Bombs away: Lucky Luke delivers Bucks (& Crazy Luke) from downtown; Bucks-Sixers notes… Bogut injury watch

Luke Ridnour and the two Charlies celebrate Ridnour's 3-pointer with 34 seconds left Monday in the Bucks 107-97 win over the Raptors. AP Photo. Why Luke, why?

There was time — 9, 10 seconds on the shot clock — when Bucks point guard Luke Ridnour found himself with the ball on the left wing and 6′ 10″ Raptors forward Chris Bosh stepping out to guard him. The lane was there for the taking and Bosh was nowhere near it.

The Bucks were up by two points, 99-97, inside of 40 seconds to play in the game, needing a bucket to make it a two-possession game for the Raptors. And here was Bosh gangling toward Ridnour 30-feet from the basket, helpless to defend a Ridnour dribble drive.

But Crazy Luke Ridnour had other ideas. In a flash of madness that Bosh never saw coming, Luke pulled up from 27-feet and shot the ball over all 9-feet of Raptors All-star outstretched too late for the block.

The shot found the bottom the net. In your face, Chris Bosh. Lucky Luke Ridnour.

Ridnour’s three-pointer put the Bucks up by five, 102-97, with 34 seconds left. There was little the suddenly cold-shooting Raptors could do the rest of the way but watch Michael Redd shoot free throws.

Whatever magic the Bucks had going for them at the Bradley Center Monday night, it kicked in right when they needed it most — when the crunch time momentum was going the Raptors’ way. With the game tied at 91, Redd had missed a layup. With the Raptors up two, Charlie Bell had travelled. A jumper by Will Solomon put the Raptors up by four, 95-91 inside of 3 minutes to go. A foul on Solomon, who was guarding Ridnour, stopped the clock, and  …

Inexplicably, Raptors coach Jay Triano, at the helm for just his 18th NBA game, called time out. Big mistake. 17 seconds later, Ridnour, who hadn’t hit a shot all game (0-5), drained an open three off a feed from Redd. It was the same play Redd and Ridnour ran in San Antonio coming out of a time out, trailing by four in crunch time. Only in San Antonio, it was Scott Skiles who called the timeout to set up the play. 95-94 Raptors.

Two free throws by Bosh made it a three-point game but the mojo had gone to the Bucks. A bad pass by Charlie V tipped its way over to Charlie Bell who grabbed it as it was headed out of bounds, set himself in the corner and threw in a 3-pointer to tie the game at 97. A bucket by Charlie V (25 pts) gave the Bucks the lead, setting up Crazy Luke and Lucky Luke’s 3-point heave over Bosh.

A lucky win?: The scrappy defense that the Bucks had been playing up until Saturday’s loss to Charlotte was again AWOL, as the Raptors shot 54% for the game, despite missing their last five shots … which means prior to the last two minutes of the game, the Raptors shot 58.2%. “It was the second straight game our defense was substandard,” coach Scott Skiles said, “so it will be nice to get a practice.”

Michael Redd was 9-16 shooting thru 3 quarters Monday vs. the Raptors. Milwaukee Bucks photoMichael Redd: Redd scored a season-high 35 (on just 20 shots) to lead all scorers, 13 in the 3rd quarter, when he shot 3-4 from 3-point-land to push the Bucks to a 74-71 lead. He once again had a quiet 4th (1-4 shooting), missing two threes and a layup before icing the game with four free throws. Redd’s biggest 4th quarter plays: defensive rebounds and the big assist to Ridnour coming out of the timeout — same script as in San Antonio. Yes, there are other things to do on a basketball court when the shots aren’t falling, and those things help win games.

20.1 ppg: The 35 vs. the Raptors put Redd’s scoring average up over 20 points (20.1) for the first time since early December (he sat out November with an ankle sprain). Think that hasn’t been on Redd’s mind? His scoring average hasn’t been under 20 ppg since George Karl was Bucks coach.

The Big Two?: When Redd cooled off in the 4th, Charlie Villanueva kept the Bucks in the game with 13 pts on an assortment of midrange jumpers, a 3-pointer, two putbacks and a jumphook. He finished with 25 for the game on 11-22 shooting. Combined, Redd and Charlie V shot 21 for 42 (50%) and scored 60 pts. Since playing a horrible game in Houston, Charlie’s shot his way to 27-pt, 5-pt, and 25-pt games. Does this mean he’s due for a four-point outing Wednesday against the Sixers? Charlie’s gotta find some consistency in the NBA, somehow.

Bombs away: The Bucks shot 26 three-pointers, their most in a game this season and only the 4th time they’ve shot 20 or more in a game under Skiles. They made 11, also a season high. While it was great to get the win, wasn’t this one eerily similar to the way the Bucks have played in the past few years? A lot of jumpshooting and not a heckuva lot of defense, though in the final minutes these Bucks were in control of their game, thanks to Ridnour and Skiles. The Bucks coach called two timeouts in the final six minutes: the first to get Ridnour into the game for Ramon Sessions, who had turned the ball over twice in the 4th quarter; the second with the game tied at 97, the Bucks needing a hoop.

Charlie Bell has played very well lately and seems to have finally recovered from ankle and knee problems that have dogged him since the start of the season. Bell hit big 4th quarter shots in the wins over the Spurs and Raptors, and, generally, has been the Bucks most consistent player the last five games. Bell’s 9-16 from 3-point-land in those games. He played well in Philly Dec. 17 with 14 points; Bell off the bench is a player to watch in tonight’s game against the Sixers.

First win without Bogut in 21 months: Center Andrew Bogut sat out with back spasm for the second game in a row. Monday’s win was their first this season in five games without Bogut in the lineup. It was the first time Charlie V has ever won in a Bucks uniform without Bogut on the court. The last time the Bucks won with Bogut sidelined was April 16, 2007, and Charlie was sidelined with him.

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Sam Dalembert blocks Devin Harris' shot. AP photoBucks (17-19) vs. Sixers (14-20), 7pm @ Bradley Center

The latest on Bogut’s back is that it’s day-to-day, and the Bucks don’t know whether he’ll be able to play Wednesday against Philly and his nemesis, Sam Dalembert. It doesn’t sound good. Bogut now says that in addition to his back spasms, his hip is bothering him too.

The Yao factor: Dalembert and the Sixers faced Yao Ming and the Rockets Tuesday in Philly and won. Bogut was exhausted by the 4th quarter in Houston last week, having played Tim Duncan and Yao on consecutive nights. In fact, AB hasn’t been the same since. The Sixers played Duncan and the Spurs Sunday, so Dalembert and the Sixers’ other tower, Theo Ratcliff, should be well worn down by the time they get to Milwaukee. …. In addition to the Bucks game being the second of a back-to-back for the Sixers, it is the 8th in a stretch where the Sixers have played in 8 different cities, seven since X-mas.

Road weary, Yao’d out — the Bucks should grab any edge they can against the Sixers, an overtly athletic gang that can’t shoot straight but has been tough on the Redd-ites. Last season the Sixers exploited the Bucks lack of athleticism better than any other team in the league — and they did it again in Philly Dec. 17.

It was coach Scott Skiles’ first “really bad taste in the mouth” game (the other was Saturday in Charlotte). Philly, like Toronto and the Nets, the Bucks opponent Friday, is the Bucks competition for the lower tier Eastern Conference playoff spots. Like Toronto, the Sixers are looking to turn their season around after a rough start in which their coach (Mo Cheeks) was fired.

Pace is the key: The Sixers attack defensively and race the full court with Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and rookie Marreese Speights blowing past slower, plodding teams, which the Bucks can still be when the jumpshots aren’t falling and the offense stagnates around Redd. The Sixers kicked it into overdrive vs. the Bucks Dec. 17th after power forward Elton Brand separated his shoulder fouling Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on a drive. Integrating Brand’s postup game into the offense had slowed the Sixers down, and they’ve picked up the pace while he’s been recovering from the injury. These Sixers get first to a lot of loose balls and turn on the speed after long rebounds.

Scott Skiles after the Sixers loss: “We had a bunch of guys who looked like they didn’t feel like playing from the opening tip. We were just heavy-legged, slow-footed. We couldn’t get up and down the floor and had tremendous trouble guarding them. We got exactly what we deserved.”

Bogut, at least, had an excuse: He woke up the day of the Philly game with severe back pains and learned later that two of his vertabrae were “stuck,” as he described it on his blog. Though Bogut has only missed these last two games, he has struggled to get game-ready for the last three weeks. No word yet whether he’ll play tonight. It would be too bad if he didn’t — Bogut’s due for a good game against Dalembert.

Bogut’s avg. line vs. Dalembert, last three meetings: 4 pts, 4.7 rebs, 4.7 assists, 1 block, 2 steals and 3.7 turnovers per game. Here’s a good Philly fan take on the ups and downs of Dalembert from The Recliner GM, also where I found the above photo of Dalembert blocking Devin Harris‘ shot last April.

TRADE RUMORS

Bucks request waivers on Austin Croshere: Oh, let the trade speculation fly … Damon Jones suited up Monday for the first time but did not play. Croshere’s salary ($797,000) was not guaranteed, so releasing him is, at first glance, a money-saving move. The Bucks now have 14 players on the roster. With Bogut and reserve forward Malik Allen out Monday with injuries (Malik has missed 13 of 14 games with fractured ribs), Jones took the 12th active spot on the Bucks bench.

Tom Enlund interviews John Hammond, and does his best to get to the bottom of what releasing Croshere might mean for the immediate future. No luck, beyond “we’re keeping our options open.” Enlund points out that Croshere’s salary would have become guaranteed in a few days, by NBA rule, so the Bucks saved a good half million or so by waiving him. It also frees a roster spot should the Bucks trade one player for two … or three.

Steady rollin’ Joe: Big forward Joe Smith is the kind of player that many Bucks fans would like to see return to Milwaukee, even for a few months. Joe is playing out the final year of his contract in Oklahoma City, where he went last August from Cleveland as part of the Mo Williams-Luke Ridnour trade. Two weeks ago, it was speculated that OK City could be a destination for Charlie V, who doesn’t appear to be in the Bucks future plans, and guard Tyronn Lue, in exchange for one of the Thunder’s power forwards: Smith, Nick Collison or Chris Wilcox. … But the Bucks aren’t the only team interested. Apparently the Celtics had hoped the Thunder would buy out Smith’s $4.5m contract so they could add his good shooting and veteran defense for their playoff run. No go for Joe — the Thunder prefer things the way they are. The Boston Globe also reports that Collison, Wilcox, forward Damien Wilkins and guard Earl Watson are Thunder players other teams are likely to pursue this month and next.

Forward Andrea Bargnani, the 2006 #1 draft pick, could be headed for Dallas. Milwaukee Bucks photo 45 days until the Feb. 19 trading deadline, and the tradewinds are blowing all over the league. The latest out of Cleveland, from News-Herald columnist Bob Finnan,  is that the Cavs, the team that seems to have everything except a healthy center (Big Z Ilgauskas will miss most of this month with an ankle injury), may be looking for a shooting guard after all. Could the Cavs be losing faith in shooter Daniel Gibson off the bench?  The Cavs are still interested in Michael Redd, of course, should the Bucks be in the market for teams with an interest in Redd.

Jermaine O’Neal: Finnan also reports that the Raptors have contacted “at least a half dozen teams” looking for takers for O’Neal, acquired last summer in a trade with the Indiana Pacers for T.J. Ford. The Raptors had hoped O’Neal would make them an East playoff contender but he can’t stay healthy — which the Raptors knew before they traded for him. Bucks should stay very far away from any O’Neal offers, unless the Raptors are willing to take Dan Gadzuric for the next two-and-a-half years. Even so, if Bucks GM Hammond was considering a deal like this, one in which the Bucks would have to give up multiple players for one remarkably expensive ($21 million!!) player, would he have waived Croshere? Probably not.

A deal Toronto may be able to make: Small forward Josh Howard from the Dallas Mavs for PF/C Andrea Bargnani, and shooter Anthony Parker.  The trade rumors coming out of Toronto have been nonstop since December, as it’s obvious the Raptors are not going to sit still with a team that is less competitive after the O’Neal trade than it was last season. Bargnani, the 2006 #1 overall draft pick, and an excellent shooter, would be an interesting complement to Bogut, though acquiring him would create an almost desperate need for a more athletic banger at power forward to help in the paint.

Cuban on buying the Cubs: Josh Howard’s not the foremost thing on Dallas Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s mind. Cuban in the last few days backed off on his bid to buy the Cubs, but don’t read my explanation of what went down: Cuban yesterday posted his thoughts on the negotiations with Tribune Media Co. at his blogsite, blog maverick. Simply titled “The Cubs,” it might be the most interesting sports story to read today (after the Bob Boozer Jinx of course) — especially for Brewers fans wanting to keep up with the goings-on of those hated North Siders. How often does one get a billionaire sports owner’s first hand account of his attempt to buy a baseball team?  Good stuff.

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