… And Andrew Bogut, needing to make a statement that his Bucks will be able to put their 6-12 start behind them. My ticket says they’re due for one, and that this is an event –that only the Celtics would be better victims than the media circus that is Lebron’s Heat.
The Bucks are 7-12 now after Bogut returned from a three-game rest due to back spasms Saturday to score 31 pts and haul down 18 rebounds against the Magic.
While the win was welcome, the big numbers came at the expense of Marcin Gortat, starting for the Magic for Dwight Howard, who was recovering from stomach flu in Orlando. Bogut “dominated,” in the words of Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and he did in every way, even those moments when he was missing seven straight free throws in just over a minute as Van Gundy employed the “Hack-an-Aussie” strategy. But none of it happened in the the presence of Howard, the league’s best defender, the center Bogut has measured himself against since he came into the league six years ago.
Bogut remains perhaps the leagues 2nd-best defender, still looking up at Howard, still with so much to prove in what many figured would be his first All-Star game. It hasn’t worked out that way — yet — or until Saturday when Bogut dominance said emphatically that, after Dwight, there is little question who’s the #2 center in the East.
The Lebron circus comes to town with 35-year-old Zydrunas Ilgauskas to match up against AB, which ought to give this something of a feel that the more things change the more they remain the same — Lebron and Big Z, still together. The Heat have had some of the same problems the Bucks have had this season — a lack of ball movement and chemistry, timing problems and some confusing over who’s supposed to be doing what in coach Eric Spoeltra’s offense. Lebron has looked more like a ball hog than a team leader. Dwyane Wade had stepped back and let it all flow away from him. Chris Bosh isn’t a good bet for the All-Star team.
“The Big Three,” at 13-8, has disappointed, while the Big Three in Boston has been a machine of teamwork, flexing its inside strength in two wins against the Heat and an overtime win against the Bucks — who, judging by that game, looked much more well matched and prepared to battle the Celtics than the Heat in their two games. With Bogut in the lineup, the Bucks can battle the Celtics front-line. The Heat — with Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Chris Bosh manning the paint — don’t have the muscle, and, though Big Z has made life difficult for Bogut in the past, Z doesn’t have Andy Varejao or Ben Wallace to offer help these days, as they did in Cleveland.
Expect the Bucks to do the same thing they did Saturday against the Magic– pound the ball into Bogut in the post and feed him off pick and rolls with Brandon Jennings. What else can they count on? Ilgauskas (who’s taken the starter’s job from Anthony) has played Bogut well in the past and may offer some defense — but Spoelstra may have to resort to big Erik Dampier, who the Heat added two weeks ago in response to the hole they have in the middle. Jamal Magloire, an unhappy member of the Michael Redd Bucks in Bogut’s rookie year, may get a turn. Rookie Larry Sanders will likely start on Bosh, and — as we’ve seen — the long arms of Sanders are tough to shoot over.
Carlos Arroyo on Brandon Jennings — this should work to the Bucks advantage, on paper. But my ticket doesn’t tell me whether Scott Skiles will start Luc Mbah a Moute on Dwyane Wade or Lebron. It doesn’t say whether John Salmons is truly back to form or not. It doesn’t say whether Corey Maggette is still fighting with the offense. It doesn’t tell me whether Ersan will get looks with the second unit.
But it does tell me that the Bucks will have to control and dominate the Heat inside — and keep Lebron and D-Wade out of the paint — to make this a game. And that Bogut just might steal the spotlight.