Bucks miss playoffs for third time in four years

MILWAUKEE — For the third time in the past four seasons, the Milwaukee Bucks have missed the playoffs.

Despite winning at home Monday night over the Toronto Raptors, the Bucks were officially eliminated from postseason contention midway through the second half of their game. That was because the Philadelphia 76ers, who had a three-game lead on Milwaukee with three games to play, completed their victory in New Jersey to clinch the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“I’m disappointed, very disappointed,” coach Scott Skiles said after the game. “We didn’t get done what we were expected to get done. If everybody in (the locker room) isn’t very, very disappointed, then we’ve got big problems.”

Well, the disappointment in the Bucks’ locker room was evident. Though the reality of this elimination night coming sooner or later had set in a few days earlier, it was still clear that this team expected more this season, especially Brandon Jennings.

It was Jennings’ rookie season in 2010 that Milwaukee finished 46-36, finished sixth in the East, started a popular trend around the country known as ‘Fear the Deer’ and then nearly upset the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs despite playing without center Andrew Bogut.

Since then, Jennings and the Bucks have been unable to build on that momentum. Last season, Milwaukee finished 35-47, yet remarkably still only missed the playoffs by two games. This season, though the Bucks could still finish .500 if they win their final two games, it will be the second consecutive season with no playoffs in Milwaukee.

“We’re kind of in the same position we were last year when we were two games out,” Jennings said. “We’re right there. It’s not like we’re way at the bottom or anything. We’re always in ninth or 10th, and we’re always one or two games out of it. That’s the most frustrating part.

“I could see if we were just not going to make it at all, but being in the conversation and then not making it hurts.”

Four years ago, the Bucks hired John Hammond to be their new general manager. Hammond’s first move was to bring in Scott Skiles to coach, who had been fired a few months earlier by the Chicago Bulls.

Though Milwaukee did not fare well in the rookie campaign of the Hammond/Skiles regime — including their first-round selection of Joe Alexander, who is no longer even in the NBA — the situation improved very quickly in their second year together. Hammond, largely for his role in drafting Jennings with the 10th overall pick, was named NBA Executive of the Year in 2010. Skiles, who had seemingly pushed all the right buttons, was given a contract extension.

But constant injuries to Bogut led the Bucks to trade their near-All Star center earlier this year, and the additions of Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh from Golden State were not enough to lead Milwaukee back to the playoffs this season.

“I think injuries have been our problem the past couple years,” Jennings said. “With Monta, hopefully we get a true center (in the offseason), next year should be fun. I’m excited for the future.”

The next step in the Bucks’ goal of returning to the postseason is the upcoming draft lottery selection, where the order of the June 28 draft is determined. Milwaukee will have a 0.7 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, a 0.8 percent chance of picking at No. 2 and a 1.0 percent chance of being No. 3. If the ping-pong balls bounce according to the most likely odds, the Bucks will be drafting at No. 12. The worst they can end up is with the 14th pick.

“With an 82-game season with Monta Ellis and whoever we pick up in the draft, I think we’ll be a different Bucks team,” Jennings said.

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