For the second time now this season, a big change has jump started a four-game winning streak for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Back in early November, after the Bucks swooped in to rescue Eric Bledsoe from , they rattled off four straight wins. And now, thanks to their 107-95 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night, they've done the same since the firing of Jason Kidd.
The Joe Prunty era -- under the longtime assistant coach who will remain in charge for the rest of the season -- has unquestionably been a success so far. Off to a 4-0 start under Prunty, the Bucks are now 27-22 for the season, and have surged up into fifth place in the jumbled Eastern Conference standings, where they sit 2½ games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in third.
"The one thing that we have approached it as right now is we are trying to get better day by day," Prunty said before Monday's victory. "It sounds boring and it sounds like a cliche, but that really is what we are trying to achieve. … The important thing is staying focused on the goals that have been set and trying to accomplish those. And if you do that day by day, that tends to take care of itself in the long run."
While Prunty didn't elaborate on those goals, Bucks GM Jon Horst told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that the front office wanted to simplify things.
"I think what you're going to see with Coach Prunty and Sean (Sweeney) and the rest of the staff is I think you're going to see a group of guys who are going to simplify the things that we do offensively and defensively so that we can really focus on the things that our guys are good at, really try to accentuate their strengths and kind of minimize some of the weaknesses of our team."
After a few games it certainly seems they've managed to do what Horst was hoping -- especially on the defensive end, where it appears they have moved on from Kidd's high-pressure, trapping style.
For the season, the Bucks are 20th in the league with a defensive rating of 106.7, but over the past four games, they've been stifling teams, registering a defensive rating of 97.4 (statistics via NBA.com/stats). Opponents' 3-point shooting is down from 37 percent on the season, to 25.8 percent in the last four games (helped immensely by Philly's putrid 2-26 effort), and they're actually forcing more turnovers with the more conservative style of play -- 15.5 per game for the season, versus 16.5 over the last four games.
Relaxing in front of his locker after the win over the Sixers, Giannis Antetokounmpo was rather succinct when asked about what's been the difference during the recent winning streak. "We are just playing harder, trusting one another," Giannis said."We are just having fun and playing hard."
The Bucks' star was initially not thrilled with the idea of getting rid of Kidd -- the former coach told ESPN that Giannis offered to do whatever it took to. But the change has done nothing to slow the "Greek Freak" down. Quite the opposite.
In the four games since Kidd was let go, Antetokounmpo is averaging 33 points, 13.3 rebounds, seven assists and 1.3 blocks per game, while shooting 57.4 percent from the field. He's even shooting 50 percent from 3 on nearly three attempts per game in the winning streak and said recently that he's going to keep shooting them if he's open.
He's also getting back a co-star. Jabari Parker will make his return to the court nearly a year after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the second time on Feb. 8, 2017. Parker averaged 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds a game last season while developing into a 3-point threat, but he has been viewed as a defensive liability in the past. How the 22-year-old fits into Prunty's style of play will be crucial -- especially as he enters for a red-hot team.
Now, the Bucks have benefited from an easy schedule, beating the Suns, Nets, Bulls and Embiid-less Sixers to go 4-0 since Prunty took over. The weak competition has certainly helped boost some of their metrics as well as the mood in the locker room, which is one of the reasons teams often replace coaches before easier stretches. But there's no denying the Bucks are playing fantastic basketball in this stretch. You don't walk away from a four-game stretch with a net rating of 18.1 unless you're doing a lot of things right.
And besides, as John Henson explained, all they can do is play who's on their schedule.
"It's been a good week. Any time you go 4-0 in a week it's a good week," Henson said. "We're just playing well. We beat the teams we're supposed to beat, and Philly tonight, you know we're not gonna kid ourselves, they didn't have Embiid, but you gotta play the guys in front of you, and that's what we did."