Bucks (30-38) vs. Boston Celtics (50-16) @ Bradley Center, Sunday noon, FSN
This from last time the Bucks faced Chris Paul and the Hornets, Feb. 27 in New Orleans …
Did the Bucks stupefying loss to the Knicks Tuesday effectively kill their playoff chances? That’s the question of the week, now that sufficient recovery time from the loss has passed.
“How’d we lose that game?” wondered my pal Joe as we made for the exits. He didn’t wait for an answer. “Oh yeah, we were outscored 17-4 to start the half …” The Bucks never seemed to get off their heels after that, despite a good effort.
With everything on the line in each game and settled in for a nice long home stand, the Bucks came out flat and were burned by Larry Hughes and Nate Robinson. Holes in the perimeter defense and a lack of clutch shooting were killers. That’s only supposed to happen when Michael Redd is in the lineup. Apparently it happens when he’s in street clothes, too.
Here we are, Bucks fans, looking at the schedule and seeing the Hornets, Celtics, Magic and Trailblazers coming to town with the Bulls, Nets and Bobcats closing in on the Bucks for the East’s 8th and final playoff spot. It doesn’t look pretty.
But there’s an important lesson to be learned here about the NBA schedule: you can’t go through and tick off expected wins and probable losses these days, or make assumptions about improving teams like the Knicks or the Bucks. On any given night, any matchup can be competitive, given tough schedules, injuries and other factors. The Bucks have to play their best ball. If they do, they have a chance no matter who they’re playing. While fans shouldn’t assume wins against the Knicks, neither should they assume losses to the Hornets or Celtics.
The Hornets aren’t world beaters — they’ve done well against the East’s mid-level teams this season but the games have been oh-so-close. The Bucks shocked them in New Orleans two weeks ago with a 17-point 4th quarter explosion to take the lead with ten seconds left, only to see center Tyson Chandler get loose to tip in the game winner. Over the last 2-1/2 weeks, the Hornets have won squeakers in New Jersey and Philly, and heart-stoppers against the Pistons and Bucks.
After fighting it out with the East, the Hornets crushed West rival Dallas in New Orleans. Go figure. NBA records can be deceiving, as the Bucks-Knicks game illustrated.
Bucks play just 5 games in 13 days, the first four at home, beginning with tonight’s game. There’s cause for optimism.
Hornets starting forward Peja Stojakovic, arguably the best shooter in the league, won’t play tonight because of a bad back (at least that’s what Bucks coach Kelvin Sampson’s telling me in my email box today). Chris Paul’s coming off a triple-double against the Wiz, but it looks as though February Player of the Month, David West, has cooled off a bit. Luc Mbah a Moute will do some time guarding CP3, which will be fun to watch. Sampson’s worried about guarding the CP3 and Chandler pick and roll.
The Celtics roster is battered and bruised, with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce not exactly sure who’ll be playing with them game to game. Looks like Big Baby and Rajon Rondo are sitting out tonight’s Memphis game with sprained ankles, as will Garnett (strained knee) and Brian Scalabrine (on medical watch after a concussion).
Injury reports duly noted, the Bucks will have to play their best basketball this weekend to hang on to 8th place, though none of the East rabble have it easy: The Bulls are in Philly, the Nets are on the west coast (Portland tonight), the Bobcats host the Rockets. The Pacers are in Atlanta.
College madness is in the air, a great NBA weekend shaping up… I love March.
Bulls, Bobcats and Pacers well underway — tracking those three games (all good ones so far) and the Bucks are about to start. Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young are giving the Bulls some problems in Philly, and Chicago’s shooters haven’t heated up yet. Philly’s up six late in the 3rd.
Yao’s having a game in the Charlotte, dominating Emeka Okafor (duly noted for the center files) but Houston needed some clutch D from Ron Artest to close out the win, 91-86. The East isn’t rolling over for the West this season by any means.
In Chicago … Bulls have the ball down 1 with 22 seconds left. Rose misses a layup, Iggy rebounds and Thad Young scores on the other end. Ben Gordon misses a 30-footer for the tie and … The Bulls lose in Philly, 104-101. As good as the Bulls guards are, the Sixers frontcourt was too much – Young had 31, Iggy had 25 and Dalembert pulled down 19 rebounds. The Bulls played catch-up all night, and Andre Miller kept his Sixers in control most of the way.
Derrick Rose oughta shoot a little less and find more than 12 shots for Ben Gordon (4-12, nine points). John Salmons shot it just 13 times (5-13) and put up 14 pts. Tough to win with a rookie point guard.
Bucks no good from 3-point land: A Luke Ridnour 3-pointer tied the score at 73, but from there on out Bucks fans were treated to five straight errant 3-balls by Keith Bogans, Ridnour, Richard Jefferson, Charlie Bell and Charlie Villanueva — and found themselves down 89-81, Hornets ball. Charlie V finally made one with 30 seconds left but too little too late. Bogans missed one more for good measure as the Bucks fell 95-86.
Ramon Sessions did not play in the 4th. Skiles can’t possibly believe Ridnour is a decent defender, and he left Ridnour on Chris Paul for a good portion of the quarter. If what the Bucks are going to do is bomb away from downtown with Luke in the game, I’m not understanding Skiles’ thinking on this. Sessions would have at least put more pressure on the Hornets D.
Altogether in the final quarter, the Bucks were 3-11 from the land of Reggie after shooting 7-13 the first three quarters.
Charlie Bell (15 pts) and Keith Bogans (14 pts) both played well off the bench, hitting all seven of those Bucks threes before the final period, when everybody went cold. RJ led the Bucks with 27 points. Charlie V had one of his less-than Charlie games with 10 pts on 4-13 shooting. Let’s get both those guys playing well in the same game.
Clinging to 8th: The Bulls and Bobcats have lost. New Jersey can take 8th with a win in Portland. (They don’t).
On any given night: The Sacramento Kings are leading the Cavs by 7 with 5 minutes to play in the 4th. The Nets are winning in Portland. And Nellie’s Warriors are up 10, now 11 on the Mavs toward the end of the 3rd.
Celtics win 50th: Nothing much to report about the Celtics beating the Grizzlies in Boston except that Rajon Rondo started at point after missing a week nursing a sprained ankle. The Celtics will have all of their starters minus Kevin Garnett in Milwaukee Sunday. Leon Powe has been starting at power forward in place of injured KG (knee) and Big Baby Davis (sprained ankle), and continues his strong play – 30 points, 11 rebounds against the Grizz Friday…
Nets fold in Portland: The Nets held a 89-88 lead in this one with 4 minutes left but then gave up 21 points the rest of the way. This is what happens when Jarvis Hayes and Keyon Dooling miss 3-pointers. An ugly game featuring 45 free throws by the Blazers. The Bucks are still clinging to 8th despite their losses to the Knicks and Hornets this week.
Lebron decides to win in Sacramento: Lebron James apparently didn’t feel like losing to the Kings, as the Cavs came from behind to force overtime in Sac, then won it 126-123. Lebron had 51 as the Cavs chucked up 28 threes, more than even the Bucks tonight.
3 games vs. the Magic: While Bucks fans may be looking at the schedule and wondering how the NBA could have saddled them with three games against the Magic in the stretch run, the fact that the Knicks also play the Magic three times should ease the pain. It won’t be easy for the Knicks to win more than 35 games. In keeping with the theme of this thread, it isn’t easy for any of the East teams in the fight to be better than mediocre.
Next up for the Knicks is the Cavs Sunday in Cleveland. The Bulls return home after losing three on the road to play the Hornets tonight (Saturday) in a back-to-back for both teams. The Hornets an elite team in the league? The Chris Paul hype-sters do get carried away, though his team does have a knack for eking out wins in the East. The Bobcats are on a back-to-back, too, and head to Minnesota after their disappointing loss to the Rockets.
New Jersey stays out west to play the Clippers Sunday. The Pacers, one of the league’s worst road teams, heads for Toronto. It’s really not so bad, being the Bucks with a day off before playing a hobbled Celtics at home Sunday, noon.