Bucks Weekend: Halfway mark stats… Bucks on the West Coast… Eastern C-notes

Bucks (19-22) @ Sacramento Kings (10-30), 9pm Friday, FSN

Bucks @ LA Clippers (8-30), 9:30pm Saturday, FSN

The Kings and Clippers are struggling but the Bucks would do well to stay focused in California this weekend without center Andrew Bogut, who is staying home to rehab his ailing lower back; it’s never fully recuperated since he first injured it on the road in mid-December, and flared up again Monday during the Wizards game.

Avoiding a shootout with the Kings would be wise, as would remembering to play defense. (The Bucks didn’t do either and nearly blew a 15-point 4th quarter lead but held on to win 129-122 – scroll down for more).

And the Clippers? Marcus Camby‘s playing with half a team: Zach Randolph, Baron Davis, Chris Kaman and Milwaukee rookie Mike Taylor will miss the Bucks Saturday. Expect to see former Buck x 2 Brian Skinner logging forward PT in that one.

Michael Hunt weighs in on the trade scuttlebut that’s dogged the Bucks all week and says DON’T. I agree. The luxury tax issues can be worked out over the summer, and if the Bucks are not willing to move the larger contracts (Michael Redd, Richard Jefferson) and are stuck with Dan Gadzuric, don’t pretend that moving bench players by the Feb. 19 trade deadline is some sort of fix. The fans deserve a team and a real direction, not a bunch of half-truth salary cap whining. ‘Nuff said for now because it’s time for  …

Richard Jefferson, waiting to check in.

BUCKS MIDWAY REPORT

Luc Mbah a Moute joins R.J. as the only Bucks to have played the full schedule. Sports Illustrated photo.The Bucks were one of first NBA teams to reach the halfway mark in the 2008-09 schedules; the others are Boston and … Boston. The stumble the Celtics have been on since X-mas likely has something to do with this, as Paul Pierce in particular has looked weary and Ray Allen has cooled off, somewhat, after a red hot start.

What does this have to do with the Bucks? Well, the only two Bucks who’ve played in all 41 games are the defensive stalwarts: forwards Richard Jefferson and rookie Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Jefferson has looked as tired as Pierce since X-Mas, and 22-year-old Mbah a Moute, who’s never played such a compressed basketball schedule in his life, has aged before Bucks fans eyes. The strain of the schedule seems written on Luc’s face.

The Bucks are 5-6 since X-mas and, after the loss to D-Wade, Daequan Cook (who?) and the Heat Wednesday, fell behind the 76ers in the Eastern Conference standings. While the Bucks are still on the fall-down, bounce-back pogo, the Sixers have picked up the pace, are running again and have won 5 straight — remember last season? Look out for Philly, a team that’s already handed the Bucks two of their 22 losses. The Bucks now head West for three games in four nights, beginning Friday in Sacramento.

Let’s look now beyond the standings at where the Bucks stand after 41 games. (Sources: Basketball-reference.com and NBA.com)

Games played: R.J. and the Prince lead the league with 41, of course, tied for first with four Celtics: Pierce, Allen, Rondo and Powe. R.J. is 10th in minutes played, with the aforementioned Ray Allen and Paul Pierce just ahead of him in the top 5. (Seems Doc Rivers rides his stars even more than Skiles has ridden R.J.).

Top Ten in defense: The Bucks rank 8th in team defense (defensive effeciency it’s called, or points allowed per 100 possessions). They’ve slipped somewhat of late, as they’ve fallen into the old, bad habit of trying to simply outscore the opposition, which, as we know, leads to sub-30 win seasons.

Opponent FG%Bucks are 13th, allowing 45.2% opponent shooting.

Opponent 3-point shooting: Bucks are 15th, allowing 36.2%. This has been a problem of late, as the Sixers, Nets, T-Wolves, Wizards and Heat (Daequan Cook) have scorched the nets from the land of Reggie in the last week.

Washington Wizards' Darius Songaila (9) gets an elbow to the throat from Milwaukee Bucks' Charlie Villanueva (31) in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2009. The Bucks won  97-91. Opponent 3-point shooting in 27 games Redd has played: 39.8% (182-457). I isolated this stat after the T-Wolves game on Saturday, and it’s gotten worse since. The Wiz and the Heat this week shot 50% (14-28) on 3’s vs. the Bucks, who were lucky, perhaps, that the Wiz didn’t shoot more of them. The games-Redd-played-% would be bad for 28th in the NBA in defending the 3-pointer, one percentage point away from dead last. I suppose Bucks fans could blame Charlie Bell — he’s missed 9 games since Redd came back Nov. 29.

Steals per game: Bucks rank 21st.

The Bucks are not stocked with great athletes and natural defenders, so one might wonder how they’re a top 10 defensive team while falling to the bottom half of the league in these other areas. I’d say the answer is that Redd missed 14 games and the Bucks D earned a solid, active defensive presence in those games. I’d also defer the question to coach Scott Skiles, whose constant pressure D scheme has a way of evening things out, as they’re among the league leaders in turnovers forced. I’d also point to the fact that the Bucks rebound the ball better than the vast majority of teams in the NBA ….

Andrew Bogut, Bucks photoRebounding: The Bucks are one of the top rebounding teams in the league and Andrew Bogut has everything to do with it. As a team, they rank 11th in rebounds per game, but the Bucks are 5th-best at outrebounding their opponents (nearly +3 per game), and that’s the stat that matters. Guess who’s ahead of them? The best teams in the NBA — Cleveland, Boston and the Lakers — along with Portland and its two-headed Oden-zilla center. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Charlie Villanueva contribute heavily on the glass, and their work has won some games for the Bucks this season.

Among centers, Bogut the rebounder this season is looking up only at the best center on the planet, Dwight Howard of Orlando. Yes, Andris Biedrins is rebounding a bunch, but Biedrins plays on Nellie’s Warriors, who shoot 1,000 shots a game. And don’t get me started on Emeka Okafor — the Bucks have played the Bobcats four times this season (won 3) and in one game, ‘Cats coach Larry Brown started rookie behemoth Ajinca to keep Bogues offa Emeka.  Marcus Camby in Los Angeles is an ageless wonder but in the Clips-Bucks games at the BC, big PF Zach Randolph was guarding Bogut, leaving Camby to roam free.

Bogut is making good strides in the Bob Boozer Jinx Center rankings so far and is clearly now a top ten NBA center (the rankings will be updated at the All-Star break). Let’s hope he can overcome those back problems that have held him down since Dec. 17 in Philly.

Offensively, the Bucks rank 20th: This is the points-scored-per-100 possessions rating. The Bucks are not a good shooting team, and they don’t get out and run as much as they should. They’re moving the ball more than in years past, including Redd, which probably keeps them from ranking even lower in the offensive categories. But the main problem here is shooting, particularly from 3-point-land. Inside the arc, the Bucks aren’t half bad, and Bogut is 5th in the league in FG%  at 57.5%. How ’bout these Bucks get the ball to their center a little more?

3-point shooting: The Bucks are a woeful 23rd in the NBA at 34.1%. That means it’s still worthwhile for the Bucks to shoot 3’s but just barely.

Michael Redd: Fans will be surprised that this bad 3-ball shooting year Redd is having (with recent exceptions) is not much worse than what he shot 2003-05 and last year. Redd’s shooting 34.6% from the land of Reggie, and, though it’s close to what he shot 4 of the 6 seasons he’s been a starter, it is the worst he’s shot it in the NBA.

Richard Jefferson has been a more reliable 3-point shooter than Redd at 38.1% and Luke Ridnour really shouldn’t be heaving it up there as often as he does (30.3%) — although it’s difficult to argue with the 4 or 5 games Crazy Luke and Lucky Luke have won for the Bucks draining from downtown in crunchtime.

Not much yet but trade rumors, rookie Joe Alexander campaigned for the dunk contest and this past week finally logged some quality minutes for the Bucks. Tyronn Lue is shooting 50% (16-32) from behind the arc, but doesn’t play much.

Charlie Villanueva is coming alive in his contract year, having his best season since his rookie year in Toronto, with 13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg in just 22 mpg. Play Charlie more? Or is Scott Skiles using him just right? Extrapolated to 36 minutes per game, Charlie would be scoring 20 pts per game, realizing of course that it doesn’t always work out that way in the NBA.

My sore lower back says this was more of a midway rundown than I had planned, and I still haven’t worked my way into the Ramon Sessions and Joe Alexander for Memphis point guard Mike Conley trade that never happened. Maybe that’s because it still hasn’t happened and I’m feeling pretty good right about now not wasting anybody’s time with it. There is definitely a problem within the Bucks organization in regards to trade rumor leaks — if you can even call them that — and Bucks fans tend to get rolling on them whether the trade talk is real or not … If GM John Hammond is working on silencing some of the yickety yack wickity wack from Bucks central, I’m all for it, though in this case some of it came out of Memphis (the reverse of the Carl Landry rumors, which resided here and were largely ignored in Houston). Here in Sconnie, a Bucks reporter from the lame-o Racine Journal Times peddles this stuff while the Bucks beat writers at the Journal Sentinel stay mum (red flag there) & their editor reminds to gloss up Michael Redd’s star …

At least Bucks fans can rest assured that they can always count on The Bob Boozer Jinx for semi-reliable & responsible bullshit.

Nice D Mike. Milwaukee Bucks photo

Meanwhile, in Chicago last night ….

Mo loses his running mate: As it was, the East-leading Lebrons went into Chicago playing without their starting big men, Zydrunas Ilgauskas (ankle) and Big Ben Wallace (flu). By the end of the OT loss to the newly healthy Bulls (Hinricn and Deng are back), they had also lost Delonte West. The Cavs starting guard fractured his shooting wrist and a gashed an eye after a nasty collision with Bulls rookie Derrick Rose. Looks like the Lebrons will be without two starters for some time (Big Z and West), which will put the onus on point guard Mo Williams and the Cavs bench to make up West’s scoring (12.3 ppg). Where they’ll really miss him is on D: West is Cleveland’s top backcourt defender, and, well, Bucks fans are well aware of Mo’s liabilities on D. West was 2nd on the Cavs in minutes played behind Lebron.

The Bucks don’t play the Cavs again until Feb. 20, when Z is almost certainly to be back. West will be out for an indeterminate while.

Not to be missed in Chicago: The Bulls are healthy again. Kirk Hinrich is back, mangled hand recovered, and Luol Deng also returned last week after missing 8 games with an ankle sprain. The 17-22 Bulls beat the Cavs 102-93 Thursday in Chicago to finish 1-3 against the Lebrons for the season. They’re a game behind the Bucks in the East standings but a game ahead in the loss column, which means they’re basically tied with the Bucks for 9th in the East behind Philly and New Jersey, if that makes any sense.

KD Dwyer’s Behind the Box Score featured this story, and made this reference to Scott Skiles’ Baby Bulls:

[The Bulls] got back to playing defense, running, and generally making life one big aberration for their opponents. A throwback to the Scott Skiles days, the early days, of forcing teams into giving up when things aren’t going their way.

Point being: The Bucks road to the playoffs is not an easy road. Shame on Bucks fans over the last couple of weeks who started talking playoffs d*** near every time the Bucks won a game. Enough of that Redd-ite thinking. The East is tougher this year than it’s been since the 2002-03 season. And it’s time for the Bucks to start playing like the Scott Skiles Bucks.

It’s BUCKS WEEKEND … more to come.

Chris Kaman's hair will not play again vs. the Bucks Saturday in LA. Ap photo.

As awe-inspiring as that photo is, Chris Kaman is not … but he’s funny. Unfortunately, Bucks fans will robbed this season of the classic Kaman-Bogut showdown, as Kaman will miss Saturday’s Bucks game in LA, still nursing a stressed arch in his right foot. Or maybe it’s the left one.

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