An agonizing game last night in Denver, as the Bucks blew an opportunity to steal a win before Andrew Bogut’s expected return Saturday vs. Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. This was a foul marred game in which some of the things that had been going wrong for the Bucks went right, and things that seemed to be going right were sometimes wrong.
John Salmons hit two threes to get the Bucks off to a good start and finally appeared to be coming around, scoring 21 pts on 7-15 shooting while playing tough D for 36 mins. That’s the kind of effort the Bucks have needed from Salmons all season.
Yet Luc Mbah a Moute — the Bucks best defender and most reliable player this season — was hit with early fouls guarding Carmelo Anthony and seemed to disappear.
Larry Sanders blocked 8 shots – 8 SHOTS!!! And scored 14 pts and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Yet Ersan Ilyasova, who had been stellar in every other game in which he’s played 25+ minutes, couldn’t get his jumper straight in Denver, missing some wide open looks that could have kept the Bucks in striking distance. Ersan scored 7 points in 40 mins – not nearly enough. Not being greedy here but a timely 3-pointer, a garbage bucket, a drawn foul — the Bucks needed Ersan in double figures when it counted. This earned Ersan “Stiff of the night” honors from the Nuggets blogger at the Denver Stiffs — despite his 9 boards, good D and tough battle with Al Harrington and Shelden Williams. Not sure the Denver fans know good D when they see it. But it was that kind of night.
Corey Maggette was turning in one of his best games as a Buck (17 pts on 8 shots, 1o free throws) …. until about 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter when he blew up two straight Bucks possessions by killing the ball movement and hondo-ing matters into his own hands. The Maggette-Sanders two-man set up on the weak side does not appear to be a good idea.
Chris Douglas-Roberts, so good in his first two games as a Buck, wasn’t effective off the bench (just 2 of 9) and seemed to be pressing, already.
Keyon Dooling was hitting his shots — two threes and a lay-in — usually a good sign that the Bucks will at least be in the game until the end. … Yet Dooling turned the ball over three times in 14-plus minutes.
Carmelo Anthony got kicked out the game carping at the refs over two straight Sanders in-your-face blocks. … Yet the Nuggets got better in the game without him.
Brandon Jennings was OK, below average by his standards with 14 pts, making clutch plays in the 4th that pulled the Bucks back to within six. Where are the assists, Brandon? Only 3 on the night. It was that kind of night, and the Bucks headed home with a 105-94 loss.
NOTES from the Land of Ray and Reggie — ATLANTA — Joe Johnson will undergo elbow surgery on his shooting arm and will miss 4-to-6 weeks. I wouldn’t mention this but IF Johnson takes six weeks getting back, he’ll miss 24 games, more than the entire Hawks rotation missed last season when they won 53 games and the 3rd seed in the East. I mention this only because most of the NBA had the Hawks so supremely overrated going into the playoffs against the Bucks — who all but fractured the Hawks mental well-being taking that series to seven. The Hawks are 12-7, on a pace to win 51 games. They’re not a tough-minded bunch, those Hawks, and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle a little adversity.
BOSTON – I just watched a late night rerun of the Celtics-Blazers game in Boston, and was amazed at how ugly and out of sync the Celtics looked through one, two, and into three quarters. The C’s were losing by seven late in the 3rd. Then the Celtics made one of the toughest defensive stands I’ve seen in a long time, probably since the Pistons teams of 2004 and 2005. The Bucks have thrown up similar D on teams but I can’t recall them holding a team with Portland’s weapons scoreless for five minutes (could have been longer). It went on so long that a 72-65 Blazers lead late in the 3rd had turned 96-80 Celtics deep into the 4th a desperate run by Portland made it 99-95. … Ray Allen hit his only three-pointer of the night to ice the game in the final minute.
NEXT UP FOR the Bucks: Dwight Howard and the Magic, Saturday — then D-Wade, Lebron and the Heat on Monday. The Bucks have been holding Andrew Bogut out in anticipation that he’ll be close to full strength for these games and their December schedule — the toughest in the league. There’s nobody tougher on the Bucks than the Magic in recent years, and while Bogut has played well in some of the matchups, he hasn’t gotten the better of Dwight yet — and Bogut and Skiles have yet to beat Dwight’s team in the Skiles era.