Wait and see. That’s the attitude most Bucks fans are taking with Scott Skiles’ team, numbed as many of us are by years of losing — selfishly losing at that. Improvement and team basketball is what most of us want to see.
After four games, not half bad.
The Bucks are 2-2, one of the losses a heartbreaker against the Toronto Raptors Saturday in the home opener. After looking at the game film, coach Skiles had this to say:
“I was going to say I was mad as anyone losing that game last night. Those are games we feel we need to win. But then you sit down and look at the tape and you see the effort we’re giving and what we’re trying to do and it causes some optimism.”
Skiles isn’t just blowing smoke in the ballot box — the Bucks clawed their way back into the game in the 4th quarter after doing a good job hanging around through the 3rd despite some officiating that made me wonder if the refs thought the game was being played in Toronto (it was terrible throughout). Still, the Bucks played tough and by and large looked good against a team that moves the ball well and shoots the lights out. The Bucks lost it at the foul line (Michael Redd, 4th quarter) and with some questionable decision-making in the final 15 seconds (Redd again). They were right there despite a 3-13 shooting night from Richard Jefferson and a 1-6 behind-the-arc shooting night from Redd.
Sunday the Bucks bounced back with a solid effort in New York against the Knicks, placing six players in double figures and winning 94-86 in a game that was not as close as the final score. Yes, sharing is caring in the NBA, and it wins games. Rookie Joe Alexander finally got some PT in NY.
Lose the Red home uniforms: They look worse than those purple road uniforms from a few years ago. What’s so wrong with white at home and green on the road?
Rebounding and the frontcourt: So far this season, the Bucks have outrebounded opponents and have done a good job exploiting the advantage they have in the frontcourt over most teams with Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson. Skiles has the team pushing the ball inside to start an inside-out game that will only get better, more balanced and spaced properly if they commit to it. (Isn’t this what Larry Krytkowiak tried to do last season?) Bogut, Jefferson and Charlie have consistently scored double figures plus, and are hitting the glass, including a 54-point, 27-reb. effort Wednesday vs. Oklahoma City.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: While 1st round draft pick Joe Alexander has hardly played and could well be headed for the D-League (well, that’s where I’d send him if he’s just going to sit on the bench in Milwaukee), 2nd round pick Mbah a Moute has looked like a wily veteran off the bench. He’s always in the right place at the right time; he rebounds, plays D, doesn’t force offense and hits the shots that come his way. Yes, it’s early, I know, but it feels like it’s been a long time since the Bucks have had a rookie who looked as competent as Mbah a Moute. He’s adjusting much more smoothly than Bogut did three years ago.
Michael Redd: Fans whinced at the sight of Redd chucking up a wild 3-pointer with a Toronto defender in his face and 11 seconds remaining Saturday, Bucks down by two. No, the shot clock wasn’t about to expire and Toronto point guard Jose Calderon had left Ramon Sessions to double down on Bogut in the post. Somebody was wide open, if not Sessions. Bucks have seen more than enough of this sort of thing from Redd. Call it selfish, call it dumb, there may be no words left for it, but this is the Bucks basketball that fans know too well; it has made 4th quarter defense all-too-easy for opposing teams and it loses games. …. The Raptors, a team stocked with great shooters, took good shots in the final minute and drained them. It was the difference in the game. To Redd’s credit, he took a step back Sunday and played more conservatively, scoring 16 pts on just 8 shots, hitting all three of his 3-pointers. Yes, Mike, you can draw conclusions from the different outcomes of the two games.
Point guard controversy: Oh, it’s brewing all right, with Luke Ridnour sitting out with a bad back and Ramon Sessions picking up right where he left off last season, handing out 19 dimes over the weekend. Skiles did not play Sessions in the first two games but Ramon logged nearly all of the point guard minutes in games three and four. Skiles has said Ridnour will still be the starter when his back is ready, but there’s little question Tyrone Lue will move down the bench to third-string point guard. (I don’t understand why he was the backup over Sessions those first two games.) This is only the beginning of what will likely be a season-long Luke vs. Ramon issue for the team. The good part of this is that Ramon is playing well enough to push the question of who should be the Bucks starting point guard. It’s way too early for a poll, folks.
Injuries: Michael Redd and Luke Ridnour are day-to-day, Ridnour with a bad back and Redd recuperating from an ankle sprain against the Knicks Sunday. The Bucks take on the Wizards at home Wednesday, then head for Boston for the start of a brutal four-games-in-six-days stretch (Boston, Phoenix, Cleveland and San Antonio).
Iverson’s a Piston: Detroit traded starting point guard Chauncey Billups and starting forward Antonio McDyess to George Karl’s Nuggets for Allen Iverson. Here’s the ESPN story on the trade. Don’t worry, it’s a Marc Stein story, it’s safe and can be trusted. Yes, this trade really did happen (I’m still here Chad Ford, and I’ll be watching).
The Answer is a bit too perfect a match for Detroit for the rest of the Eastern Conference to cheer this swap, especially as Billups seems to have lost a step (or two – the Celtics had their way with the Pistons guards in the playoffs and Detroit was fortunate to get by Orlando in five games in the semifinals). The Pistons weren’t going anywhere in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year. What Detroit GM Joe Dumars has done is trade two of his slower players for one of the quickest players in the league. That’s bad news for Mo Williams in Cleveland and Rajon Rondo in Boston, and poor Jameer Nelson down in Orlando. However, trading McDyess leaves the Pistons extremely thin on the frontline, great news for Kevin Garnett and the host of beastly big men and forwards roaming the paint in the East. What good is having Allen Iverson if you can’t rebound the basketball?
[Notice how I’m talking about the Eastern Conference, not about the Central Division. Pay no attention to this division rival business some seem to think exists in the NBA (that would be Charles Gardner over at the Journal Sentinel). The Bucks’ Central Division should not be confused with the NFC Central Division that the Packers used play in (now the North), where the schedule makes the rivalries matter. It makes little or no difference to the Bucks whether Iverson was traded to New Jersey, Detroit or Atlanta — the Bucks play them all four times, as they do seven other teams in the East, the majority being outside the Central].
That said, Iverson’s got quite a history lighting up the soft defenses Bucks backcourts have laid down for him over the years. He holds the Bradley Center scoring record with 54, set four years ago in December against Michael Redd, Mo Williams, Mike James and Eddie House. The Bucks split with Iverson’s Nuggets last season, with AI scoring 24 and 26 pts.
NEXT UP: Wednesday vs. the Wizards at home, 7PM. Gilbert Arenas is still out, a good opportunity for the Bucks to pick up their first home win.