the Raptors carved out six wins in seven games and looked ready to make their move.
That’s when the wheels fell off.
The Bucks righted the ship, using last-minute heroics from Monta Ellis to beat the Dallas Mavericks and then beating the Houston Rockets, leading up to their showdown with the Raptors on Saturday night. Meanwhile, the Raptors dropped three straight to the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers before heading to Milwaukee.
In case you missed it, it was one of the best games of the season. The Raptors fought like their playoff lives depended on the outcome of the game, which it likely did, and ultimately forced overtime before succumbing to the homestanding Bucks. Ersan Ilyasova scored 29 points, Brandon Jennings dished 19 assists and newcomer J.J. Redick scored 16 off the bench as the Bucks edged the Raptors, who had to play without Gay due to a back injury. Seven Raptors scored in double-figures, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough to avert the most devastating loss of the season for Toronto.
The Bucks now lead the Raptors, who fell into the East’s 10th seed with the loss, by seven and a half games, meaning it would take a colossal collapse by Milwaukee and a miraculous run by Toronto for them to even get back into the postseason discussion. Considering that the Raptors have 10 games remaining against playoff teams, it seems unlikely that they could pull off such a feat.
It appears very likely that the East’s playoff teams are all but set.
John Henson Finding His Way
Former North Carolina big man John Henson has not had a huge impact on the Milwaukee Bucks in his rookie season, but he is finding his way. He talks with HOOPSWORLD about how working with John Lucas over the summer really helped him prepare for some of the challenges in his NBA life, how the midseason coaching change impacted him and more in this exclusive interview:
The Mindset of James Harden
The Houston Rockets’ hold on the Western Conference’s eighth seed is not nearly as secure as the Milwaukee Bucks’ hold on the same spot in the East, but the Rockets are on course to make the playoffs as things stand today. The driving force behind the Rockets is, of course, shooting guard James Harden, who recently went on the Dan Patrick Show to talk about the season he’s been having.
“Every night I see the best defender and my mindset is basically trying to attack them before they can impose their will against me,” Harden said of his daily approach. “I’ve seen basically every defender in this league and I don’t think I have that one, where I don’t want to play a particular person. I have that mindset [that I can't be stopped] going into every game. If I don’t, then I wouldn’t play so well. I’m sure all the top players in this league have that, as well.”
That doesn’t mean that Harden doesn’t pay attention to the defense; in fact, he prefers the pressure that comes from the league’s top players trying to stop him.
“I like when the star players guard me,” Harden said. “KD [Kevin Durant], Kobe [Bryant], LeBron [James] – I like when those guys guard me. It gives me that extra juice to try to make a play and do something great for my team.”
One of Harden’s more impressive performances came two weeks ago, when he scored 46 points in a dramatic come-from-behind win over his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was not, however, willing to admit that
“Every night I want to put up a big number,” Harden said. “It just so happened to be against Oklahoma City. (Laughing) It just so happened to be against them.”
Harden may have been a surprise to a lot of teams early in the season, but now he’s been through the entire league and shown he can score with the best of them. The one team that has impressed him the most is, not surprisingly, the team with the best record in the NBA.
“Probably the San Antonio Spurs, just because they do a good job of moving the basketball and playing as a team,” Harden said. “All those guys are unselfish and any given night Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard could go for 20-plus points. It’s pretty impressive how they play.”
The Rockets have not been as impressive as the Spurs, but with Harden leading the way their future is bright. It looks like they will return to the playoffs this season, an important next step as the team continues to rebuild.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @SusanBible, @DPageHoopsWorld , @stevesraptors, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.