New-look Bucks getting more comfortable with each other
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — It was clear the Milwaukee Bucks were going to through an adjustment period after making a franchising-altering trade, especially considering the deal was made more for the future than the present.
Michael Carter-Williams was going to need time to learn a new system, while the Bucks had to adapt to playing without Brandon Knight.
Milwaukee is 3-7 since making the blockbuster deal on Feb. 19 and 2-5 in the seven games Carter-Williams has played, but Bucks coach Jason Kidd has been encouraged by the way his team has played over its last three games.
"Guys are starting to be more comfortable," Kidd said. "There’s always a process of feeling out. Nobody wants to step on anyone’s toes. We take a step back. Guys have done a good job since Golden State, playing with that energy and effort we had in the first half of the season."
After starting a West Coast trip with lackluster losses to the Lakers, Jazz and Nuggets, the Bucks went to Golden State and held their own with the team with the best record in the NBA. They followed that up with a crucial home victory over Washington.
On Monday, Milwaukee played its best offensive game since the trade but was done in by a career performance by New Orleans superstar Anthony Davis.
Carter-Williams scored a Milwaukee-high 25 points with seven assists, while Giannis Antetokounmpo broke out of a mini-funk with a career-high 29 points.
"As days go by, I’m getting more comfortable with these guys," Carter-Williams said. "We just want to keep improving every day.
"It was tough going to the west coast and having those be your first few games with a new team. It was a good experience. We got some team bonding in. I got to know the guys. It was definitely a good experience."
Kidd understands how long it takes for a team to adjust after a blockbuster trade because he lived it as a player. Dallas was 35-18 and holding the fifth seed in the Western Conference when it acquired Kidd at the deadline in 2008.
The Mavericks went 15-12 the rest of the way and slipped to the seventh seed before losing in the first round of the playoffs.
"Any time there’s a change, there are always outside influences that want it to happen right away," Kidd said. "Good things tend to not come until later. I was in that position from Jersey to Dallas. I thought we were going to win a championship right away. It took a couple of years.
"Today’s generation wants it now, but you have to go through the process. We need minutes for these guys — Tyler (Ennis), Miles, MCW — with this group.
"This group hasn’t been together, when you look at the core of it, other than this year. There are a lot of new faces that we’ve put together. Guys are going to make mistakes, but the one thing we always talk about is energy and effort. You can see that in the Golden State game and you saw it in the New Orleans game."
At the time of the trade, the Bucks were 30-23 and in control of the sixth seed by 7 1/2 games. Milwaukee now holds the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference by 4 1/2 games over Indiana and Charlotte with 19 games to play.
The Bucks are still in the playoffs by five games, as Miami seems as if it is the only team currently on the outside looking in that has a chance to make a run.
"You are very fortunate if you can control your own destiny," Kidd said. "We’re in a seat that if we go out and compete and find a way to win, everything else will take care of itself.
"There’s not really a need to scoreboard watch if you are in the seat we are in. You are not looking for help. Those guys in that locker room deserve a lot of credit for that."
While the odds remain in Milwaukee’s favor to make the playoffs, is there enough time for the Bucks to hit their stride by the time the first round rolls around? Progress will have to be made on the offensive end for the Bucks to have any chance to compete in a playoff series.
Its offensive performance against New Orleans raised Milwaukee’s offensive rating to 93.3 since the trade, which is 29th in the NBA during that timeframe.
"I think we have enough time to get things right," Carter-Williams said. "It may not happen tomorrow, but I think by playoff time we will be ready to roll."
Mayo getting closer: Bucks guard O.J. Mayo returned to practice Tuesday but remains questionable for Wednesday’s game against Orlando with a sore right hamstring.
"I want to see how it reacts later on in the day and (Wednesday) morning," Mayo said. "I went through practice today. It felt good. I started getting a little sore as practice went on with the stop and go. But I feel a little bit better."
After playing in Milwaukee’s first 56 games, Mayo has missed five of six. He suffered the injury Feb. 22 against Atlanta but played the following day in Chicago and again on Feb. 28 in Utah.
Mayo is forced to balance caution with an eagerness to return to help his teammates through a funk.
"Hamstrings are something you need for stopping and going, especially at my position," Mayo said. "You want to treat it seriously so I don’t tear it completely. Our trainers have been doing a good job with treatment. That’s all I can ask for.
"I want to be in there helping the guys a little bit. It kind of tests your faith. It just tests a lot of things. We are playing well in stretches, and I want to be out there with the guys to hopefully help us play well for longer stretches so we can get wins. But I also want to make sure I’m 100 percent healthy and I’m not out there hurting the team."
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