On pace for 70 wins, Bucks insist there’s still ‘room for improvement’
It’s reasonable to think Milwaukee is not going to win all 21 of its remaining games, which means not all is lost for the Golden State Warriors this season.
They’ll still be the only team in NBA history to win 73 games.
The Warriors were a record 73-9 in the 2015-16 season, and the Bucks fell to 52-9 with their loss in Miami on Monday night. But there’s still a chance Milwaukee could be able to make a case as the most dominant team in league history in one regard — margin of victory.
This season’s Bucks are outscoring teams by 12.26 points per game. That’s on pace to be second-best in NBA history, just a smidge behind the mark of 12.28 set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers — a team with a Hall of Fame coach in Bill Sharman, four Hall of Fame players in Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, and a player who would become a Hall of Fame coach in Pat Riley.
And the Bucks are in that stratosphere.
“We’ve still got a lot more basketball to play,” guard Wesley Matthews said. “And we know where we’re at and where we want to be. It’s a pretty special thing to be where we’re at in the standings.”
Matthews then offered a sentence that should send shudders across the rest of the NBA: “There’s a lot of room for improvement and growth.”
The way the Bucks are going, they’ll have the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference race sewn up by the last week of March and probably home-court advantage for the entirety of the NBA playoffs wrapped up not long afterward. And yet they’re still focused on finding ways to get better.
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer was asked if it’s difficult to be critical when a team is off to one of the best starts in NBA history.
He didn’t hesitate before answering.
“It’s not hard,” Budenholzer said. “I mean, it’s I guess part of what makes coaching either maddening or a lot of fun. You can always push them to be better and there’s always things we can do better and when we lose there’s things that we do well and it’s not all terrible. So hopefully we walk that line of keeping our guys, you know, hungry and growing and improving and recognizing when they do things well also.”
Milwaukee was on pace for 71 wins before Monday’s loss; now, the pace is for 70. It’s likely that some players will be rested once the Bucks clinch all that can be clinched in the regular season, though Budenholzer also understands the delicate balance and the need to be playing the right way when the playoffs start in basically a month and a half.
“It’s a fine line to walk,” he said.
Only three teams have been better through 61 games than Milwaukee: The 2015-16 Warriors were 55-6, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were 54-7 and the 1996-97 Bulls were 53-8. There have been five other teams to start 52-9, most recently the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks and 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs.
“At the end of the day you’re going to win some games and lose some games,” Bucks star and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We’re not going to go 82-0.”
The goal for the Bucks is clear — win 16 games in the playoffs.
The rest, to them, doesn’t seem to matter much.