Bucks Weekend: When the basketball gods lifted the lid in New Orleans… Marbury in Boston… Sunday notes

Chris Paul wants to talk to ESPN.Bucks (28-32) @ New Orleans Hornets (34-22), 7pm, NBA (Raptors) TV

Bucks vs. Washington Wizards (13-44), 7:30pm @ Bradley Center, FSN

That's when it happened. Something happened. It was as if the basketball gods lifted the lid off the Bucks basket and stuck it on the Hornets hoop. Maybe it was the advent of Damon Jones into the game, because Chandler missed both Hornets free throws and Jones promptly drained one from downtown. Gadzuric blocked a David West jumper, then Bogans hit a three. Suddenly it was an 8-point game. A West jump shot made it ten with 2:20 left. There didn't seem to be enough time. …

As you can see in this photo, Chris Paul is a bit miffed that ESPN snubbed tonight's Bucks-Hornets game to again broadcast to NBA fans just how much better the Orlando Magic are than the free-fallin' Detroit Pistons.

The Bucks-Hornets game had been pegged as tonight's featured game and was the only national game scheduled for the Bucks this season. But earlier this week, ESPN changed its mind.

Obviously, ratings are a factor and Milwaukee and New Orleans are two of the league's smaller markets. However, given the network's modus operandii when it comes to stirring up controversy, peddling rumors and pandering like a supermarket tabloid, this decision can't possibly be about ratings.

Nor is it about the rise of the Orlando Magic in the East. As fun as it is to watch Paul and the Hornets, CP3 is last season's story. Dwight Howard and the Magic are this season's story. Snubbing CP3 and the Bucks, however, is not about the Magic. If it were, then it could be said that this decision was made for basketball reasons, and that's just not ESPN's style.

No, the decision to broadcast the Pistons and Magic is all about Detroit's 8-game losing streak and the endless supply of controversy brewing in Motor City. What's wrong with the Pistons? Has Allen Iverson destroyed the Pistons precious team chemistry?  Will coach Michael Curry be fired? Is Rasheed Wallace in decline and should he even be playing tonight? The NBA rescinded two early season Sheed technicals after he reached the suspension limit Wednesday in a loss to the Hornets. How does that work? Ask Commissioner David Stern.

As the NBA turns. For Bucks fans, the important thing is that if our scrappy team can keep up with CP3 and steal a game in the Big Easy while the Magic are making the Pistons disappear, the Bucks will move ahead of Detroit into 7th place in the East standings.

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Sorry about the blackout today. From what I gather, some renovations are occuring over at sportsbubbler HQ and the word is "all systems go" for another Bucks back-to-back and NBA weekend.

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Skiles ponders the latest imponderable Bob Boozer Jinx question.Is the Pistons nosedive from the top tier of the East into the battle for the 8th spot a bigger story than the injury-challenged Bucks' ability to hold their own in the battle for the 8th spot? That's a tough question. The Bucks can't compete with the Pistons fan recognition, obviously, plenty of reason to give Detroit the nod in the media.

But the flip side of this is that the Pistons are bad news. The NBA thrives on good news and success stories, not failures. Eventually — if the Bucks can stay in the playoff hunt — this will raise their profile. The Bucks are not a boring team by any definition of yawning. 

The Pistons tumble? It was inevitable, whether they had made the Billups for Iverson trade or not — and what did Detroit GM Joe Dumars expect of his rookie coach, Michael Curry? It's old news, bad news on repeat, which brings us full circle back to questioning ESPN's values as a sports news organization.

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A tale of two coaches:  One a first year coach, Michael Curry in Detroit, who hasn't been up to the task of managing his team and may lose his job; the other, Scott Skiles, a determined veteran proving again that he can unify a team and win games despite unusually bad luck with injuries and no stars. Skiles' uptempo offense and in-your-face defensive basketball is a great equalizer, and Skiles is a bonafide Coach of the Year candidate.

That said, the Pistons played a great game in Orlando and are about to win it, while the Bucks are conducting a "How Not To" shooting clinic in New Orleans and trail by 21 in the 3rd quarter. The score is 66-45; the Bucks are 19-58 from the floor. That's 32.7%. I didn't think that was possible for an NBA team.

Thankfully, this is the last Western Conference road game for the Bucks this season. The Bucks would be 11-13 against the West with a loss tonight, with home games against Golden State, New Orleans, Portland, the Lakers, Memphis and Oklahoma City ahead. They'll have to beat at least one West playoff team to do it, but it's easily conceivable that the Bucks could split (15-15) against the West this season. Quite an improvement over last season's 8-22 mark vs. the West.

In the East, on the other hand, where the Bucks are 17-20 … whoa – hold that thought.

This dunk was in the 1st half, but Hornets center Tyson Chandler had the last word against the Bucks Friday in New Orleans. (Getty images/AP phot)The thrill of agonizing defeat  If there is such a thing, the Bucks pulled it off in New Orleans. I had written this game off twice, and then a third time when Skiles cleared the bench with 3:30 to play. But each time the Bucks refused to quit. Down 21 in the 3rd, Luke Ridnour and a suddenly tough defense led by Charlie Bell, Keith Bogans and Richard Jefferson, began cutting into the Hornets lead. This went on for about 12 minutes, until Ridnour's third 3-pointer in the push pulled the Bucks to within 10 with six minutes to play.

Unfortunately, the Bucks let the Hornets slip away –or so it seemed. Peja Stojakovic hit a three, Skiles benched Charlie Villanueva after a turnover, the other Charlie misfired, and the Bucks found themselves down 89-72 with about four minutes left. Then Ridnour hit his fourth 3-ball since mid-3rd quarter and the Bucks sent Hornets center Tyson Chandler to the line. Skiles had seen enough and cleared his bench. Enter Damon Jones, Dan Gadzuric and Malik Allen to finish the game with Bell and Bogans.

That's when it happened. Something happened. It was as if the basketball gods lifted the lid off the Bucks basket and stuck it on the Hornets hoop. Maybe it was the advent of Damon Jones into the game, because Chandler missed both Hornets free throws and Jones promptly drained one from downtown. Gadzuric blocked a David West jumper, then Bogans hit a three. Suddenly it was an 8-point game. A West jump shot made it ten with 2:20 left. There didn't seem to be enough time.

Then Charlie Bell went nuts. Bell was 3-13 in the game until this point and a big part of the reason the cold-shooting Bucks had dug a double-digit hole to climb out of. But in the next two minutes, Charlie bombed the Bucks out of the hole and into the lead, scoring 11 points on three jumpers from the land of Reggie and a putback. The Bucks took the lead 94-93 with 10 secs to go on Charlie's third 3-pointer.

Then Skiles lost his senses. Since Gadzuric had entered the game with 3:30 left, Gadz had blocked a shot, grabbed a defensive rebound and scored on a tip-in, and the Bucks had not allowed the Hornets a single 2nd-chance shot. But Skiles had subbed Gadz out for RJ for the offensive possession that gave the Bucks the lead. Now that it was New Orleans ball and timeout to draw up their final shot, Skiles subbed Ridnour for Malik Allen and Luc Mbah a Moute for Damon Jones, leaving Gadz on the bench.

When the Bucks forced a miss by West, there was no one to keep the 7-footer, Chandler — who spent the better part of three years with the Bulls in Skiles' doghouse — away from the rebound-tap.

Hornets 95, Bucks 94.  What Skiles had done was put his four best defenders on the floor — Mbah a Moute, Bell, RJ and Bogans — and assigned Ridnour to pester Chris Paul. But he had ignored a key basketball truism — you can't defend height. For perhaps the first time this season, Scott Skiles beat the Milwaukee Bucks.

RJ led the Bucks with 22; Charlie B scored 21. Chris Paul was credited with 20 assists and West, a first-time All-Star this season, led everybody with 28 pts and 12 boards. Here's the box score if you don't believe me. …

Shame on ESPN for taking their cameras to Orlando. 

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Shaq scores 45: The Suns, fighting for their playoff lives without Steve Nash (sprained ankle) got a monster game from the Diesel at home to crush the new look Chris Bosh-Shawn Marion Raptors, 133-113. 

"I think I'm the only player," Shaq said postgame, "who looks at each and every center in the league and says, 'That's barbecue chicken down there.'"

Shaq, what does that mean?  Maybe that's a question for Andrew Bogut.

Marbury is a Celtic:  Stephon Marbury signed on with the Celtics for 1/4 the veteran minimum ($1.3 million) yesterday, suited up and played 13 mins in the Celtics 104-99 win against the Pacers. Everybody's happy in Boston, except Kevin Garnett and Brian Scalabrine who are out with injuries. They're a bit too happy for the rest of the NBA's well-being, I'd say. Marbury says he feels "rejuvinated", "wanted" and excited to be playing.

So what's it like to be a Celtic? "Defense," Marbury said. "They play defense. That's all they talk about. Defense. Offense takes care of itself."

Ray Allen, who led the way against the Pacers with 30 pts, doesn't look so sure about that last point. After the game, reporters directed questions to the glare offa Ray's head:

NBA SUNDAY 

Pistons snap out of it: After losing 8-straight, Detroit beat the Magic and the Celtics on the road this weekend, playing a near perfect game to win in Boston Sunday. Does that even make sense? Well it does to some who think Allen Iverson has thrown the Pistons chemistry out of whack and that inserting Rip Hamilton into the starting lineup made the difference. I don't buy it.

More on that here.

The Celtics and Magic could have helped the Bucks this weekend by sending the Pistons into meltdown mode but in reality, Detroit may be too good to sink too far — and they matchup well against the Magic. In Boston today, the KG-less Celtics couldn't put a winning run together, and with Ray Allen a hair off — missing 8 of 10 good looks — and the Pistons playing a near perfect game to get back to .500. New Celtics Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore are off to a slow start. Marbury turning the ball over as much as he scored and Moore's defense looking like the kind of D played in Sacramento, not Boston.

The Bucks (29-33) took care of business against the Wiz Saturday night at the BC, 109-93, and tallied 30 assists in doing so — just the 5th time this season they've reached the 30-assist mark. They're 5-0 in those games, wins against Houston, the Pacers, the Clippers and two vs. the Wiz.  The Bucks found their stroke after a rough shooting night in New Orleans, hitting 53% for the game. Charlie V (25 pts) and RJ (22) led the scoring.

The Bucks were still in 8th at the close of the weekend, with Chicago (27-33) just a game behind. New Orleans stole one from the Nets in New Jersey, 99-96 to drop the Nets 1-and-1/2 games behind the Bucks in 10th. The Pistons (29-29) moved up into a tie with Philadelphia (29-29) for 6th. Three-and-a-half games separate the #6 Sixers and Pistons and the #10 Nets in the standings. This is only going to get more interesting in the weeks to come.

New Jersey (26-33) is next up for the Bucks at the BC Tuesday,  7pm.

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