By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Feb 17, 2015 at 1:05 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

Zaza Pachulia lingered a bit in the Milwaukee Bucks locker room following the team’s historic 30th victory last Wednesday night over the Sacramento Kings.

To that moment in the 69-year history of the league, no team had ever doubled its previous season’s win total by the All-Star Game of the following year, and the note did bring a smile to the face of the 31-year-old, 12-year veteran.

"It’s always good to be part of history. It’s always good," he said with a laugh.

"Unfortunately last year was bad, but in that history you’re going to think about some bad things, too. But the last one is a good thing. It’s always good to finish with a positive note. It could be better. The way we’re playing and the games we gave up, it could be better, but we’re still playing and trying to get better. We’re playing hard right now so that’s all that matters."

Head coach Jason Kidd laid the credit for the team’s sudden turnaround at the feet of his players, eight of whom were part of the 15-win team last season (including Larry Sanders, who has played in 27 games this year).

To reach the milestone, the Bucks won nine of their last 11 heading into the All-Star break, including impressive victories over Portland and Toronto.

While Bucks fans rejoice on the outside, within the locker room, the players maintain perspective as to what they’ve accomplished.

After all, following a 101-99 loss to Utah just a little over three weeks ago, they were a .500 team.

"It’s kind of hard to talk about getting over the hump because still, the heart of the season is right now," said guard O.J. Mayo, who is in his seventh year. "A lot of times before the All-Star break, teams tend to get a little relaxed looking forward to the All-Star break.

"Our team, we just want to get better every day, man. Like right now, we’re playing every other day and tomorrow we’ve got a day to kind of let our bodies recover and guys are telling coach we still want to come in and get some work, whether it’s to get some shots up, get a little lift in. Guys are still wanting to go and get better and that’s a great mentality for a team that’s wanting to get better and wanting to get over that hump."

Pachulia admitted as much, as well.

"It’s not an accident we’re talking about the playoffs, even though we haven’t done anything yet – we just won 30 games – it’s not over yet," he said. "I think the most important part of the season is ahead of us right now."

And if the team sounds generally ho-hum about its 30-23 record, it’s also because for them, this success and playoff push was the expectation from the very beginning of training camp.

"We expected it," said Jerryd Bayless, a free agent acquisition this summer. "It was a goal from day one and it’s one that I think we’re showing, that we’re capable of beating teams."

But now, they have to do it when the stakes are higher.

Kidd has called the final 29 games of the year a sprint, one in which "the better teams start to play a little bit harder and they get better, so understanding that the new season is just around the corner, so this will be fun. This is a process that we’re all gonna grow together, go through together, and we’re going to make mistakes but we’re going to have fun doing it."

In that sprint, the Bucks will play 12 teams with a winning record and in the first half of the year, they went just 8-17 against teams above .500.

Because of the fact that the veterans in the locker room, and the coaching staff, have a real sense of themselves, there is a realistic expectation as to what this team can achieve over the final 29 games.

‘We do have a lot of work to do," Bucks forward John Henson said. "The pressure gets harder. We want to come back ready and focused. Coach Kidd talked about having the vets kind of talk to the young guys and let them know what we have to do coming back. So, we’re going to make that push for 40-plus wins coming into the playoffs."

"40-plus" wins doesn’t seem like much. In the reality that is the 2014-15 season, It’ll only get this team a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and, as of today, a matchup with Chicago in the first round of the playoffs.

But "40-plus" wins hasn’t been accomplished in Milwaukee since the 2009-10 campaign, which was the last team to truly capture the imagination of the city.

Yes, the "Fear the Deer" season that saw a 20-year-old take Milwaukee by storm and unlikely contributions from veteran role players when star players were sidelined with season-ending injuries.

Sound familiar?

It does to the last remaining part of that team.

"I think I’ve been, one time, with the Bucks, in the same situation – I think it was 2010 when we finished fifth or sixth and we played against Atlanta and we almost beat them (in the first round)," said forward Ersan Ilyasova, who was 22 and in his second-year with Milwaukee.

"We’re real close to that team. Like that time, it was not about individuals. It was about team. Everybody was sacrificing for success, to be a better team. I think we have something here going on right now. Obviously we’re a young team and obviously it’s all comes with experience, and hopefully we’re learning from each other more and hopefully finish strong."

So, in the broader context of Milwaukee Bucks basketball, for the few that have been around long enough to experience what the recent past has been like, the season to this point and the preparation for a final sprint is noteworthy.

"It means a lot, man. It means a lot," Henson said doubling the team’s win total from last year. "For the city. Just for the team, the organization, owners, coaches. I was here with (Scott) Skiles and coach (Larry) Drew and it’s nice to kind of be on the winning side and kind of see things change and a culture change where you know other guys haven’t seen as much as we have, as I have."

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.