MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers have a history of bad blood. Naturally, Pacers coach Frank Vogel was asked if he expected any carryover from previous incidents into Tuesday’s game.
His answer was telling. Vogel said his team doesn’t go into games thinking about it, but another hard foul might “refresh” the Pacers’ memory.
When two teams see each other as much as division rivals do, they get sick of each other. Wins get tougher to scratch out. Last season, Indiana had Milwaukee’s number, winning all three meetings. Now, the Bucks are already 2-0 against the Pacers, part of a hot start against division rivals.
In 2011-12, Milwaukee finished with a 7-8 record against the Central Division during the lockout-shortened season. The Bucks already are 5-1 against division foes this year, the best intradivision winning percentage in the Eastern Conference and the second best in the NBA.
Winning games against division opponents is always important, but the top three teams are not separated by much in the Central Division so far, which means any chance to gain a game is crucial. Entering play Wednesday, Chicago is in first place by just a half game over Milwaukee, with Indiana now 1.5 games back.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles doesn’t see the division staying this close for the entire season. He senses that one or two of the three teams will begin to pull away.
“When you look at it now, if you can get to five or six games above .500, you are pulling away,” Skiles said. “That’s only a short little winning streak to put somebody in that position. It’s not like once you get there you can relax and then the season’s over. Sometimes you get a trend going and that’s where it goes.”
Though the Bucks are right in the thick of things in the division race with the season just past a quarter of the way through, Skiles is still searching for enough consistent play to feel like his team can go on a run to pull away from the pack. And despite Milwaukee winning five of its last six, he hasn’t been pleased enough with the quality of performance.
“If you are going to see that, you are going to need to see a month long of solid play,” Skiles said. “Not just winning the game, a month of really solid play. We are trying to get there like a lot of teams. We are trying to be solid every night. You aren’t going to win every night. But try to play the right way.”
Key injuries have struck a few teams in the division. Chicago is still playing without star point guard Derrick Rose, and Indiana has been without All-Star forward Danny Granger. Last season, the Bucks went 0-7 against the Bulls and Pacers as those teams cruised to the top two spots in the division. Milwaukee has three wins combined against the two teams already this season, including a victory in Chicago and a 2-0 record at home against Indiana.
“To be 2-0 and hold serve at home is good,” Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy said. “… They have a lot of size, and that gave us a lot of problems last year. We’ve upgraded in that department, but it doesn’t make it any easier. It was a dogfight. They are a division rival and a good team. We were fortunate to get a win.”
As far as the bottom two teams in the division, Milwaukee is 2-0 against Cleveland this season and has yet to face Detroit. The Bucks will host the Cavaliers on Saturday and head to Detroit on Dec. 30. If the Bucks can take care of business, they’ll match last year’s divisional win total before the new year.