Tag Archives: John Salmons

Gooden time: On the road in the west without Andrew Bogut, Bucks need their “Big Zero” like never before

Bucks GM John Hammond’s $6 million man will get another chance to prove his worth in Sacramento tonight, as center Andrew Bogut has not yet returned to the team.   Bogut left for “personal reasons” Tuesday in Utah.

UPDATE: As of today (Thursday pregame), Bogut was still gone and the Kings have fired coach Paul Westphal.

So it’s up to the much-maligned Drew Gooden, “the Big Zero,” the man who has seemed in a world of his own as a Buck, to establish a paint presence against Chucky Hayes and the Kings young frontcourt of J.J. Hickson, Jason Thompson and, yep – he’s back from another temper tantrum and fight with the now departed Westphal – DeMarcus Cousins.

These are matches made in heaven for Gooden.  There are no DeAndre Jordans or Blake Griffins on the Kings roster (those two nightmares await in L.A. Friday). The Kings are big and slow and like to throw their weight around, just like Drew.  Pigs in slop?  Something like that.  This will be a rugged game in the paint.

It’s not Gooden’s modus operandii, but he may want to help mind offensive opportunities for his fellow big men, Ersan Ilyasova and Jon Leuer.  Ilyasova started with Gooden in Utah and shot just 1 for 8 in the Bucks’ 71-point offensive meltdown.  Leuer shot 1 for 4.

The Bucks need scoring from their big forwards, no doubt about that, with ill-shooting Brandon Jennings and Stephen Jackson manning most of the perimeter minutes.  Ilyasova, in particular, is due for a good game, and he’ll start on ex-Cav Hickson, with whom he’s fairly well matched and acquainted.  It should be a battle.

But what I’m looking forward to the most is a Leuer vs. Cousins matchup off the bench.  The Bucks will need Leuer to score, and Cousins is too slow-footed to guard the Bucks rookie.  Cousins may be too big for Leuer, but Cousins is susceptible to offensive fouls, frustration, temper tantrums and other drama.

The last time the Bucks were in Sacramento, Cousins committed four offensive charges against Ilyasova and Bogut, fouled out, threw a fit at the refs, and the Bucks prevailed with a strong 4th quarter.

I can’t really think of any two young players who are such polar opposites as these two.  Leuer, the cool, clever, good shooting, in control and fully developed 4-year college player vs. the raw, immature, undeveloped, out-of-control but talented Cousins.    Leuer vs. Cousins:  Book it, this should be fun to watch.

Kings PF/C Jason Thompson is also a handful off the bench.  Bucks shot-blocker Larry Sanders will get his minutes, and plenty of opportunity to wreak havoc above the rim.  Larry is his name.

TEAM TRAINER TEDIUM:  Mike Dunleavy, Jr., is still out with a groin injury and not with the team.  Luc Mbah a Moute is not expected to play due to soreness in his knee.  Beno Udrih is day-to-day with the mashed shoulder he suffered in a collision with Andre Miller on Monday.  Rookie Tobias Harris has not practiced.  Darington Hobson has been recalled from the D-League and will probably play tonight.  Aren’t Bucks injury reports boring?  You bet.

JOHN SALMONS:   The Kings are all about their young guns, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette, but the old fish is getting his minutes starting at small forward.  Salmons’ defense is just as solid as ever and will likely guard Jackson, who, by transitive property of the 3-team trade, was the guy he was traded for.  Jimmer and Beno, Tobias Harris and Shaun Livingston are the other pieces in this trade, which should make tonight’s game, in the very least, interesting.

Salmons has started all seven games for the Kings and had a workmanlike game playing 30 minutes guarding Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest in a Kings win.  Against the Knicks, he was the best King on the floor during a long stretch in the first half, though he had his hands full guarding Carmelo Anthony.

And yes – Salmons is still shooting like crap (34%), though he’s hit a good percentage of his threes (38%), better than the 32% Jimmer’s shooting.

Sure, I’ll be watching Salmons because he’s not Fredette or Stephen Jackson, but also because GM Hammond gave up on him far too soon.  The revolving door that is the Bucks backcourt with Jennings is a sign that Hammond probably has ADD.

STATS CHECK:   The Bucks remain 2nd in the league in team defense giving up just 95.2 pts per 100 possessions, tied with the Bulls behind Denver.  The Bucks are 2nd in forcing turnovers (17.5% turnover rate) and 2nd in defensive field goal percentage, holding opponents to a woeful 44.4% effective shooting.  (Effective shooting counts one made shot for a made field goal and 1.5 made shots for three-pointers.)

But they’ve plunged to 28th in the NBA in team offense,  scoring only 96.5 points per 100 possessions, causing fans throughout Bucksland to wonder whether this is what we get with Jennings at the point.  There may be limits to how much the Bucks can improve from here.  Even baby steps would be welcome, given the strength of the defense.

With that in mind, most troubling is the Bucks defensive rebounding, which has fallen to 71%.  They are not protecting their defensive backboard very well at all, despite a reputation as one of the better rebounding teams in the league.

The Bucks rank 24th in controlling the defensive glass, which obviously undermines the great on-the-ball shot defense they’re playing.  This gets more and more surprising with each game it continues.

Not surprising is the jumper-chucking Bucks’ inability to the get to the line.  They’re dead last in Free-Throws-Field-Goal percentage — only 16.4% of their shots have been free throws.

Defensively, the Bucks are nearly opposite:  They don’t allow teams to shoot well but they foul a lot.  26% of Bucks opponents’ shots have been free throws.  Partial blame for this goes to Kevin Love and the T-Wolves loving referees.

Wizards vs. Bucks: Nick Young, Bucks killer

The Bucks went to Washington, D.C. last February figuring to toss a win against the Wizards into their 8th-seed hamper.  John Wall hadn’t been a problem in his first meeting with the Bucks in Milwaukee (a 100-87 Bucks win), and, this time, Brandon Jennings was back in the Bucks lineup after missing six weeks with a foot fracture.

What Jennings and mates found in Washington was Nick Young‘s afro and Nick Young’s jumpshot.

26 points from Young later and the Bucks were 100-85 losers – and nothing resembling the playoff team they had hoped to be and thought they were.

Nick Young is a Bucks killer, and it was an efficient killing: 10-19 shooting, three from Downtown, 3 of 3 from the line.  Young was aided by guard Cartier Martin, who made five from downtown and scored 15.

The Bucks tried, oh they tried to guard the three point line.  John Salmons was no slouch defender.

Salmons is no longer a Buck, and Stephen Jackson will hawk the 3-point-line for the Bucks tonight at the BC against the Wiz.

Martin is no longer with the Wizards.  But Young will be in the building, starting at shooting guard.  Last season he averaged 19 in three games against the Bucks, better than his 17.4 pts per game average, and they needed to hold Young to ten in the third meeting to get it down from 23.5 in the first two.

In the 2009-10 season, Young averaged 20.2 in the four games the Wizards split against the Bucks.  Seven games in two seasons, three losses to the Wiz.  In the two wins that Young started in, he averaging 23.5 points per.

Nick Young is a Bucks killer.

More ridiculous video of Stephen Jackson

In this installment, featuring the Golden State Warriors of the short-lived Jackson-Corey Maggette era, Jackson is kicked out of a 2009 Suns game for, what else?   Being himself.

Only this time Warriors coach Don Nelson one-ups Jackson a few plays later with his own ridiculous ejection from the game.  That’s our Nellie.

Drew Gooden, apparently, really did deserve a break today.  Gooden is suspended for tonight’s T-Wolves game, punishment for thwacking Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson in the head as Henderson drove for a layup.  Read all about it.

The John Salmons watch.  I was one who thought Salmons was going to bounce back and have a solid season, reminding Bucks fans of the Fish who led us into the playoffs 2010.   Alas, somebody had to go to move the above-mentioned Maggette out of Milwaukee and Salmons (and a Kings draft pick) was the bait that got it done.

Salmons and the Tyreke Evans-led Sacramento Kings beat the Lakers last night, 100-91.  Fish had 13 and more importantly, clocked in 30 minutes guarding a relatively inefficient Kobe Bryant (14 missed shots), Metta World Peace and … Devin Ebanks.

Devin Ebanks?

Bucks trade No. 10 pick, John Salmons and Corey Maggette

This just in from Georgia, where my pal Johnny, noted Royal Ivey fan, was on the road listening to ESPN radio:

The Bucks No. 10 pick is gone, and with it John Salmons and Corey Maggette.

ESPN reported today that the Bucks have agreed to trade the pick to Sacramento as part of a 3-team deal that sent Corey Maggette and Sacramento’s No. 7 pick to Michael Jordan’s rebuilding Hornets team (which now has the No. 7 and No. 9 picks).

Bucks shooting guard John Salmons returns to Sacramento, where he became an 18 ppg scorer (in 2007-08), to the Kings team that signed him in free agency from Philly. This will be a homecoming of sorts for Salmons.

The Bucks get Charlotte shooting guard Stephen Jackson, reserve Shaun Livingston and the Bobcats No. 19 pick.  From the Kings, the Bucks receive a tall, lefty, good-vision point guard who can shoot, Beno Udrih.

There’s no need to sit and wonder why.  Yesterday, I wrote that the Bucks “would improve quicker and with more alacrity if they use the pick to dump the junk on their roster and try to bring in an NBA player (not a college kid) to back up John Salmons.”

The Salmons-with-a-rookie-backing-him-up idea never sounded very good.  Improvement in that scenario relied on Salmons bouncing back from his worst season since 2006-07, when he was a Sixer, and then on an untested college player.

I did think Salmons would bounce back. Fish sprained his knee last summer in a Philly pick-up game and was never fully healthy last season in 72 games.  His shooting suffered mightily from a series of dings and muscle pulls in his legs, and he often seemed sluggish on the court.  2011-12 may turn out to be his best, most consistent season as a pro, and there are few 2-guard defenders in the NBA as good as Salmons.  That story, unfortunately, will unfold in Sacramento while Bucks fans learn to love (and hate) Stephen Jackson.

Stephen Jackson, slated now to be the Bucks starting shooting guard, is — like Salmons — one of the better 2-guard defenders in the league, an aggressive competitor whom Scott Skiles will love (though ESPN is already reporting that Jackson’s not happy about the prospect of playing in Milwaukee).   This seems odd for a guy who played the early years of career with the small-market Pacers.

(It turns out Jackson was drafted by Phoenix when Skiles was a Suns assistant to Danny Ainge.  Skiles and Jackson spoke yesterday, had a good long talk and everything’s fine).

It should be noted, however, that even when healthy Jackson has not shot as well in his career as even a sluggish, limping Salmons did last season, a sobering reality for Bucks fans who certainly don’t need any more sobering realities.

But it should also be noted that Jackson’s 2-year/$19.3 million contract is not as lengthy as the 3-plus years remaining for Salmons, and he’s $1.5 million cheaper than Maggette, which means the trades carve out a savings of $1 million next season.

(On re-read edit, that last note looks completely absurd, now that we realize that Bucks owner Herb Kohl is writing of millions in player depreciation every year and kept Michael Redd around because, more than anything, Redd was a walking tax shelter.)

Jackson’s Career averages:  16.3 pts, 41.8% field goal shooting, 33.9% 3-point shooting, a brawl in the stands in Detroit and a couple of recent run-ins with Luc Mbah a Moute and Salmons, who have consistently D-ed up on Jackson a little tougher than Captain Jack prefers.

Shooting, as Bucks fans know too well, is not high priority for a Skiles team that makes constant pressure defense, forcing turnovers and strong rebounding its calling cards.  Jackson’s streaky shooting will drive Bucks fans nuts, but he’s got the defensive requisites covered.

As the Bob Boozer Jinx editorial board broke open a 30-pack of Pabst, threw some cheap-o pizzas in the oven and settled in for the NBA draft special, we came to one conclusion:  In addition to moving Maggette, who proved incapable of playing Skiles-worthy defense, the key to the deal may turn out to be …

Beno Udrih, a tall, rangy, left-handed, pass first point guard who can stick a jumper.  Udrih, who’s had some great floor games against Jennings in the last two seasons, will be slated to back up Jennings and Jackson (given Keyon Dooling’s limitations and inability to run an offense or a fast break).  The idea that he’ll be like Luke Ridnour and share the court with Jennings for some rotations, is already gathering steam in the Bucks camp.  It’s a good idea, and could prove to be explosive offensively despite the defensive limitations of the principals.  A Jennings-Udrih-Delfino-Mbah a Moute-Bogut rotation has a nice ring to it.

Udrih last season for the Kings: 13.7 pts, 4.9 assists, 1.2 steals in 34 minutes per game.   Beno shot 50% from the floor, 35.7% from downtown and 86.4 percent from the line.

As far as the Bucks go, only Ersan Ilyasova, who made 50 percent of his two-point jump shots last season and shot 89% from the line, is as reliable as Udrih from the outside.

Ersan, by the way, is still a Buck.  The rumors about the Bucks trading Ilysovsa for a draft pick haven’t panned out, as the Kings are about to announce their pick which will go to the Bobcats with Maggette.

THE DRAFT

The Bobcats at No. 7 went with Bismack Biyombo, 6-9, 245 defensive phenom with a 7-7 wingspan who dominated the 2011 18-year-old Nike Hoops Summit.  Biyombo, from the Republic of Congo, was absolutely monstrous in the paint in that game, and was a player that many Bucks fans had hoped would fall to No. 10.

Biyombo, Maggette and the Cats also have the No. 9 pick.

Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard are still on the board, as the Pistons selected Brandon Knight at No. 8.  (I would have taken Walker ahead of Knight).

Texas big forward Tristan Thompson went No. 4 to the Cavs, the surprise of the draft so far.

The Bucks have the Bobcats No. 19 pick, where they should find a decent player, possibly a center such as Nikola Vucevic or Keith Benson, possibly Donatas Motiejunas.  Marshon Brooks may even fall to No. 19, though he’s been on the rise and this doesn’t seem likely.

Michael Jordan’s haul today for the Bobcats … Corey Maggette, Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker.

Scott Skiles apologizes for 35-win season … GM Hammond plays injury card

Asked by Bucks beat writers what his message to fans was with the Bucks disappointing season coming to a close, coach Scott Skiles made an apology:

“I would apologize. Look, I’m responsible for this. I understand that. I would never run from that. It’s my responsibility to get the team to play at the highest level they can play at, and obviously I failed at that. This has been a very difficult season and it’s going to stay with me for a long time. We’re going to try and get better. Do our best to get better. For all of us, that’s not a good feeling.” — Scott Skiles’ season post-script.

Given that the Bucks by the end were just an April Fool’s Day buzzer-beater in Indiana away from the 8th playoff spot in the East, one can say that the coach’s sometimes baffling player personnel decisions are partly responsible for his team not making the playoffs.  The Bucks should be preparing for a Round 1 series with the Bulls, and, as I wrote earlier this week, it was a blown, easy opportunity to fuel the rivalry with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Chicago.

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Quote to note, GM John Hammond: “We’re just not playing pro basketball at the moment. We have injuries. Big deal. Every team has injuries. It’s getting to the point where there’s no excuse for the way we played tonight. No excuse whatsoever.” — Andrew Bogut, the Bucks 2011 nominee for Defensive Player of the Year, after one of the Bucks worst performances of the year, an 11-point Saturday night home loss Feb. 5 to coach John Kuester’s mutinous Detroit Pistons.

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Bucks GM John Hammond, in a lengthy interview aired during the final Bucks broadcast, was not in the apologetic mood that the press found Scott Skiles in at seasons end.  Hammond was anything but, in fact, as he was feisty in defending his history of winning — “I’ve always won.”  And, as expected, Hammond played the injury card.

Bucks players missed 277 total games last season, and, that of course, explains their poor record.  But not everything.

The injuries do not explain the Bucks’ Jekyll and Hyde management of them, which varied from pushing players back too soon early on to the opposite approach in the 2nd half.   The Bucks didn’t realize Brandon Jennings had a fractured foot until he had played five quarters on it, for example.  They then monitored his minutes a bit too much for his (or anybody else’s) liking when he returned.

The injuries do not explain the chemistry lost from last season due to Hammond’s offseason moves.

In particular and most importantly, the injuries do not fully explain the Bucks’ abysmal backcourt play.  Nor do the injuries change the fact that Hammond in the offseason cleared from the Bucks 2010 bench every last guard who played behind Jennings or John Salmons.

Salmons and Jennings were healthy at the same time for less than half of the season, and as a result both players struggled mightily to find an offensive groove.   Behind them, it took about half a season for the Bucks to realize that Keyon Dooling wasn’t competent to run the point.  Beyond Dooling there was the ever-entertaining, yet often-aggravating adventure that is pint-sized veteran Earl Boykins.  Other than Earl, the Bucks were forced to sign Garrett Temple to two short term contracts.  Shooting guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, acquired from New Jersey in the offseason, had some moments but rode the bench.  CD-R doesn’t think he’ll be back next year, no hard feelings.

Gone were Luke Ridnour, Royal Ivey and Jerry Stackhouse in free agency.  Gone was Charlie Bell to Golden State in the Corey Maggette deal.  Gone was Jodie Meeks to the 76ers last February in a trade for Ivey, center Primoz Brezec and a draft pick (injured Darington Hobson) who the Bucks cut in December.

Gone was any sense of backcourt continuity or bench experience with Skiles’ offensive and defensive demands.  This was painfully obvious in December and January while Jennings was sidelined with the foot fracture.

Gone was a spot in the playoffs.

The honest approach for the 2010 NBA Executive of the Year would be to own up — like Skiles did — to his share of the responsibility, but that would run against the grain of Hammond’s past practice with the press (and, by extension, the fan base); and he apparently doesn’t believe it’s in his best interest.

(It seems that I forgot all about Michael Redd, who tried unsuccessfully to mesh with Jennings/Ridnour/Bell last season. The Bucks were 12-18 in the games that Redd played.  Redd missed the first 72 games this season, but, sorry about the omission.  It does occur to me that Jennings probably thinks his GM is nuts, or, in the very least that he doesn’t care much for cohesion.)

Notes: Sixers shooting guard Meeks will be the lone member of the 2010 Bucks starting for a 2011 playoff team. … Kurt Thomas remains on the Chicago bench but seems to have lost his backup center minutes to (too lazy to look up his first name) Asik. …  Guard Ivey is the 10th man on the Thunder bench.

Kicking themselves: Bucks blew a badly needed chance to spark a rivalry with the Bulls

“… It just feels like failure,” said John Salmons this week as the Bucks prepared for the final game of a season that has, in no uncertain terms, been a failure.  For Salmons, in particular, the 2010-11 has been a long struggle to find a shooting groove and consistency within Scott Skiles’ perimeter oriented pick-and-roll offense.

Salmons, like many Bucks, played through injuries, and, though he played 73 games before it was said and done, the Fish was only healthy for half of those, and fewer still with a healthy Brandon Jennings in the backcourt.

But injuries are no excuse.  It’s almost unthinkable that this Bucks team is looking up in the standings at the 37-win Indiana Pacers, the only team in the 2011 playoffs to have fired a coach mid-season.  (One of these things is not like the others and the Pacers are it.)

A cold 4th quarter shooting here, a bad bench run there, dead-end finishes in Philly Jan. 14 and in Charlotte March 28, a defeat at the buzzer in Cleveland in November, a 6-and-10 record in their own weak division and the Bucks earned the shame of seeing the Pacers play the Bulls in the playoffs, Round One.

Weren’t the Bucks expected to be the Bulls rivals this season?

Indeed they were, and to a certain extent they still are:  Centers Andrew Bogut and Joakim Noah, the heart and soul of whatever the current Bucks-Bulls have become, aren’t going anywhere.  Brandon Jennings vs. Derrick Rose?   We’ll get back to you on that.   Scott Skiles, the coach who ran the Baby Bulls in Chicago (2003-2007) will be here for next season, according to Bucks GM John Hammond.

But for now, the failure to grab the low-hanging 8th seed in the East, thereby setting up the first Bucks-Bulls playoff series since 1990, is a painful blow to an NBA franchise in a city that seems to care less and less about its pro basketball team.  The Bucks this season needed to give its fans something, anything — and, no, a farewell to Michael Redd doesn’t qualify as “anything.”

Whatever the outcome, a Bucks-Bulls playoff would have been a nice consolation prize in the Bucks battle for NBA relevance.  No, it would not have made this season’s Bucks relevant — but a series against the Bucks’ natural rivals down I-94, boasting the certain league MVP, Rose, would have at least helped keep Milwaukee on the NBA map, a place where they’ve not often been since that Bucks-Bulls playoff series 21 years ago.

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By the 1989-90 campaign, the Bucks had traded Terry Cummings for Alvin Robertson and Sidney Moncrief was an Atlanta Hawk. The Ricky Pierce-led Bucks were a mere shadow of the Central Division leading Don Nelson teams.  Michael Jordan’s Bulls, in Jordan’s fifth season, had become contenders, though the Bad Boy Pistons in Detroit ruled the East as Larry Bird’s career waned.  Patrick Ewing patrolled the paint in New York.

The Bulls won the first round series 3-1, cementing the Del Harris era Bucks teams as playoffs also rans — same as it’s ever been in Bucks-Bulls history.  When one franchise is up, the other is down, more often than not due, in part, to the success of the other.  This was the story this year as the Bulls not only swept the Bucks 4-0 in the season series but dropped a key late season game to the Pacers in Indiana that helped the Pacers take the inside track in the race for eighth. … Same as it ever was for the Bucks and Bulls.

If the rivalry was ever bitter, it was in the early-to-mid 1970s, when the Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Bucks, realigned to the Western Conference and found Nate Thurmond (guarding Kareem at left) Bob Love, Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker and Norm Van Lier waiting for them in the Midwest Division (Thurmond would come later, in 1974-75).

As rivalries go, however, it was awfully one-sided, the Bulls unwilling patsies and annual runner-ups to the Bucks’ division dominance.  They met once in the playoffs, a four game sweep by the Bucks in the 1974 Western Conference Finals. If there was bitterness, it was all Chicago’s.  (See notes on the 1974 series from Kevin below).

From then on, the rivalry continued on its see-saw way as the Bucks rebuilt after the Kareem trade and the Sidney and Marques dominated the Central Division of the early 1980s (the firing of Jerry Sloan as Bulls coach part of that history).

In the mid-1980’s, Sidney and Terry Cummings held back the Bulls in Jordan’s early years, the Bucks finally relenting to Moncrief’s bad knees and, of course, to Jordan.

Jordan’s teams dominated the Glenn Robinson-Ray Allen Bucks in the 1990’s, while the Big Three Bucks returned the favor after Jordan left in 1998.  The Redd era Bucks were Central Division doormats while Skiles built the Baby Bulls.  In 2008 both teams were terrible.  Since then, if the Bucks were struggling, the Bulls were on a roll; if Rose had a bad ankle, Andrew Bogut was leading the Bucks into the playoffs.

This season, more of the same.  MVP-in-waiting Derrick Rose and his Bulls rocketed to the top of the Eastern Conference while the Bucks were only as good as a one-armed Andrew Bogut and sophomore-slumping Brandon Jennings could make them.  Too often, that wasn’t very good.  The Bucks won 28, lost 37 in games Bogut played.  Yet they had their chances.

And same as it ever was, this rivalry with the Bulls that seems like such a natural for the Bucks, will have to wait another year.

Only this time, the looming NBA lockout may make the wait longer.

Milwaukee Bucks Weekend: Still not taking lesser opponents seriously, despite having become one

The Bucks came into this season with a certain swagger, a pinache that comes with a brash, electric young point guard who had won in his rookie year, with the return of an All-NBA center, with new additions to an improving, young core, and with high expectations.  They expected to power teams out of the gym.

It hasn’t happened very often, partly because the swagger still hadn’t been earned, the All-NBA center was playing with a dead right arm, and there was a game or two, or three or more, despite the mounting losses, in which the Bucks seemed to be taking their “lesser opponents” lightly.

In the heat of a race for the last, ignoble playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks on Wednesday night did it again in a dreadful, uninspired and unanticipated 97-90 loss at home to the Sacramento Kings.

After the game, the electrifying, brash, poor-shooting young point guard, Brandon Jennings, looked at the upcoming weekend against the Knicks in New York on Friday and the Bulls in Milwaukee on Saturday, and assured that there would be no energy shortage.

“I think when we play teams that are higher than us, we show up better.  Playing against a team like Sacramento is kind of difficult because they have nothing to lose. Those are games you’ve got to come in there mentally tough.   When you know you’re playing against the Knicks and Chicago Bulls, you kind of get up for those games.”  LINK HERE to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.

The Bucks are 28-42 and three games behind the Pacers, two on the loss side.  Yet, as crazy as it sounds, they really don’t take many of their opponents as seriously as they should.

Melo say “RELAX”

The Knicks don’t have to win, and maybe that’s part of the reason why they’ve struggled since the last time they played the Bucks in New York — Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups‘ Feb. 23 debut, a hard fought 114-108 victory for the new Knicks.

Fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth in the East — what’s the difference to the Knicks?  They’ve proven no match for the Bulls, Celtics, Heat or Magic, locks for the top four spots.  Carmelo apparently realizes this, and wants his teammates to “relax and have fun” during this time of transition.

Making the new chemistry even more challenging for the Knicks — their brutal 18-game March schedule is taking its toll.  “Fatigue,” not “fun” was the word of the day after the Knicks lost to Orlando in NY Wednesday.

The Bucks have to win, but still don’t feel an urgency to play well against teams like the Sacramento Kings.   It adds an interesting dichotomy to tonight’s Bucks-Knicks game in New York, the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season.

The Bucks won two of the first three games.

In the Feb. 23 game, Knicks fans were treated to a gutsy, Chauncey Billups classic, as the veteran point guard did all the little things that Jennings didn’t, ran a clinic on how to close quarters, hit his usual quota of clutch shots and controlled the game.  Carmelo shot … and shot … and shot … 25 times, making just 10 as the Bucks, led by John Salmons (27 pts) on a rare good shooting night this season, nearly spoiled ‘Melo’s big debut … until Billups (and hot-shooting Toney Douglas) saved the day.

Since that game, the Bucks have been the better team, winning 6 of 13 while the Knicks record is 6-10 and they are losers of four straight.  Included in those ten losses are two to the Pacers March 13 and 15 that gave Indiana life in their quest for the playoffs.

It seems that Carmelo’s struggles to mesh with his new teammates and the ball-wheeling Mike D’Antoni system in New York are inexorably linked to the Bucks playoffs hopes.  It should also be noted that Carmelo’s last game as a Nugget was played in Milwaukee, a nationally televised slugfest Feb. 16 that ended with the Nuggets on top, 94-87.

The Bucks beat the Knicks in Milwaukee Sunday, 110-95, with Carlos Delfino shooting the lights out (30 pts, 8-11 on threes) and Salmons turning in his second straight efficient scoring night (22 pts).

Indeed, the Bucks are part of New York’s woes of late, just as the Knicks troubles have hurt the Bucks playoff chances.

And, yes, the Bucks need to win tonight’s rematch in New York much more than the Knicks do.

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Michael Redd is not expected to play in New York.  He at first said he wanted to play “Friday or Saturday” but before the Kings game coach Scott Skiles said the soonest Redd would be active was Saturday.

“That’s (Saturday) what we’re shooting for now. We’ll see. It’s the same type of situation. When they determine he’s ready to go, we’ll activate him and we’ll see.”

Of course, Skiles said the same thing about big forward Drew Gooden, who was activated before the Kings game but was left sitting on the bench.

Settling for Jump Shots: The Skiles system and the Bucks on-court decisions in the pick and roll analyzed

John Salmons, looking for better options than his jump shot.

Basketball Prospectus this week published a great analysis of the Bucks offensive tendencies, commonly referred to these days as “the Bucks offensive woes.”

LINK to Basketball Prospectus article “The Bucks Stop There.”

It’s no secret that Bucks GM John Hammond and his coach, Scott Skiles, have not made good shooting a roster priority and have either traded away (Jodie Meeks) or let go (Luke Ridnour) of the decent shooters the Bucks did have.  But given this well known deficiency, why do the Bucks so often insist on settling for jump shots?

And why is the Skiles offense determined to result in spot-up jumpshots?

According the Basketball Prospectus analysis, the Bucks run plays that result in spot-up jumpers 23.4 % of the time — 2nd in the NBA.  That’s incredible given the lack of shooting on the roster.  The Bucks make 38.4 % of their spot up jumpers — 22nd in the league.

That’s “not good enough to justify taking the shots,” the article notes.  Yet that’s what the Skiles offense dictates, just as it did during his four-plus seasons coaching in Chicago, when the Bulls offense featured Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni.  The Bucks, unfortunately, don’t shoot as well as those former Bulls, not here in Milwaukee, and not prior to joining the Bucks.

Brandon Jennings, we learn, isn’t as horrible running the pick and roll as some perceive.  He’s actually “average” – delivering 91 points per 100 possessions coming off ball screens and shooting 41.8% out of the pick and roll — not great, but average in the NBA, according to Basketball Prosepectus.

John Salmons, on the other hand, has been as bad as perceived this season.  When he’s settling for jumpers off the dribble on ball screens, he’s scoring a meek 75.5 points per 100 possessions and shooting a god-awful 33.3 percent.  This is both by offensive design (Skiles and Boylan) and player choice (Salmons).

Were Salmons to simply become “average” shooting off of ball screens, he would have to hit about one more shot per game than he normally makes.  That’s two points, three if it’s from Downtown, where he has continued to shoot well; it’s his jump-shooting inside the arc that seems to have left him.  The Bucks have needed more than a three-point bump from Salmons to win, so, ideally, what the team needs him to do is stop settling for jumpers off the pick and roll and take it to the rim.

In the paint, Salmons stands a much better chance of generating the 4 or 5 points per game — either by scoring, drawing fouls and defenders, or opening up weak side rebounding opportunities for the Bucks front court — that the Bucks need to get over the top in these games down the stretch.

Up to this point, Salmons as been settling for the jump shot off the ball screen 78% of the time.  That’s OK if you’re Ray Allen and shooting 50 percent from the floor and 46.6 percent from 3-point-land (yes, those are his current shooting numbers in Miami) but it’s clearly not what the 2011 Bucks need now from Salmons.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE, and I hope you do. It’s well worth the read and includes play-by-play video to illustrate the Bucks’ offensive tendencies.

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Salmons, Delfino on fire against the Nets

With Bogut still struggling with offensive efficiency and needing more arm surgery in the off-season, the Bucks in their game tonight at the BC against the Nets needed a smart floor game from point guard Brandon Jennings and some efficient offense from their top scoring options, Salmons and Carlos Delfino.

They got it.   Jennings had eight assists and one turnover in 40 minutes.  Salmons and Delfino shot the lights out, rippling the nets with a combined 20 of 29 shooting and 51 points.  Delfino shot 8-11 from downtown and led the scoring with 26.

The game wasn’t televised in Milwaukee, but we know that 13 of Salmons’ 16 shots were from inside the arc, a good sign for a Bucks offense that has desperately needed smart shot selection and efficient offense to stay in the playoff hunt.

The Bucks stay home to play the Knicks Sunday afternoon.

Corey Maggette trade murmurs and John Salmons bombs from the Land of Ray and Reggie

With the first ever Packers-Bears NFC Championship on tap Sunday, few heads in cheesehead-land are wrapped around the goings-on of the Milwaukee Bucks.  This is not necessarily a bad thing considering the Bucks are ten games under .500, 12 games behind the Bulls and only a half game ahead of the hapless Pistons in 10th place.

Center Andrew Bogut‘s health continues to be an issue, team chemistry issues won’t go away, and, in a hapless effort in Houston on Martin Luther King Day, the Bucks lost their 10th game in the absence of injured Brandon Jennings (left foot fracture).

The Bucks looked dead in Houston, listless, out of gas, hungover, out-of-sync, bewildered.  If nothing else, they miss Jennings’ relentless energy even when shooting 5 for 16.

Tonight the Bucks are at the Bradley Center against rookie John Wall, coach Scott Skiles’ old protoge, Kirk Hinrich, Rashard Lewis, Nick Young and the Wizards. Perhaps Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will be in usual seat courtside, perhaps not.  If watching the Bucks lose at the BC has become part of Rodgers’ ritual of pregame preparation, it is most definitely working.

And if Bucks trade rumors are swirling around in winter Wisconsin, nobody is paying much attention.  The Carmelo-to-New-Jersey deal breaks down. Life in Packerland goes on. The Bucks beat the Wizards 100-87 while the Sixers and Pacers lose, and the Bucks are just a game out of the 7th playoff spot.  Packers-Bears kickoff is at 2 p.m. Central, Sunday.

There has been, however, one solid, honest-t0-Gooden Bucks related lead on the trade rumor mill:

Corey Maggette’s name has surfaced on the Dallas Mavericks “radar” in their search to replace forward Caron Butler, who popped the ligaments in his knee New Years Day in Milwaukee and is finished for the season. Butler says he plans to be back in time for the playoffs but the Mavs have been canvassing the league for small forward scoring.

ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher mentioned in a (Jan. 13) Thursday night visit with 103.3 FM’s Ian Fitzsimmons that the Mavs and Bucks have discussed Maggette’s availability. Maggette, though, is even more expensive than [Stephen] Jackson, with more than $21 million left on his contract through 2012-13 after this season. Jackson is likewise a far better fit with his ability to stretch the floor, passing eye, defensive ability and proven toughness. If Philadelphia’s younger and more versatile Andre Iguodala is too expensive, Maggette is way too expensive for what he can deliver.

OK, so Maggette’s probably a bad idea for the Mavs, in light of the availability of the Bobcats’ Jackson and Detroit’s readiness to part ways with Tayshaun Prince.  Then there’s Melo, with Dallas no longer quite the longshot in the sweepstakes that they were before the Nets nixed the deal. Apparently.

But not to be so easily discouraged by ESPN, the Bucks moved Maggette into the starting lineup Monday in Houston and Maggette scored 25 in a season-high 38 minutes.  The Mavs big need sans Butler is offense. “We Have Offense!” Maggette and the Bucks showcased in Houston.

The Mavs would prefer a good long range shooter who can create his own offense without getting in Dirk Nowitzki’s way.  That’s what Butler (15 pts per game, 48.7% efg, a career-high 43% from behind the arc) gave them.  That’s not Maggette, a career 32% three-point shooter whose m.o. is to commandeer the ball, take it to the hoop head-down and look for a foul.  32% from Downtown?  Maggette hasn’t shot above the 26% he’s currently shooting for the Bucks since he left the Warriors in 2008.

And until this season in Milwaukee, Maggette has never been accused of being anything but indifferent to defense, much less playoff intensity defense.  This is where Jackson and Detroit’s Prince become the preferred options for Dallas.

But is Stephen Jackson really the shot-creator — I should say “the shot maker” — the Mavs are looking for?  Jackson’s playoff experience in recent years has been limited to four losses against the Orlando Magic last season — four games in which he shot 35% and needed 20+ opportunities to get his 18 points per game.   Things would open up for Jackson with Dirk commanding double teams, but he’s still not a highly efficient scorer who changes a game in the playoffs. In Charlotte, he’s more the guy the Bobcats play through on the wing. In Dallas, that’s Dirk in the high post.

If Jackson’s not the guy, the Mavs don’t have to look far to find a player who fits their needs to a Texas T.  He’s right next to Maggette in the Bucks current starting lineup, and is less expensive than any of the forwards ESPN has mentioned on the Mavs radar:   John Salmons.

The Fish, it should be famously remembered, came to Chicago in a trade from Sacramento in 2009 and filled in at small forward for injured Luol Deng during the Bulls end-of-season 2009 playoff run. Salmons then shocked — and thrilled — the basketball gods by gunning the Bulls into a Game 7 against the Celtics, scoring 35 clutch points in the classic triple-overtime Game 6 in Chicago.  In that series, he guarded Paul Pierce.

After the Bulls traded Salmons to the Bucks last February, he did it again as the Bucks finished 22-8 and pushed heavily favored (and strangely out of focus) Atlanta to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.  In Games 3, 4 and 5, Salmons averaged 21 on a remarkably efficient 12.3 shots (shooting 18-19 from the line) and won his battle with Hawk All-Star guard, 6′-7″ Joe Johnson on both ends of the floor.

The edge that Salmons gave the Bucks in his matchup with Johnson enabled the Bucks, playing without injured All-Pro center Andrew Bogut, to a 3-2 series lead.  No, the Bucks didn’t win the series, but that’s the kind of edge the Mavs are looking for.

Salmons, like Jackson, is a proven 18 ppg scorer, but doesn’t require the volume of shots Jackson takes to do it.  Unlike Jackson, he’s a legitimate 3-point gunner, shooting over 40% in his last 197 NBA games, dating back to the start of the 2008-09 season in Sacramento (He’s currently shooting 42% from three).  Mark Cuban,  have you looked at Jackson’s shooting numbers? If 33% from 3-point line (Jackson’s career average and also what he’s shot in the last three seasons) can be deemed “ability to stretch the floor” in the eyes of ESPN analysts, what does 40 percent give you?

Salmons fits the Mavs other prerequisites arguably as well, if not better, than Jackson. He’s 6′-6″ and plays tough, playoff-ready defense, has ability to guard forwards (Johnson and Pierce), and he moves the ball well (3.1 assists per game).  Defensively, he did about as well as one could expect guarding Kobe Bryant in the Bucks win against the Lakers in Los Angeles last month, and he’s rugged enough to keep Ron Artest occupied.  Against the Spurs, Salmons’ natural matchup is forward Richard Jefferson, but he’s good to have around when relief is needed against Ginobili or Parker.  Kevin Durant?  Jackson might have the edge there but then, this move by the Mavs is primarily about playoff-tested offense, isn’t it?

Salmons has the edge in cost, at least over the next three years — $8 million this year, $8.5 million next year, 5 yrs – $33.16 million guaranteed, only $1 million in the final year. Jackson: 3 years – $27.77 million. Butler’s contract is a $10.56 expiring, which works straight up for Jackson but not for Salmons, which the Bucks and Mavs would have to work out.

Drew Gooden (5 yrs – $32 million) was a Mav for 46 games last season before being traded to the Wizards as part of the deal that brought Butler to Dallas. Dallas owner Cuban on Gooden:

“Damp [Erick Dampier] is having problems with his knees and requires rest every now and then, and we were in a spot without having a shot-blocker behind him. Drew did a great job. He laid it out there every game for us to try to fill in. Going into the season we thought that would work, and it just didn’t play out as planned.”

Gooden would add to the Mavs frontline scoring depth behind Tyson Chandler (who’s knees are fine) and Dirk.  Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson were also part of that trade with the Wizards.  Haywood, a true center, may have become expendable in Dallas.

If the Mavs realize that it’s John Salmons they really want, and not Maggette or Jackson — then it’s up to Bucks GM John Hammond to decide which of the deals he made last summer — signing Salmons and Gooden, trading for Maggette — were mistakes. I know, that’s asking quite a lot.

With Carlos Delfino planning to return to practice today and Maggette, Salmons, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Luc Mbah a Moute all vying for playing time, Hammond’s got to come to some decisions before the All-Star break.

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Good luck trading Drew Gooden.  It’s not easy finding a team that might be interested in Bucks big forward Drew Gooden, who’s slowing down considerably as he nears 10-year veteran status.  Now ol’ Drew is telling the world that his plantar fasciitis and bad heel are hurting so bad that he can’t jump. Hard to find a taker for a 5-year-$32 million, immobile big man who can’t jump.  Dallas?  Orlando?

“radar” in their search to replace forward Caron Butler, who

Steve Blake should write this Earl Boykins headline

I’m pouring over my ponderous analyses into what the Bucks can and won’t and might possibly do over the next 4-6 weeks to fill the void created by Brandon Jennings‘ fractured left foot — in hopes of finding some sliver of foresight into the great and mystical Lakers-destroying powers of the Bucks’ 5-foot-5, 135-pound, 3rd-string point guard, EARL BOYKINS.

Boykins scored 22 pts in 26 mins, hitting 4 of 5 three-pointers (8-for-12 shooting overall) as the Bucks shocked the Lakers in Los Angeles 98-79, holding the defending champs to 13 points in the 4th quarter while Earl bombed away from 3-point-land.

Boykins was the difference, a game changing advantage off the Bucks bench that not Kobe, Gasol nor Artest and could overcome, much less Steve Blake, the Lakers backup point guard, who happens to be the only player ever traded for Boykins in Earl’s 12-season, 10-team NBA career.

Nope.  I’ve hardly mentioned Boykins this week in the wake of the Bucks’ announcement that Jennings would miss a month or more.  I wrote that Boykins was “too, too short to guard anybody in the NBA,” grumbled about the point guards Bucks GM John Hammond let slip away and then spilled about 500 words mulling over the Bucks point-forward possibilities. “For the most part, it’s incumbent on Keyon Dooling to step up” in the absence of Jennings, I wrote.  Brilliant stuff, wasn’t it?

In my defense, I did describe Boykins as “electrifying” — but failed to even mention in that context that the Bucks had once traded Blake to Denver for Boykins (and Julius Hodge) for Earl’s electrifying entertainment value.  The Bucks were tanking in 2007;  Blake was set to become a free agent at the end of the season and had very little interest in playing for Milwaukee.   Michael Redd wasn’t going to play, coach Terry Stotts was about to be fired and then-GM Larry Harris figured he might as well give Bucks fans a mighty mite scoring machine to watch the rest of the season.  Blake was shipped to Denver; Boykins to Milwaukee.  Harris didn’t offer Boykins a new contract in the summer.  Blake signed with the Trailblazers, the team the Bucks had acquired him from (in a 2006 off-season trade for Jamal Magliore).

When the Bucks picked the 34-year-old Boykins up off the NBA scrap heap this summer, Andrew Bogut and Ersan Ilyasova were all that was left of the 2007 Bucks, effectively making the Scott Skiles Bucks the 10th NBA team Boykins has played for in 12 seasons.

It was all too fitting last night that Blake — again, the only player ever traded for Boykins — was the Laker most often found chasing Boykins around the Staples Center.  Blake — who didn’t score in the game — didn’t fare so well, obviously, and by the time the Lakers subbed Derrick Fisher back in for the stretch, Boykins was  was on fire, shooting guard John Salmons was in a groove and the Bucks were out-strong-arming the Lakers amid a game-clinching 22-7 run.

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YAHOO’S BUCKS-LAKERS PHOTO GALLERY (from AP).  You’ll want to hit that link before yahoo moves it or zaps me for licensing no-nos.  — AP photographer Jeff Gross reveals with 44 photos the tale of a gritty, determined Bucks team refusing to back down from the Lakers, finally breaking the will of the champs in an 4th quarter.  Gross’ camera zooms in on Andrew Bogut‘s scowling matchup with Lakers’ center Pau Gasol and gives a shot-by-shot narrative of Kobe Bryan’t ejection from the game.  Content Warning: Graphic grimacing, ugly defense, sweat.

Here’s a sample — feel free to insert your own captions below.  Please.

Bogut and Gasol waged a titanic battle, the first half going to Bogut (11 points) as the Bucks successfully established AB’s post game.  Gasol struggled all night to score against the NBA’s 3rd-rated defender as Bogut effectively shut down Gasol as a Lakers first option.  But Bogut repeatedly left Gasol to help on Laker drives and Pau cleaned 7 off the offensive glass to finish with 15 pts and 11 rebs.  Bogut matched his 15  and grabbed 8 rebs, also blocking two shots and taking a late charge on Kobe Bryant that led to Kobe’s ejection.

Dancing big men: In a play that was typical of Gasol’s struggles against AB (the photo at left) Gasol dribbled into Bogut, found his path impeded, stopped, carried the ball as he kept his dribble and tried to force is way around Bogut.  No call was made and the Lakers ended the possession turning it over anyway — but it got coach Skiles off the bench barking at the officials for not whistling Gasol for the carry.

Not surprisingly, the Bucks 98-79 blowout of the Lakers’this week has been largely attributed to the Lakers lack of energy and focus, especially with ESPN pointing all eyes to the Lakers’ marquee Christmas Day showdown with the Heat.  That’s too bad, because the Lakers reported “lack of interest” wasn’t all that evident watching the game live.  They may have “gone through the motions” but isn’t that what the Lakers do until the 4th quarter?  It usually results in a win (after the requisite Kobe highlights) and it’s what they’ve done all season against the softest schedule in the NBA.

The Lakers opponent Tuesday night, the 10-and-16 Bucks, had played the league’s toughest schedule and battled the elite of the West even tougher.  A week before the Lakers game, the Bucks beat the Mavs in Dallas and came within a traveling-on-Manu no-call at the buzzer of forcing overtime in San Antonio.  There was much going into the Bucks-Lakers matchup that had nothing to do with the Lakers state of mind.  Here’s some of it.

1) The Bucks’ pride had been wounded the night before in Portland (a 106-80 loss).  Even without injured point guard Brandon Jennings, there’s talent in the Bucks core.  Center Andrew Bogut is an All-Pro, shooting guard John Salmons a proven 20-point per game scorer, Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute two young, hustling, hard-nosed forwards who’ve won more than they’ve lost for coach Scott Skiles.  These days, the Bucks core is desperate to prove that last season’s 46 wins were no fluke.  They played with urgency, hunger — and it’s not as though Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and Matt Barnes off the bench, didn’t.  Media heard nothing from an angry Bryant postgame, and Gasol and Odom weren’t exactly running to the microphones and tape recorders either.

2) The Bucks D, currently rated 6th in the NBA, was solid all night, as stingy as it’s ever been in the 4th quarter as Skiles relied on his core — Bogut, Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute and Salmons — and Boykins.  Bogut had Lakers center Gasol harnessed most of the game, Ilyasova wore down ailing Lamar Odom, who was less and less a factor in the 2nd half, and Mbah a Moute and Salmons’ defense on Kobe was about as good as it gets.  Mbah a Moute, who lives in L.A. and is an off-season friend of Bryant, put on a defensive clinic against his mentor on five or six consecutive possessions in the 4th — and the refs set new Bucks-Lakers precedent by letting them play.  Unfortunately, the clinic didn’t make the highlight reel.  Derrick Fisher and Ron Artest were offensive non-factors — negatives, in fact; and  nobody on the Lakers bench cut loose for a big scoring night, as Shannon Brown did Nov. 16 in Milwaukee.

3) The foul story. The refs whistled more fouls on the Lakers (19) than on the Bucks (18).  That’s unheard of — indeed new precedent for the Skiles Bucks and Phil Jackson-Kobe-Gasol Lakers.  Not coincidentally, Skiles recorded his first win as Bucks coach against Jackson and the Lakers.

4) Bogut, Salmons and Ilyasova. Bogut was a better center than Gasol last night, no big surprise to anybody who’s been paying attention to the Bucks and Bogut since last season. His post-up offense in the first half (11 pts) set the tone — and the stage — for the Bucks upset, and while Gasol scored 15 the Lakers’ offense bogged down repeatedly when the ball went to Gasol posting up against Bogut.

Ilyasova is a rising young power forward in the league who — despite a rough start and an early-season benching by Skiles — has successfully locked horns with the likes of Paul Millsap, Kevin Garnett and now Odom, who’s off to one of his best starts in years.  Odom took it right at the Ilyasova eary in the game for six driving points but forgot to guard Ilyasova’s jumper or block Ersan off the boards.  By halftime, Ilyasova had 13 pts.  By the 4th quarter, Ersan was beating Odom to the glass.  By the final minutes, Odom was resorting to cheap shot fouls on the last of Ilyasova’s 11 rebounds.  Odom finished with 12 pts, 10 rebs. Ersan had 17 and 11.

It can’t be said that Salmons outplayed Kobe, and he had defensive help from Mbah a Moute — but Salmons won the offensive efficiency battle.  Salmons had 20 pts, 6 assists and 2 turnovers.  Kobe had 21 pts on 9-16 shooting but turned it over 4 times and dished for only 2 assists, less than half his play-making average.

At the end of the game, the box score read:  52 pts, 22 rebs, 11 assists and 9 turnovers for Bogut, Ilyasova and Salmons;  to 48 pts, 24 rebs, 10 assists and 9 tos for Gasol, Odom and Kobe.   It looks nearly dead even until you look at the shots taken board — 48 shots for the Lakers to 42 for the Bucks, adjusted for free throw attempts, of course.  That’s a ten-point advantage to Bogut, Ilyasova and Salmons even if the Bucks were shooting 35% — which they weren’t.

With Boykins (4-for-5) and starting point guard Keyon Dooling (2-for-4) shooting a combined 6-of-9 from the Land of Ray and Reggie, the Lakers needed either a Christmas stocking full of big shots from the supporting cast or help from the refs to stay in this game. They got neither.

5) The supporting casts. The Lakers bench, playing against a shorthanded Bucks crew, kept them in the game until early in the 4th quarter, then faltered when the Bucks reserves found a higher energy and intensity gear.  Blake didn’t score in the game.  Shannon Brown disappeared in the 2nd half.   Ron Artest and Derrick Fisher shot a combined 3-for-13 and basically killed the Lakers chances.   Boykins looked ten years younger dribbling circles around 36-year-old Fisher, and Fisher’s strong arm tactics, which might have deterred a younger Earl Boykins, couldn’t slow the 34-year-old Boykins.  Fisher’s usefulness to this Lakers team has got to be nearing its expiration date.

Salmons and Mbah a Moute weren’t about to be physically intimidated by Artest, though Chris Douglas-Roberts was relegated to a quiet 20 mins.  A quiet game for Ron-Ron — but not so out of the ordinary.  He’s had a lot of those in his career.  Both Fisher and Artest generally suffered from the lack of ball movement created by Kobe and Gasol.

6) John Salmons. Fish has found water.  As stupid as that metaphor sounds, it’s a huge relief for the Bucks to have Salmons back to  last season’s 20-pts-per-game form, when the Bucks finished the season 22-8.  Salmons’ shooting woes have helped sink the Bucks to their 11-16 record, and they’re still dead last in NBA shooting percentage.  Yet Salmons lit the Blazers up for 23 pts in the 2nd half Monday and scored an active 20 on 14 shots in LA Tuesday.  The Bucks 40% shooting can’t possibly endure statistical probability, and neither could Salmons’ prolonged slump.

7) The absence of Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden. Maggette, who suffered a concussion last week against the Spurs, was in street clothes on the Bucks bench, hopefully taking notes on the good ball movement and offensive flow that the Bucks had going against the Lakers.  Gooden was in Milwaukee, still suffering from plantar fasciitis in his left foot.  Chemistry has been an issue with the Bucks this season.  As harsh as it sounds, one has to wonder whether the Bucks fourth quarter would have been possible with either of the new acquisitions on the court.

Skiles has been loathe to play Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova together — yet doing so in LA helped lock the Bucks into an aggressive, attacking defense that not even Kobe Bryant could solve.  Chances are that fourth quarter defense would not have happened had Skiles had Gooden or Maggette at his disposal.  And it’s doubtful the Bucks would have exploited Boykins’ hot hand as well as they did given how much Maggette and Gooden demand the ball, sometimes for reasons apparent only to them.  Ersan and Luc played a combined 60:30 — possibly unprecedented — and the Bucks don’t win without them.

8.) The Ersanity Factor. The 11-16 Bucks are now 7-6 when Skiles plays Ersan Ilyasova half the game (24 mins) or more.  Ilyasova played 33 mins in LA.

9) The Lakers. It’s useful to remember that the Lakers were seriously challenged by the Suns in the Western Conference Finals last season, and were more than a little lucky that Artest played the game of his life in Game 7 to beat the Celtics in the Finals (Kendrick Perkins’ injury in Game 6 also duly noted).  Kobe’s Lakers are far from invincible, and never were as good as ESPN — and certainly not Lakers fans — have made them out to be.  Over time — and perhaps as soon as the Christmas Day showdown with the Heat — this loss to the Bucks will look less and less like “a trap game” in which the Lakers “went through the motions,” and more and more like a game in which an up-and-coming young team was tougher — mentally and physically — than a fading champion.

10) The Lakers “deserved to lose.” That’s a post-game quote from Fisher, and I can’t argue with it.  The underrated and shorthanded Bucks, for one night, were the better team.  And 5′-5″ Earl Boykins was better, much better than Derrick Fisher and Steve Blake.