It’s a strange phenomenon, not exclusive to basketball, where somehow the defending champs get lost. Perhaps most people just conclude that the fatigue from a playoff run the previous season is just a bit too much to overcome. It’s doubly so for the Milwaukee Bucks, as their Finals run didn’t end until the middle of July, meaning they’ve had a month less than normal to recover. Or maybe it’s just fatigue from fans and media alike, unless a team proves to be something truly special. Or maybe it’s the Lakers’ fault, choking on their own vomit ever since they lifted the trophy in The Bubble. Now it’s just assumed that’s normal in our gnats’-attention-span world.
The Bucks didn’t roar out of the gate in their title defense season. They kind of puttered around, 10-8 at Thanksgiving. There were better stories around the league, the return of the Warriors, the return of the Bulls, the dominance that soon followed from the Suns. And the Bucks haven’t stormed back to the top of the league in monstrous fashion. A couple six-game win streaks, but more a steady climb, as it would be considering they know exactly what it takes to win what really matters. Just get healthy, tune up at the proper pace and time.
We’re a couple weeks away from the playoffs, and now the Bucks seem to be the fully operational Death Star they were last spring. After beating the Sixers on the road on Tuesday, last night they beat the Nets on the road to back it up, 120-119 in overtime. Giannis Antetokounmpo went for 44 after putting up 40 against the Sixers. The two wins have the Bucks a half-game behind the Heat for tops in the East having played one game less.
Sometimes, in fact most times, the NBA comes down to Occam’s razor to figure out who is the favorite. The Heat are busy screaming at themselves or their shoes. The Sixers are still a recently assembled project. The Celtics are without one of their most important players. You spend five months looking for someone other than the team that’s the most obvious, and then that very team makes it clear that all that searching and all those reasons everyone kept digging for to say why they couldn’t repeat look silly. There are too many weapons on the floor for Milwaukee, They have the best player in the East, no matter what Joel Embiid’s recent claims are.
This is easier than we’ve made it. It’s the Bucks to lose, and they’ve spent this week proving that it’s unlikely that they will. The NBA does eras better than any other league. We should just assume the latest champion is going to claim an era until they prove they won’t, unlike the other way around, as we do for the other sports.