SEEMAN: Milwaukee Bucks bandwagon crashing and burning

To judge how severe the derailment of the Milwaukee Bucks bandwagon has been, look no further than Squad Six, the 100 people selected to sit in seats paid for by center Andrew Bogut because of their student section-like tenacity in cheering on the Bucks and heckling the opposition.

Last season, they banged drums and tambourines, shouted “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” when Bogut made plays, blew those infernal vuvuzelas and waved Turkish and Argentinian flags in honor of Ersan Ilyasova and Carlos Delfino.

With the help of Bogut’s squad, the Bucks, who were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the NBA, cruised to a 28-13 home record last season and 46 wins overall to earn the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

These days, I wouldn’t say Squad Six is more subdued — the tickets are contingent on boisterousness, after all — but it’s definitely more contrived. Even on television, you can sense the strain these people suffer in standing up and cheering for the lowest-scoring team in the league.

I give them credit for trying, though. Most of the rest of those who took to the streets last April yelling “fear the deer” are a lot less vocal now. Silent, even.

The reasons for the drop-off are myriad. It hurts when you lose to the Minnesota Timberwolves in your second game of the season when you’re projected to win a total of 50 games, for example.

The surging expectations were warranted after the Bucks improved in terms of talent during the offseason, bringing in journeyman power forward Drew Gooden to split the dirty work of rebounding with Bogut, and slasher Corey Maggette to pick up some of the scoring load.

But new talent doesn’t help much when it’s not on the floor. Gooden hasn’t played in a game since Jan. 21. John Salmons, last season’s trade deadline savior following the annual Michael Redd knee blowout, missed a stretch of eight games at the end of January. Both Bogut and point guard Brandon Jennings, the two most important cogs in the Bucks’ machine, have missed a combined 28 games to injury.

There’s even more to be said about Bogut and the team’s thudding crash back to earth. Last season was a breakout one for the former No. 1 overall draft pick. He averaged 15.9 points per game, 10.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, joining Dwight Howard as the only players with at least 15 points, 10 boards and two blocks per game.

This season, Bogut’s offensive game is nowhere near where it’s been since he came into the league.

He’s scoring 13.2 points per game, which isn’t terrible, but he’s shooting less than 50 percent from the field and his free throw shooting has been putrid at 42 percent, more than 20 percentage points lower than where it was last year. Getting his shooting arm bent backwards under the weight of his body last year probably has something to do with that disparity.

The extension of Packer season into February and the move to get Zack Greinke in a Brewer uniform in January probably didn’t help the Bucks either, but winning is and always will be the universal sporting salve. Unfortunately, the Bucks have been sorely lacking in that department of late.

Yet somehow, there’s still time for the Bucks to salvage something out of this season. On paper, they’re better than a few teams ahead of them in the standings, and there’s lots of home games coming up. Given the Eastern Conference’s penchant for putting losing teams into the playoffs, the Bucks have as good a chance to qualify as anyone else.

Even if they do make a run, though, there will be decidedly less to fear about these deer. Not that Squad Six members care. They’ll be in their seats regardless.

Or, they better be if they want to keep their free tickets.