ORLANDO, Fla. – With private charters, fancy hotels and most of the planning taken care of for them, NBA players understandably don’t garner much pity when it comes to their extensive in-season travel schedules.
Pointing out that the Milwaukee Bucks followed their back-to-back set with a pair of off-days in Orlando while the rest of southern Wisconsin braced for a winter storm? That’s just mean.
However, NBA road trips are hard work. The time spent on airplanes and buses adds up. Your sleep schedule – if you’re lucky enough to have one – gets thrown out of whack. Then, to top it off, you’re met with a hostile environment where even the best teams tend to struggle more.
With their fifth road test over the past six games coming at 6 p.m. Saturday against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center, the Bucks have had to take on a road-warrior mentality.
“Going on the road is always an opportunity to spend more time together, kind of that bonding, bunker-mentality type stuff,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Finding ways to win on the road is important. You’ve got to build that confidence where you can go into places and win.
“We kind of look forward to it, embrace it.”
So far, the Bucks have handled the challenge well. Heading into Friday, Milwaukee’s 12-8 road record ranked as the fourth-best road winning percentage (.600) in the NBA. Only the Toronto Raptors (.629), Golden State Warriors (.619) and Indiana Pacers (.609) have fared better and the Bucks join them among the seven teams above .500 away from home.
During their current road-heavy stretch, which came after a six-game home stand, the Bucks are 3-1 away from Fiserv Forum, with a short stop at home for a victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday before shipping out to Memphis that night. As well as the stretch started, with a 2-1 record over three games in Houston, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, the Bucks aren’t satisfied.
“We are a team that expects to go undefeated on the road,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “Those are the expectations. Those are realistic expectations for us. So to go 2-1 is OK. But every game lost is a game we shouldn’t have lost, so that’s the problem with that road trip.”
After the Bucks leave Orlando, they’ll get a nice respite with a week at home that includes a rare three-day lay-off between games on Monday and Friday. At a time of year when players up and down the roster are dealing with various bumps and bruises, that time to rest and recover will be welcome.
However, the team knows it’s just a brief luxury before the daunting task that awaits them. The Bucks bridge January and February with a five-game road trip featuring games every other day. That’s part of a stretch that includes eight games away from Fiserv Forum out of 12 contests heading into the all-star break.
Locked with the Raptors in a tight race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks know they can’t afford to drop off the pace even with their adverse schedule.
“We know what’s ahead of us,” Khris Middleton said. “We know we just have to grind. … We’re going to have to grind games out, be the tougher team, be more desperate.
“It’s a tough road stretch, but I think the guys are prepared for it. We know what’s ahead, we know what we need to do. We want to head into the all-star break with some type of separation.”