It is pretty hard to duck under the radar when you have the second-best record and possibly the very best player in the NBA turning in nightly heroics with a highlight-friendly swagger, but the Milwaukee Bucks are managing it.
The Bucks aren’t the forgotten team of the association by any stretch, not with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s freakish talents spawning a 12-4 start filled with eye-catching wins and excellence at both ends of the floor.
But … still. We hear about the Bucks, and we could be hearing a whole lot more come playoff time, yet imagine if this Milwaukee revolution was taking place in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. The Big Apple went wild for Jeremy Lin and swooned quickly over Kristaps Porzingis. How many milliseconds would it take for the city to lose its mind over a superstar like the Greek Freak and a team as skilled and engaged as these Bucks?
Los Angeles has LeBron-mania operating as a constant reality show, but what if the Lakers were legitimate title contenders, too? We might never hear of anything else.
There would be billboards and cocky predictions of imminent glory and tributes dotting Hollywood Boulevard or downtown. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee might not even have the focus it is worthy of in its own city.
The Bucks are surely beloved, but Wisconsin sports lovers have had plenty of other distractions recently, with the Brewers going deep in the baseball postseason on the back of manager Craig Counsell’s creative tinkering and the Green Bay Packers, while floundering on the road, providing non-stop fodder for debate while still clinging to hopes of a playoff spot.
But don’t let the lack of deserved attention fool you. The Bucks might not occupy a permanent place in the spotlight, but they are the real deal on the floor, a concentrated and cohesive group under coach Mike Budenholzer that set the Golden State Warriors on its ongoing run of suffering with a resounding Bay Area beatdown on Nov. 8.
Antetokounmpo is the headliner and the 23-year-old is taking over games with regularity this season. In Eric Bledsoe he has an ideal and hard-striving foil, while Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon are also firing.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, and here is where the reality that small market teams get judged by different criteria veers into the realms of unfairness. In back-to-back wins against Chicago and Denver, the Bucks began horribly and quickly found themselves in a hole, before responding spectacularly in the second half.
But this is still Milwaukee and the Bucks are still an unproven team, meaning the narrative across much of the NBA community fixated upon the early struggles rather than the blistering comeback and suggested that such wobbles will be punished more heavily in the playoffs. If it was elsewhere, the comeback might have been taken as a portent that this is a team with the spirit of a champion.
The truth likely lies somewhere in between, but Milwaukee is in the mix, and is on a journey worth following now, because it might be a long one. If they’re not on your radar yet, the radar is broken.
Follow Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno