MILWAUKEE — Searching for a way to prevent his team from falling into an early hole, Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Drew found a starting lineup that came out as the aggressors for one game.
Why mess with something that works? So, Drew stuck with the same starting five Saturday, despite getting a few injured players back.
Instead of seeing a continuation of the quick start against Cleveland, Drew watched as the Bucks dug themselves an early hole against Dallas — the third time in five games Milwaukee has fell behind big in the first half.
Sure, the Bucks have rallied to overcome the deficits to make all three games close in the end, but digging big holes is no way to win in the NBA.
“We had a good comeback but I’m done playing that game,” Drew said. “I’m tired of playing comeback basketball, I really am. It just takes too much out of you, which I told our guys. It’s a carbon copy of our game up in New York and our game in Boston.
“We get down because offensively we don’t move the ball. We keep the ball on one side of the floor and we keep playing one-on-one. For us, that is a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t as much as what Dallas was doing to us but more of what we did to us.”
Milwaukee fell behind by 25 points to New York in the season opener, only to rally to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. The Knicks closed the game on a 10-2 run to win, as the Bucks seemed to run out of gas after exerting a great deal of effort just to overcome the deficit.
Just two days later, Bucks found themselves down by 22 points in the second half against Boston. Milwaukee again rallied back but this time ended up winning the game.
Then came Saturday night’s lackluster first half performance against a Dallas team playing on a back-to-back and its third game in four nights on the road. Milwaukee was well rested, not having played since Wednesday.
The Bucks very easily could have set the tone early by coming out with a high energy level and put the road weary Mavericks away, but Milwaukee put together a lackluster first quarter and trailed 55-40 at halftime.
“Shooting ourselves in the foot early caused us to run out of gas,” Bucks forward Caron Butler said. “Putting a lot of effort into the comeback (leads to) not having enough to finish. We just have to do a better job of starting games better.
“We can’t keep getting ourselves in that position, being 15, 19 (points) down and exerting so much energy to come back and then have nothing left in the tank.”
Drew will undoubtedly continue to tinker with the starting lineup when Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders and Brandon Knight are fully healthy, but Butler feels more can be done by whoever is on the floor to start the game.
“I think it’s a combination of not having a rhythm and coming out a little flat,” Butler said. “I don’t know if we have to be a little more enthused in the layup line (pregame) to get a little loose or something like that. We have to have a business approach night in and night out to put your fingerprints on the game early.”
Milwaukee simply doesn’t have the talent to consistently count on big comebacks to win games. The Bucks need to capitalize on games in which they are well rested and their opponent isn’t.
Quite a few NBA games come down to which team plays harder on a given night. Energy and effort can help less-talented teams steal wins on some nights. The Bucks have played hard and shown resiliency when rallying to get back into games, but Milwaukee needs to bring that level of play from the get go.
“We’ll probably watch the film and see what it is,” Bucks guard O.J. Mayo said of the slow starts. “I thought we got off to a good start and it kind of died down toward the end of the first.
“We have to keep our energy. We’re at home, we get paid millions of dollars to play basketball, so we have to keep the energy. We had a chance to win this game (Saturday), just didn’t get it done.”