The 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks never won 15 games in a row. They never came particularly close, either. They opened the season with seven straight wins, a feat they would later match. Then they hit six a few more times. Last season's Bucks worked like clockwork. They rarely won too many games in a row, but they lost consecutive outings only once. The pattern was simple. Win five or six. Lose one. Rinse. Repeat.
This season's Bucks are different in that they've managed to cut out the "lose one" step in the cycle. An inexplicable home loss to the Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat knocked the basketball world off of the scent of this team. They followed that up with two far more explicable losses, both on the road, to the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz. Since that Utah game on Nov. 8, the Bucks have not lost.
Lately, it hasn't even been close. The Bucks have won their past five games by a combined 146 points. They've outscored their opponents by a frankly fantastical 15.6 points per 100 possessions during the streak. The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors that started the season 24-0 had a net rating of only 13.9 in that span. The 2012-13 Miami Heat that won 27 games in a row only did so by 12.9 points per 100 possessions.
And that is why we are here. Yes, the sample is smaller. Yes, even though only a few years have passed, it is indeed a different era. And yes, these are exactly the kind of stories that jinx historic streaks. But that doesn't mean we should pretend that what the Bucks are doing is any less historic. In fact, a quick glance at their upcoming schedule indicates that it's about to get even wilder. The 2016 Warriors, 2013 Heat, and yes, even the fabled 1971-72 Lakers and their 33-game winning streak are all in danger if the Bucks keep playing this well.
Two of Milwaukee's next three games are at home. Their opponents? The Memphis Grizzlies, Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Pelicans. Their combined record is 18-52, and several of their wins have come against one another. Nothing is ever a given in the NBA, but those three wins feel relatively safe.
That would bring Milwaukee up to 18 wins. That already would give the Bucks the 11th-longest winning streak in NBA history. After that is where things get far more interesting.
On Monday, Dec. 16, the Bucks host the Dallas Mavericks. On Thursday, Dec. 19, the Bucks host the Lakers. The former represents Giannis Antetokounmpo's greatest MVP threat. The latter represents arguably Milwaukee's greatest championship threat. The Lakers have not lost a game outside of Los Angeles yet. Dallas came closer to changing that than any other team in the NBA. These two games should be the toughest test the streak has faced ... yet.
Should the Bucks get through the Mavericks and Lakers, they are given a brief reprieve in the form of a road trip to Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks. Pencil that win in now. A home date with the Indiana Pacers is no such lock, but Milwaukee should be heavily favored in that game.
Their Christmas date with the Philadelphia 76ers? Maybe not. The Sixers have an unblemished 12-0 record at home. They're torching opponents by 13 points per 100 possessions at the Wells Fargo Center. If any team is equipped to hand their first home loss, it is the Bucks, but the combination of opponent and venue makes this the hardest game in Milwaukee's immediate path.
But let's say the Bucks get through it. If they manage to get to 23 wins in a row, 33 becomes not only possible, but practically likely. The Bucks follow up their trip to Philadelphia with a 10-game stretch that includes nine current lottery teams. The playoff team in the bunch? The same Magic team Milwaukee has already beaten twice.
The scariest part of all of this? The Bucks haven't even peaked yet. As CBS Sports' James Herbert points out,. Those numbers are likely to regress to the mean. If this is how good the Bucks look when they're missing shots, just imagine what they'll do when they start making them.
To be as clear as humanly possible, not a shred of this should be construed as a prediction. I am not stating on the record that the Bucks will break or even challenge the record for longest winning streak in NBA history.
What I am saying is that doing so is far more attainable than it seems. No team to reach 15 consecutive wins has ever had such a favorable schedule ahead of it as it sought to make history. The odds are still heavily against the Bucks doing so, but enjoy this while it lasts, because it could be a long time before anyone ever gets this close again.