VIDEO: Jabari Parker discusses the Bucks’ early struggles
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Milwaukee Bucks got an important win on Monday, holding the Denver Nuggets to just 30 points in the second half.
It was important for a couple of reasons. For one, the Bucks’ defense has been awful this season. It ranked 30th prior to Monday’s game and holding an opponent to 74 points could be the first step in the long journey back to the top 10.
It was also important because the Bucks have the toughest December schedule in the league. Wednesday’s visit to San Antonio will be the first of nine December games against top-10 offenses, the first of 10 December road games and the first of 11 December games against teams currently at .500 or better. No Eastern Conference team has more December back-to-backs then Milwaukee’s four.
The Indiana Pacers (11-5) and Charlotte Hornets (10-7) have both been pleasant surprises this season. And both will be challenged by December schedules that include 11 games against teams currently at .500 or better. The Chicago Bulls can find their footing with 11 December games at home, where they’re already 6-1.
The New York Knicks have lost four straight, but could benefit from nine December games against teams on the second night of a back-to-back. The Philadelphia 76ers, searching for their first win, don’t have any such games this month.
A few more Eastern Conference notes…
- The Hornets have been the league’s most improved offensive team by a wide margin, but have played just four of its 17 games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. They play eight games against those teams in December, and the only game in their next eight which isn’t against a top-10 defense is on the road against an opponent — Memphis — that ranks seventh defensively over the last three weeks.
- The Cavs have a nine-day stretch (Dec. 6-14) where they play just two games.
- The Heat‘s Christmas Day game against the Pelicans is the start of a four-game-in-five-day stretch, two home-road back-to-backs to close the calendar year.
- The Sixers‘ two best chances at a win are this week, Tuesday night vs. the Lakers and Saturday afternoon against Denver. They do have a chance to show increased improvement on defense throughout the month, with eight games against bottom-10 offenses.
In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers will have a tough time climbing out of the basement, with 13 of their 17 December games on the road and five back-to-backs. They’re playing eight games in the first 12 days of the month. The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, should be able to stay near the top with relatively easy December schedules.
Some Western Conference notes..
- The Warriors maintained their perfect record with a narrow win in Utah on Monday and the rest of their seven-game trip won’t be much easier. The only games on it against teams under .500 — Brooklyn and Milwaukee — are on the second night of a back-to-back.
- But after that game in Milwaukee on Dec. 12, the champs play just two games over the next 10 days and they’ll be home until a Texas trip on Dec. 30 and 31.
- Eight of the Rockets‘ first nine December games are against bottom-10 defenses.
- After hosting Indiana and Orlando this week, the Clippers play 11 of their final 14 December games on the road (plus a “road game” against the Lakers), with two separate trips to the Eastern time zone.
- It could be a roller-coaster month for the Timberwolves. From Dec. 9-20, they play seven straight games against teams that are currently under .500. Then they finish the month with six straight against teams currently at .500 or better.
- It’s time for the Pelicans to start defending better, and they play only three of their 15 December games against top-10 offenses.
- The Suns‘ 18-game month doesn’t included any 4-in-5s, but does include two stretches of six games in nine nights. One starts Tuesday and another goes from Dec. 13-21.
- The Kings will have some practice time between Dec. 11 and 17, when they’re playing just one game.
- The Jazz play six games in nine nights from Dec. 8-16. Four of those six games are against top-10 offenses.