Let’s all take a moment to step back, take a deep breath, smile and realise something quite extraordinary:
The Milwaukee Bucks finished 2018 with the best record in the NBA.
They’re scoring the most points per game in the league (116.9), they’ve got the MVP favourite (Giannis Antotokounmpo, you might have heard of him) and are sporting both offensive and defensive schemes that are the stuff of nightmares for every single team with Fiserv Forum on their upcoming schedule.
It’s a nice place to be – especially for a legion of Bucks fans not necessarily used to such success.
And the good news to follow?
The Bucks January schedule – especially compared to their major Eastern conference rivals in Toronto, Boston and Philadelphia – is relatively smooth. Yep, what you’re imagining is actually a reality. It seems this train is likely to keep-a-rolling as we begin the new year.
But of course no matter how well a team is travelling, there are always key matchups on the upcoming schedule that are one to keep an extra eye on. They may be ‘trap games’ – ones they really shouldn’t lose but with the NBA being… the NBA… teams can tend to play down to their opponent and let the unlosable game slip through their fingers. They may be blockbuster games against a fellow conference competitor – those games we all know will be looked back on at season’s end as the ones that tended to change the playoff match ups to come. Or maybe they’re just blockbuster games with superstars going toe-to-toe in a battle of giants that can only be experienced with the comfiest of couches and the coldest of beer (especially for the Brew-town army).
With this in mind, let’s take a look at three critical games on the Bucks schedule for January 2019 and mark them on our calendar with eager anticipation.
Game 1: vs Toronto Raptors (5th January)
If the Bucks are to remain top of the Eastern Conference standings come January 31st – and perhaps come playoff time as well – winning this game against the force of nature that is the Toronto Raptors is a near-must. Having beaten the Raptors in both matchups to this point on 29th October (124-109) and again on 11th December (104-99), the Bucks seem to have a handle on the team responsible for their playoffs departure two seasons ago.
But that Kawhi Leonard guy, he’s pretty talented.
And with a supportive cast as skilful as Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka can be (when they decide to show up), two wins in the past does nothing to assure the Bucks of a victory come the 5th of January. But if they can manage to get the job done, the Bucks will have set themselves up to start to build a gap between them and the rest of the Eastern Conference as well as claim the season series over the Raptors – a factor likely to matter in the home court advantage situation come playoff time.
Game 2: at Houston Rockets (9th January)
This is a must-see matchup for anyone who believes the way to win a game of basketball is to score more than the other team (everyone should have their hand up). With James Harden finding himself in rare territory scoring 40 points for 4 games in a row now, his ability to put the ball in the hoop is undoubtedly at a level so few will ever reach in their NBA careers. To match him up against the NBA dunk leader in Giannis is a highlight reel’s dream.
The Houston Rockets wouldn’t be particularly happy with their record to this point (21-15) but most definitely appear to have figured something out, being winners of 9 of their last 10 games.
When they face the Bucks on the 9th, its likely to go right down to the wire. Expect to see both team’s superstars aim to stake their claim on the MVP award they will both feel is rightly theirs.
Game 3: vs Dallas Mavericks (21st January)
Currently sitting 12th in the Western Conference with a record of 17-19, this year’s Dallas Mavericks feel like they’re a whole lot better than that. They’ve got the potential Rookie of the Year in Luka Doncic, his dangerous young counterpart in Dennis Smith Jr and association experience in Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and Deandre Jordan to contend with. That’s a line-up worthy of beating any team on the right night.
This spells one thing and one thing only: Trap game.
A game the Bucks should win as far as all statistics, matchups and quantity of Greek Freaks on each team is concerned. But this year’s Bucks have shown they like to play down to teams below .500 (see losses to the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks despite 4th quarter leads as exhibit A and B) and if there’s any team below .500 capable of seizing an opportunity like this, it’s the Dallas Mavericks.
But one thing is for sure, if the Bucks can win all three of these games above and complete January still atop the NBA standings, then the league will have no choice but accept them as a true NBA title contender this season.
What do you think? Are the Bucks likely to win all three of these games? Did we miss any critical games in the January schedule? Let us know in the comments!