Ridiculous, criminal, brutal, ruthless … all of these words have been used by fans on forum boards to describe the first quarter-plus of the Bucks schedule. … The Bucks limped into December with a 7-12 record and an all-too familiar spot in the Central Division cellar (not that these NBA divisions mean anything). Only the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards trailed them in the Eastern Conference standings.
It could've been worse. And despite Michael Redd missing 14 games with a high ankle sprain and Andrew Bogut missing the last three games with bruised knee, it was oh-so-close to being better. The Bucks took the Celtics to overtime with Bogut out of the game on two technicals; they botched a solid home effort against the Toronto Raptors in the final minute; they scrapped hard and pushed team after team into the final minutes only to lose, often times due to turnovers, poor shooting down the stretch, defensive lapses and sheer exhaustion.
Through Saturday night's loss to Cleveland, the only other team in the NBA to have played 19 games was the 5-14 Sacramento Kings. Only the Celtics and the Utah Jazz had played 18 games. All four teams got a well deserved day off Sunday.
Saturday night the Jazz at home were blown out by the Nets, and coach Jerry Sloan accepted part of the blame for the loss because he had canceled the team's usual day-of-the-game light practice. Nothing-but-twine gunner Kyle Korver offered this defense of his coach:
â€œOur schedule is so bananas, something like this shouldnâ€™t make any difference. Itâ€™s all on us. We just didnâ€™t come out and play well tonight,â€ Korver said.
Bananas? The Jazz had four home games this past week and split them 2-2. Try being a Buck, Korver. 19 games, only seven at home — none of them consecutively — and seven back-to-back pairings. Meanwhile, the Lakers played just 14 games through Saturday night, with the 15th scheduled Sunday. I thought the league offices were in NY, not LA.
Making the schedule all the more unforgiving for the Bucks has been that 13 of those 19 games were against 2007-08 playoff teams, hardly a warm welcome for coach Scott Skiles in his efforts to get a 26-win team moving in the right direction. The Bucks lost 11 of those 13 games.
They beat the Washington Wizards who this season became the East's doormat playing again without all-star guard Gilbert Arenas (knee surgery) and center Brendan Haywood (wrist surgery); the Wiz fired coach Eddie Jordan at the beginning of last week. The Bucks also beat a Spurs team playing without star guards Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, both recovering from ankle injuries.
In December, seven of the first ten games games the Bucks play are against non-playoff teams from last year. Although six of those games are on the road … (which means the Bucks will play 18 of their first 29 games on the road) … the Bucks should feel like they're catching a break, even when they're in LA playing the Lakers next week. The Bucks have a day off to travel prior to that game.
One small consolation to all this is that the Bucks play most of their home schedule after the Packers season will be done. The down side is that the team may be too wiped out come late January for the team to reap much benefit from it.
The Bucks will enjoy three days off to start this week, the first of four such breaks they'll enjoy this season, not including the five days they get at the all-star break. Coach Skiles should be able to run a full practice or even two before the game Wednesday against Chicago at the Bradley Center. The Bucks should also have their full roster available for the Bulls game, depending on the progress of Andrew Bogut's bruised knee. If Bogut is able to practice, this week will be the first time the Bucks have been able to practice at full strength since preseason (Luke Ridnour was nursing a bad back at the end of October, before Redd's injury). The Bucks are badly in need of a regrouping, and this is Skiles chance to let the team shut down and reboot.
Through this weekend, Richard Jefferson has played more minutes than any player in the NBA except Sacramento shooting guard John Salmons. They were tied for the league lead with 720 minutes, an average of 37.9 minutes per game. Let's call it 38. Third-highest on the list is rookie O.J. Mayo of the Memphis Grizzlies, 50 minutes behind Jefferson and Salmons.
Others on the top 20 minutes played list may surprise you. New Rocket Ron Artest is fifth in the NBA in minutes through his team's 17 games and, despite the blowouts and 4th quarter leisure time, the Celtics Paul Pierce is right behind Artest in 6th place. Pierce's Celtic teammate Ray Allen is 12th, which sheds some light on how much Celtics coach Doc Rivers relies upon and rides his stars, even in the early going.
True, the Celtics have played more games than any team other than the Bucks, Kings and Jazz but the Bucks Jefferson and the Kings' Salmons are the only two players on those latter three teams in the top 20. At age 33, Ray Allen is playing one minute less per game than Lebron James — and the trade of Ray still looks like the biggest, most wrong-headed blunder in Bucks history.
That said, and it had to be said, Scott Skiles has leaned heavily on RJ in their first season together with the Bucks.
Speaking of minutes, Bucks coach Skiles said playing time was up for grabs to Bucks who buy into the system and play defense. This came after a dismal defensive game in Detroit in which the Bucks allowed the Pistons 62 points in the first half. Sure, Detroit using Allen Iverson off the bench had something to do with it (the Answer was punished for skipping a Thanksgiving day practice and took it out on the Bucks 2nd unit), but Skiles wasn't looking for excuses Friday night:
"There is playing time (available) on this team," Skiles said. "It's up for grabs. We're trying to make clear to the guys that whoever wants to get with our program, defend, there's playing time to be had. If anybody wants to do that. We're searching."
Playing without Andrew Bogut the following night in Cleveland, Skiles played reserve forward Malik Allen 30+ minutes, opting for little-used Allen over backup centers Dan Gadzuric and Francisco Elson against the much bigger Cavs. Allen was a favorite of Skiles in Chicago and was handpicked by the coach out of the free agent pool this summer.
Bucks rookie forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, after a suprisingly strong start has led the NBA rookies in rebounding in the early going, yet began to tail off this past week. After a solid 11-pt, 8 reb game against Orlando on Monday, Mbah a Moute averaged 5 pts, 5 rebs against Atlanta, Detroit and Cleveland. In the latter two games, Mbah a Moute's minutes dropped to 21 in each game, well off his season avg. of 29.
Mbah a Moute is 4th in the NBA in offensive rebounds (56), behind only Andris Biedrins of Golden State, All-Pro Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard and the Bobcats' Emeka Okafor. Bucks center Bogut is 5th in offensive rebounds (55), despite missing three games.
Bogut, despite those three missed games is 3rd in total rebounds (he had been 2nd) and is 3rd in rebounds per game with 10.9. He trails only Howard and the Warriors Biedrins (whose stats took a hit on the Warriors road swing this week East, where the centers and big men are, well, more like centers and big men than in the West).