Bucks Weekend: Skiles, Jefferson of single mind about defense

Does it matter if the Bucks make the playoffs?  If their defense doesn’t improve to the point where they can consistently gain control of games with it, then maybe there was never a point to making the playoffs.

Richard Jefferson. What a great photo by Journal Sentinel's Michael Sears.

The Bucks are in Florida to try to figure out a way to beat Dwight Howard and the Magic after an uninspiring performance against the Raptors — and the coach and his veteran leader are not even concerned about whether their shots go through the hoop or not. They want to talk about defense.

“Congratulations,” I said to Z-man the Bulls fan, the only other guy in Axel’s (on Oakland) Wednesday night watching “the NBA TV” – everybody else was into the Kentucky-Notre Dame NIT game on the other TVs. “Looks like you guys are gonna make it to the playoffs.”

Z-man: “It doesn’t matter.”

JDMo: “Why not?”

Z-man: “Derrick Rose.”

JDMo: “Hinrich playing the point was pretty effective against Detroit … and the Bucks.”

Z-man: “Doesn’t matter.”

JDMo: “Why not?”

Z-man: “Derrick Rose.”

Point being: What’s good for Derrick Rose is good for the Bulls right now. If making the playoffs and losing to Boston, Cleveland or Orlando in the first round is good for Derrick Rose, good. If the Bulls make the playoffs relying on Kirk Hinrich to win an extra game or two, no good for Rose. It’s better to lose with Derrick Rose playing heavy minutes than to win with Hinrich, no offense to Kirk Hinrich. In fact, Bulls GM John Paxson issued that decree to coach Vinnie Del Negro after some great 4th quarters by Hinrich not too long ago (one against the Bucks Feb. 18).

What does this have to do with the Bucks? Well, if culture change is what it’s all about in Milwaukee (and that’s what GM John Hammond and Scott Skiles have said it is) then that’s the mission Skiles and Richard Jefferson have to be concerned about. Making the playoffs was only important if it grew out of the culture change, which is why GM Hammond spurned offers for RJ at the trading deadline. The message was, continue the work of establishing a winning culture built on defense, whether Joe Alexander or Andrew Bogut or Michael Redd or Damon Jones is on the court, whether the 2009-10 budget can include free agent Charlie Villanueva or not.

Although the Bucks have a core of defensive-minded players in RJ, Luc Mbah a Moute, Charlie Bell and Keith Bogans, the job isn’t finished. Where the Bucks are playing, who you’re playing, whether they are playing in the regular season or the playoffs, doesn’t matter — as Jefferson pointed out to Tom Enlund after the Toronto game:

“I’m not about starting off trips or ending trips. You’ve got to try and play good basketball. You know, (talking about) ending a home stand, or starting off a home stand,…those type of things, you can’t do that because then you get a mindset of carryover. I try to just take each game individually… We just didn’t do the stuff we were supposed to.”

Jefferson was in a similar mood to point out “where it’s really at” when the subject of the Bucks not-so-good shooting came up:

“Your shooting percentage is something that you don’t worry about too much. You worry about the quality of shots you’re taking . . . if you’re taking good shots. You don’t want to pass up good shots. And then your defense, what you’re doing defensively. We’ve shown that we don’t have to shoot in the high 40s or mid-40s to win games. We can shoot in the mid-to low 40s, and even 30s, and win.”

And here’s a refreshing change for Milwaukee Bucks fans: the veteran leader and his coach are on the same page. This is part of the culture change:

“We’re a fairly high-possession team,” coach Scott Skiles said. “One of the reasons is we lead the league in forcing turnovers. We’re getting possessions there. When we play better defense on certain nights, we get more possessions that way. We’ve been a good rebounding team, which means we’re getting possessions there. Generally we have more possessions than our opponent in games. I don’t focus too much on the scoring, it’s how efficient are we being?

“We’re first in the league in forcing turnovers but of the top 10 teams, only Charlotte and Miami have less fast-break points than us. So we haven’t been efficient enough in turning those opportunities into extra baskets.”

And there you have it. The Bucks are in Florida to try to figure out how to beat Dwight Howard and the Magic after an uninspired performance against the Raptors — and the coach and his veteran leader are not even concerned about whether their shots go through the hoop or not. They want to talk about defense and the type of shots they’re getting.

That’s culture change.

NCAA tournament note: Duke is no longer Duke. No kidding. Can we now talk about those sweet seeds the ACC teams received?

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