For three quarters, the Bucks went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat, then folded under a hale of referee whistles and bad offense and generally poor shooting. The missed Bucks layups that might have made this a game down to the final buzzer had already been missed, five of them in the third quarter when it was still a game and the Heat erased the Bucks 4-point halftime lead.
Andrew Bogut (16 pts, 8 rebs) and John Salmons (18 pts, 6 assists) led the Bucks, but they weren’t good enough, efficient enough offensively and in the end didn’t have enough help to keep up with the Heat. Wade led all scorers with 34 pts while LeBron and Bosh chipped in a combined 44. Here’s the box score.
In all, the Bucks put up a fairly decent fight, which ought to make tonight’s matchup with the Orlando Magic all the more interesting, considering that there’s no D-Wade or LeBron on hand to make winning a game an insurmountable task. The centers — the Magic’s Dwight Howard and the Bucks’ Andrew Bogut are the best players in the building.
They oughta be in any case, which is to say that Bogut’s All-Star qualifications are on trial tonight in Orlando.
Bogut leads the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.8) but has struggled with his offense since missing five games in Nov. and early December with a lower back strain. How much is the broken hand/mangled arm Bogut suffered at the end of last season affecting him?
He’s 94 out of 185 (50.8%) from the floor in the 14 games since he returned Dec. 4 against the Magic, a game that Howard missed due to a team-wide stomach virus that streaked through Orlando. Bogut dominated the game with 31 points, setting up tonight’s game as a chance for Howard to erase that glitch on the Magic schedule. Howard’s 3rd in blocks (2.4 per game) and hauls down 13.2 rebounds a game, which would probably lead the league if Kevin Love’s teammates in Minnesota were more interested in helping him on the glass.
Fifty percent shooting is not bad — but hardly great for a center who rarely strays more than 10 feet from the basket; and his free throw shooting continues to be an indescribable adventure (26 of 63 for 41.3%). 15.3 pts per game is slightly above his average from last season, but the Bucks need more out of Bogut this season, especially now with point guard Brandon Jennings out for another two weeks with a bone fracture in his foot.
Bogut’s had some monstrous rebounding games and has averaged 11.6 per game since the back injury. The rebounding is always there. The defense, too. But right now, the Bucks need more.
Strength of Schedule: The good news for the Bucks is that their strength of schedule continues to go through the roof. The bad news is that the Knicks beat the Spurs last night in New York, yet another indication that — all hype aside — the Knicks may be tough to catch once the schedules begin to even out. The Bucks (13-19) fell to six games behind the Knicks (20-14) in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Bucks have easily played the most difficult schedule in the league based on opponent record, with a +1.24 rating. The Knicks have played a relatively soft schedule (-0.59). It should be noted that the 23-and-14 Hawks (-1.07) have played the softest schedule in the East. This stuff bears repeating if only to keep Bucks fans from freaking out about the team’s lousy record.
Bucks release Skinner: There are now more 2010 Bucks (Andrew Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute and John Salmons) on Scott Skiles’ available roster than 2001 Los Angeles Clippers (Corey Maggette, Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins).
The Bucks released little used big forward Brian Skinner today, a nod to the fact that coach Skiles wasn’t likely to use him in Orlando tonight and an indication that the plantar fasciitis in Drew Gooden’s left foot has cleared up enough for the Bucks to try once again to integrate him into the rotation. They might’ve waited a few days, as Skinner’s contract for the remainder of the season didn’t become guaranteed until Monday, but, obviously, no reason to continue practicing with Skinner if he wasn’t going to play or be around next week.
The Bucks signed Skinner after Gooden went down with the foot problem while Andrew Bogut was still recovering from a lower back strain. Skinner was in the Bucks training camp in September but didn’t make the final roster.