The Bucks did well to end their weekend on a high note. Their victory over the Hornets on the road yesterday was most certainly a morale-boosting one. The second game of a back-to-back set does not typically lend itself well to success, but they played with passion to dominate the stat sheet and win with ease. And, coming on the heels of a disappointing encounter with the Lakers, it was exactly what they needed to remind all and sundry — and, perhaps, themselves — that they’re deemed to be among the league’s powerhouses for a reason.
To be sure, the Hornets, holders of the third worst record in the Eastern Conference and still reeling from the absence of top dog LaMelo Ball, weren’t expected to put up a decent fight. That said, the Bucks likewise headed to the Spectrum Center at less than full strength; in fact, they played without both perennial Most Valuable Player candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo due to left knee soreness and All-Star Khris Middleton, still managing his workload after having offseason wrist surgery. It could have spelled disaster in hostile territory; instead, it served as a positive statement on their mindset a fourth into their 2022-23 campaign.
Not that the Bucks don’t have issues to address, beginning with Antetokounmpo himself. It isn’t just that he has been less efficient than he was last season, with his two-point, three-point, and free-throw percentages all down significantly. It’s that he has let his shooting woes get to his head. For instance, he got into it with Sixers reserve Montrezl Harrell, Wells Fargo Center workers, and, notably, a ladder after a poor effort from the charity stripe had him staying around in an effort to improve his touch.
Granted, Antetokounmpo’s too good not to get his act together by the time the contests really matter. The same goes for the Bucks, blessed with a roster that boasts of depth, experience, and esprit de corps. If there is any cause for concern, it’s that they have to measure themselves against the best of the best. Bottom line, they’re not supposed to be pushing hard versus the likes of the Lakers, Bulls, Spurs, and, to a lesser extent, Hawks. Championship contenders are supposed to coast — let alone suffer setbacks — against seeming also-rans. Which is why they’re hard on themselves, and why they figure to keep working until they live up to potential en route to their second title in three years.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.