Tag Archives: Ray Allen

Dwyane Wade is freezing and Ray Allen is shooting

Twitter highlights from the Miami Heat’s visit to Milwaukee for tonights game:

This from Dwyane Wade:

Back in Milwaukee. I can’t believe it’s been 10yrs since my days playing here. WoW..it’s still freezing tho. http://instagr.am/p/T1nNrglCFO/ 

 

And it appears that Heat gunner James Jones is now joining Ray Allen’s pregame shooting rituals.  This cannot be good for the Bucks tonight, or the rest of the NBA.   A tweet from Bucks p.r. …

Ray Allen and James Jones warm up before#MILvMIA @ BMO Harris Bradley Centerhttp://instagr.am/p/T1tbwnDdcf/

 

Scott Skiles’ starting rotation shooting the Bucks in the foot

Coming off a big overtime win in Boston and facing the 5-23 Cavaliers at the Bradley Center BMO Harris BMO Harris Bradley Center, a 15-11 record heading into the three-day X-mas break looked pretty good for the Bucks.   But not after the starters shot less than 38% and repeatedly dumped the Bucks into a 10-then-20 point hole that the bench couldn’t dig out of.

If the opening tip five against Cleveland are to be coach Scott Skiles’ starters the rest of the way, get used to nights like Saturday.   As a group they are one of the worst — if not the worst — shooting group currently starting in the NBA.

Skiles’ current starting lineup — Brandon Jennings and Monte Ellis, with forwards Marquis Daniels and Luc Mbah a Moute, and center Larry Sanders — would be dead last in the NBA in shooting, were the 7 wins-20 losses Charlotte Bobcats not shooting worse.  (See NBA season summary).

The Bucks starters combined are shooting an effective 45.3% on the season (587.5 out of 1297), adjusting up for three-pointers made.  (The Bucks by the way are 28th in the league from downtown, hitting just 31.9%.)

The rest of the team is misfiring too, though not so much since Ersan Ilyasova has resurrected to find his jumper.  They’re at 47.4% effectively, slightly better than the team % of the Memphis Grizzlies.  Ilyasova’s percentage has climbed out of the 25% range and is heading toward 50%.

The dud Saturday against Cleveland was actually accomplished with cold-shooting Monta Ellis on a good night, going 15 of 27 and shooting an effective 59.3% – only the second time this season Ellis has hit that mark.

Ellis shoots more than anybody in the league with the exception of Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook, while posting career-lows in field goal and 3-point-%.   Monta’s never been good from 3-point-land, but the 20.9% he’s shooting this season is horrific. And those latest stats include two good shooting games by Ellis against the Celtics and Cavs.

There is no “shooting guard” in the NBA playing more than 30 mins per game who shoots worse than Monta  (See HoopData sorted stats by position).

Point guard shooting percentages being what they are (generally lower), only the Knicks J.R. Smith joins Ellis as a “shooting guard” in the bottom ten.  And remember, Ellis is firing away at a rate topped only Kobe and Russell Westbrook.

But this isn’t all about Monta Ellis or Jennings.   Compounding matters is that Skiles starts Ellis with forwards Luc Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels, two defensive minded players not known for sticking shots.  Moute and Daniels are both below 48% career eFG%, under the league average of 48.8% this year.

Skiles has done this, he says, because he wants to start games with stronger D — defying the expectations of Bucks fans that Ilyasova and Moute would finally get a chance to start together and bring some chemistry to Skiles’ ever-changing rotations — and  it’s not as though Ilyasova’s a slouch on defense.

One could argue — I suppose — that with good-shooting Beno Udrih still out with a right ankle injury, Skiles is looking for some balance off the bench, where Mike Dunleavy could use Ersan’s scoring help.

But if this is an attempt at balance by Skiles, it’s being lost brick by brick with a starting lineup that isn’t supposed to shoot well because they never have.   The  tip-off five needs a shooter, and Ilyasova’s shot is coming back around to where it was last season.

So the obvious answer is to move Ilyasova back into the starting lineup and see if the Bucks can ween themselves off their dependency on Ellis, who shoots too much for the team’s good — but will keep on shooting unless there is a reliable alternative on the court.   Right now, there’s just no such alternative in the Bucks starting 5, and the Bucks might as well make some effort to get a payoff out of the $7.9 million a year investment they made in Ersan.

A Bucks-Celtics note:  Skiles has played Ilyasova starters’ minutes (29.4 per game) in the four games against the Celtics, three of them victories.  Good matchups for Ersan?  Or a trend?  We shall see.  

Thieves:  Brandon Jennings trails only Chris Paul and Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley in steals per game.  The Bucks continue to be a Top 5 team in forcing turnovers while being 6th in the league at not turning the ball over.  They’re getting two more possessions per game than their opponents.

Larry!  Larry!:  Larry Sanders is leading the NBA in blocked shots per game (3.1) and is No. 1 in defensive rating, a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions that a player is on the floor.   Larry’s 93.4 points allowed per 100 is one point better than Tim Duncan’s and 1.3 better than Pacers center Roy Hibbert.

Ray in Miami:  There’s still mucho love for Ray Allen in Milwaukee, but they surely like him more in Miami these days.   Ray’s staking his claim to “The Best Shooter in Basketball” crown, leading all guards and forwards in Effective Shooting percentage (eFG%).  Ray’s  a 61 percent shooter, behind only Knicks center Tyson Chandler.   Ray’s the only non- center in the top 5.

Lebron James, meanwhile, is a surprising 6th in the NBA with a 58.1% effective shooting, as the MVP is having a career shooting year inside and outside the 3-point arc.   The extra room and better spacing James gets with Ray on the floor is certainly partly responsible for this — as are the added offensive smarts a team gets with Ray — but most of the credit goes to James himself.  He’s playing more post-up than in the past, he’s hitting his threes and his shot selection is the best its ever been.

James is also having a career rebounding year, grabbing 8.5 boards per game.

Before the trip West: Five Bucks appear on NBA leader boards; Bucks re-establish Top 5 team defensive rating

Happy New Year!   And welcome to 2012 on behalf of the editorial board at The Bob Boozer Jinx, most of whom are still sleeping off last night’s hilarity, events made possible by the board’s decision to handcuff me to the steering wheel of an alcohol-detecting cab and make me drive them around all night.  They’re not responsible for any of the gunfire you might have heard at midnight.

The Bucks had this weekend to themselves, getting ready for a five-games-in-seven-days trip west, which begins Monday night with the familiar Mountain-Time, Denver-Utah back-to-back and takes them to Sacramento and L.A. (Clippers) before wrapping up in Phoenix next Sunday.  It probably doesn’t need to be said that, in this lockout-shortened season, the Bucks (2-1) need to gut out at least two wins on this rough road and come home no worse than 4-4.

There’s no time like the outset of this trip to check the NBA leader board and see where our Bucks landed after Week One.  The good news is that the Bucks are again among the league leaders in defense, led by Andrew Bogut; and that they’re rankings on the offensive end aren’t half bad.  (NBA LEADER BOARD and SUMMARY).

Consider this an early touch-point blog of sorts.  I’ll check back to measure progress (or lack thereof) after the trip.

TEAM DEFENSE:  The Bucks — so far — have maintained their 2011 Top 5 defense despite new additions Mike Dunleavy, Jr., and Beno Udrih, guys hardly known for tenacious D.  Entering Sunday’s games, the Bucks ranked 2nd, giving up just 95.2 points per 100 possessions. 

(Find the season summary here – scroll down for the “Miscellaneous Stats” where you’ll find offense and defense ratings, turnover percentages and other pace-adjusted stats).

The Bucks rank 3rd in defensive field goal percentage, holding oppenents below 40% (39.8).  In Week One, they were the 2nd-best “effective field goal percentage” defense behind the Lakers (efg% accounts for the points on made 3-pointers).

The Bucks rank 4th in forcing turnovers, getting one 16.7% of the time, which means the Bobcats, T-wolves and Wizards turned it over once every six possessions.  That’s remarkably sloppy opponent offense, but also a key element to the Skiles constant pressure, in-your-grill, man-to-man defense.  It’s designed to force mistakes, not necessarily steals.

The Bucks defensive rebounding rate is in the toilet (22nd in NBA), as the Bucks are controlling just 71.4% of available opponent misses.  We can thank the T-Wolves and Bobcats for that.  Just a bad start for a strong rebounding team or a sign of things to come?  When in doubt blame Kevin Love.

TEAM OFFENSE:  The Bucks rank 16th in offense, tied with the Raptors, scoring 103.2 points per 100 possessions.  Not half bad and a major improvement over last season when they were dead last.

Shooting:  The Bucks are 14th in shooting percentage (45%) but 19th in 3-point shooting (30.5% – ouch) for an effective field goal ranking of 16th (48.6%).

The biggest change for the Bucks is paceLast season the Bucks were 25th in the league, running less than 90 possessions per game.  After Week One they were 6th, pushing the pace to 95.3 possessions per game. Note that Denver, their next opponent, is leading the league in pace, running and gunning under George Karl.

INDIVIDUALS:  Five Bucks are on the NBA Top 20 lists, four of them for good stuff.   The “bad” is Stephen Jackson, who ranks 16th in fouls.  The four “good” are Andrew Bogut (no surprise there), Brandon Jennings (a bit of a surprise), Ersan Ilyasova (no surprise here at the Jinx) and Carlos Delfino (Del-3-no!).  Lets begin with Bogut.

ANDREW BOGUT:  The Pacers may be leading the league in team defense but the best defensive teams on the planet continue to be the Orlando Magic when Dwight Howard is on the court and the Bucks when Andrew Bogut is in the game.  Howard (84.8 estimated pts per 100 allowed) and Bogut (89.0) rank No. 1 and No. 2 in defensive rating, right where they’ve been since 2009.

Rebounding: Bogut is hauling in 11.0 rebounds per game but not on the leader board because the Bucks have played only three games.  He’s 13th in defensive rebound rate (26% of available rebounds grabbed) and 18th in overall rebounding rate.*   Expect Bogut to stake his claim to the Top 10 in these areas on this road trip.   Bogues is 18th in total rebounds, 13th in defensive rebounds.

*A 26-27% defensive rebounding rate is typically good enough for the NBA Top 10. Bogut’s career bests of over 27% were in 2009 and 2011.  For a relative comparison, Dwight Howard was in the 31% range during those seasons.  The elite rebounders of the NBA are in the 18-22% total rebounding rate (offensive and defensive rebounding rates combined), with Kevin Love somehow posting a 23.6% rate last season.

Blocked shots:  Bogut, the NBA’s leading per game shot-blocker in 2011 has yet to make an appearance on the blocked shot leader board.  His typical blocked shot rate since 2009 has been about 6.0% — it’s half that after Week One.

BRANDON JENNINGS:  The 7th leading scorer in the NBA at 22.7 per game, and doing it fairly efficiently.  My computer froze when I wrote that the first time.  BJ is shooting 46% from the floor and getting to the line in the 4th quarter when the Bucks need him to the most.

Free throws:  Jennings is 17th in made free throws and in the Top 10 in free throws per game, with 6.7.

Minutes:  Jennings is also 17th in minutes played.

ERSAN ILYASOVA:   Tenacious D is his calling card.  Ilyasova ranks 5th in Defensive Rating, leading the Bucks forwards in minutes played (27 per game) and helping Bogut lead the Bucks to their No. 2 D-rating.

CARLOS DELFINO:  Three out of five from Downtown in one game gets Carlos in the 3-point shooting top 10.   Carlos ranks 10th at 60%.

STEPHEN JACKSON:  Fouls, turnovers, wild shots — Jackson’s the wild card for the Bucks, no doubt about that, but he’s also out of shape.  He’s “that guy,” and he even looks like he’s acquired my beer gut.  Jackson’s turning it over three times a game (if not more with wild shots) and would be in the Top 20 there had the Bucks played more than three games.  He’s 16th in total fouls (with 14) and one of the few guys in that bottom 20 who’s played three games.   Here’s hoping Captain Jack finds a groove on the road.

OTHER NOTABLES:

Ray Allen:  A true shooting percentage of 79.9 percent going into Sunday’s game against the Wiz.  Let’s call it 80.   True shooting counts two free throw attempts as one shot, carves up that shot based on percentage of FT makes, and adds the extra point for made 3-pointers to “truly” account for a shooter’s scoring accuracy.  Ray’s 58% from the field, 58% from downtown (14 of 24) and, no, he hasn’t missed a free throw in 16 tries.*

The Celtics may have started 1-3 without Paul Pierce but Ray is on fire and hasn’t taken a bad shot that I’ve seen.  Ray was 11th in Week One scoring with 20.0 per game.

*Ray on Sunday missed his first free throw of the season, always a solemn occasion.

Greg Stiemsma:  The 4-year Wisconsin Badger from tiny Randolph, WI, somewhere up there between Portage and Fon du Lac, made his NBA debut this week with the Celtics, backing up Jermaine O’Neal. Stiemsma blocked seven shots in two games, good enough for No. 2 in the league behind Blake Griffith‘s Clippers running mate DeAndre Jordan (4.7 blocks per game) and ahead of Howard (3.0 blocks).

Dwight Howard:  What trade talk?  Howard hauled in a Superman-like 70 rebounds in four games for the Magic to lead all boardsmen, including a league-leading 52 defensive boards.  Howard entered week two of his season averaging 17.5 boards a game and has cleaned off an astounding 38% of all opponent missed shots.

DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings was leading offensive rebounders with 23 in four games, then demanded to be traded after the Kings were blown out by the Knicks.   That’s 5.75 boards on the offensive glass per game for Cousins.  Somebody block big man out.  Somebody trade him.  Somebody tell him to stay home.  Somebody send him a Drew Gooden headband.

Kevin Love:  Three games, 44 rebounds, 20 against the Bucks.  Love is grabbing 14.7 boards a game, six per on the offensive glass and trails only Howard.  How does he do it?   Maybe hit the glass more, Darko!

Carmelo Anthony:  Forty free throws in four games.  40!  I’ve seen some of those games, and the fouls weren’t of the ticky-tack variety.  Carmelo’s averaging 25.0 per game and is sixth in scoring, a full 2.3 pts ahead of 7th place Jennings. (Note to BJ: Don’t bother trying to keep up with him.)

Lebron James:  Leads the league in scoring (33.0 per game) but the Heat don’t look so invincible.  The Bobcats had ’em in Charlotte but let ’em off the hook with turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch.  They still don’t have a center and are reportedly after ex-Buck-Blazer-Bobcat Joel Przybilla.

The Bulls:   They’re putting the hurt on the Randolph-Gasol Memphis Grizzlies in Chicago tonight, and will probably have the league’s top-rated defense come morning.*  The Grizzlies had all of 28 points at half and finished on the wrong end of a 104-64 score.   The defensive standard has been set in the Eastern Conference.*

*Lo and behold, the Pacers and Bucks remained atop the league in team defense after the weekend.  The Bulls D-rating did drop below 100 pts per 100 possessions (98.3), better than their 2011 league-leading 100.3 pts per 100.

The Hawks, Bulls, Sixers, Magic and Celtics ran Top 10 offense in Week One, something to keep in mind when thinking of contenders for East playoff spots.  Surprised the Knicks weren’t in the Top 10?  Me too.

Schedule cancellations beg critical questions of Bucks owner Herb Kohl

The cancellation of the November schedule has cost the Bucks four Saturday night home games, including games against the Bulls and Knicks.  It also increased the degree of difficulty of the 68 games still on the calendar, based on the 2011 final standings.

The Bucks would play 55.88% of their games against 2011 playoff teams, assuming no more games are lost.  Prior to the cancellation that percentage was 54.88%.  If Bucks owner Herb Kohl thinks his team is playoffs-worthy, he would do well to consider how much steeper the road to the playoffs will be if and when the lockout ends, and how much steeper it will get if December games are lost.

What’s that?  The failure of the owners and players to reach a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has caused a one percent increase in difficulty for the Milwaukee Bucks?  Boo hoo.  And isn’t that scheduling disparity partly the Bucks fault for sinking into sub-mediocrity last season and losing a playoff spot to the Pacers?

Yes, and the Pacers are part of the point — one of the games lost is a home game against the Pacers, a plum opportunity to begin righting last season’s failures.  Not-yet-cancelled are two games in Indy and a game in Milwaukee.  Ratchet up the degree of difficulty a bit more with Pacers home court advantage against the Bucks, something the Bulls will also enjoy if the games cancelled remain off the calendar.

And it only gets more weighted against the Bucks the closer one looks at what was lost and what remains.

  • The lockout has cheated Bucks fans out of a chance to see Steve Nash and the Suns at the Bradley Center Nov. 12 (another Saturday showcase). The game in Phoenix is still on the calendar. The Bucks have not won in Phoenix since February 1987, the last of the Bucks seven straight 50-win season, Don Nelson‘s last season as Bucks coach, Moncrief, Cummings, Pressey, Pierce, Sikma and John Lucas in the fold, and a rookie Scott Skiles, too.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trailblazers have proven to be a nightmare matchup for Bogut and the Bucks. A Bucks-Blazers Saturday night game was one of those cancelled.  Still on is the game in Portland, where the Bucks haven’t won since 2006.
  • No, the Bucks haven’t yet had a road game against a Western Conference team cancelled. All 15 of those are still on calendar. The Bucks were 4-11 on the road in the West last season. Ratchet that degree of Bucks difficulty to about 60%.  The road to the 2012 playoffs will be a steep uphill climb for the Bucks.

If December is cancelled, the Bucks will lose only a single road game in the West, a trip to Memphis. That’s early in the month, following a trip to New York and a Saturday marquee featuring Milwaukee’s favorite ex-Buck, Ray Allen, and the Celtics, tough games all.

Kohl and the Bucks front office have got to be eyeing that Celtics game and rueing the day more games are tossed into the shredder.  A Celtics game is one of those money-making, potential sell-outs, an easy-marketing homecoming for Ray, one of the last chances to see the current Celtics before they rebuild (Ray and Kevin Garnett will be free agents after this season).  It’s a natural for the Bucks’ 2012 home-opener, ready or not.

The Celtics are followed by a string of five matchups that should give Bucks fans a good gauge on where their team is headed this season: at home against rebuilding Detroit and Denver in flux, on the road to Washington to play John Wall and the Wizards, home for Corey Maggette and Charlotte and then on to Indiana.

Playoffs?  Not if the Bucks can’t get it together enough to win some of those games.  They cannot afford another start like last season’s 6-wins, 12-losses disaster. The first 22-games of the schedule, prior to the lockout and the cancellations, provided a solid chance for a decent start — assuming only the 2010-11 records of the opponents.

Then Dirk Nowitzki and the champion Mavs come to Milwaukee for their only appearance, Saturday, Dec. 17, another candy marketing game the Bucks front office should be loathe to lose.  A tough opponent, of course, but the loss of this game would leave the trip to Dallas still-to-come.  From a competitive standpoint, the Bucks can ill afford the cancellation of the first three weeks in December.

All of which begs the questions:  How much does pro basketball game talk matter to many NBA owners?  Specifically, how much does it matter to Bucks owner Kohl, who has yet to play more than a supporting role to the small market hardliners in these negotiations?

Unlike small market hardliners in Cleveland and Phoenix (when Nash leaves or retires) and Boston (rebuild after 2012) and San Antonio (aging San Antonio) the Bucks aren’t rebuilding or looking ahead to a near-future rebuild.  Ostensibly, they have more in common with the Bulls and Knicks — the Bucks want to play and win now with Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings, and put a forgettable, injury-plagued 2011 season behind them.

But like Portland Trailblazers owner Paul Allen, the so-called “Grim Reaper” on the owners’ side, Kohl has spent years playing and paying big under the current system, and losing in a market much smaller than New York or Chicago.  There’s talk that Allen is taking a hard line in the negotiations because he wants to clamp down on player salaries and exceptions to position the Blazers for sale.

Kohl has lost more than Allen in the current system, and paid big in recent years for the likes of Michael Redd, Bobby Simmons, Dan Gadzuric, Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, tax accounting write-offs in the flesh.  There’s been little or no recent talk of Kohl selling the Bucks, and the real politick in Milwaukee and Wisconsin says even discussions over a new arena are years away.

But rumblings of a sale could sound at any time.  Kohl isn’t getting any younger and will retire from the U.S. Senate next year at age 77, and, while Kohl has never made the Bucks books public,  it’s safe to assume his team has more in financial common financially with Allen than he does with the “play now” teams in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami.

At some point — and we may have passed this point already — the “play now” owners are going to push hard for a resolution, to end the 50/50 or 48/52 squabbling over how much “Basketball Related Income” (BRI) the players should get.  The owners have already bettered their financial position by $200 million per year and about $1.2 billion over the next seasons.  That’s a tremendous giveback by the players at 52% BRI.

With the two sides so close on the BRI, it’s the “play now, win now” owners vs. “don’t play, write another season off” mode.

(Editor’s note: Not more than a few hours after this post went up, one of the “play now, win now” owners, Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison, was fined $500,000 by the NBA for tweeting that he wasn’t the owner fans should be upset about. “You’re barking at the wrong owner,” Arison tweeted in response to a fan who accused Arison of ruining the game.

“The response clearly fortified the belief Arison is part of a more moderate group of owners, mostly from big markets, who don’t share the opinion of the majority of hardliners who think the NBA needs to keep the players locked out to achieve financial concessions,” reported Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.  That belief is certainly one held here.)

At what point does Kohl look at the first Saturday in December and say, “I need my team to be on the court against the Celtics” on that night?

Which kind of owner — write-it-off or play ball — is Kohl really?

Recalling bitter rivalries long past: A Sixers, Celtics, Bucks round-robin with playoff implications

Springtime is on the way in Milwaukee.  The snows are melting a dirty trickle in the rain.  The chartered buses are revved up for the state high school sectionals.  March Madness is in the air.  And the Bucks playoff seeding rests (in part) on how well they fare in games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

Celtics-Sixers, Sixers-Bucks, Bucks-Celtics — a weekend round-robin that began tonight in Philly — harkens (albeit vaguely) back to the NBA’s Golden Age when Larry Bird‘s Celtics, Sidney Moncrief‘s Bucks and Dr. J‘s Sixers waged battle season after season for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

To be a fan of coach Don Nelson’s Bucks was to worry about your team’s health every spring and fret over the strength of the opposition, the names Bird, Erving, Bobby Jones, McHale, Moses muttered under the breath in curses.  Bucks fans cringed at the inevitable playoff disappointment against arguably the two best teams ever assembled in the NBA.  But the Bucks in those days had Moncrief and Marques Johnson and Bob Lanier, and later Moncrief and Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey.  There was always hope.

The stakes aren’t so high for our Bucks these days.  They are a disappointing 25-38, a far cry from the Bucks teams that chased 60-win seasons during Moncrief’s prime.  Yet the 2011 Bucks find themselves gaining ground in the mad stumble for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East, one game out as they face the Sixers Saturday at the BC and go to Boston Sunday to meet the Celtics.

The Celtics are hanging on to the top seed in the East with Derrick Rose’s Bulls hot on their heels.  The Sixers are in 7th place, out of the Bucks reach and looking to move up a rung or two on the East playoff ladder.

This Philly-Boston weekend is critical for Bucks as they work to establish some late consistency and salvage the season.

“The big test for us is Philly (on Saturday),” Bucks center Andrew Bogut noted after the Bucks ran away from the last place Cleveland Cavs on Wednesday for a rare easy victory.  “We never play well against Philly, and they’re having a great year. I think Philly is our test.”

Eighth will have to do for Bogut and the Bucks this season.

And, no, the names Bogut, Garnett and Brand don’t resonate like those of Erving, Bird and Moncrief, who will be on hand Saturday providing color commentary for the Bucks’ FSN broadcast.

But spring is almost here in Wisconsin, and this will have to do.

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Eighth was good enough for the Chicago Bulls in 1986, Michael Jordan‘s second NBA season, the year he missed 64 games with a broken left foot.  It will be good enough for Brandon Jennings in his sophomore NBA season, a year in which he, too, broke his left foot.

Jordan’s 1986 Bulls, also featuring rookie Charles Oakley and Orlando Woolridge in his second season, are worth mentioning here because whoever grabs the 8th seed in the East this season will surely make the playoffs with one of the worst records in recent memory.

The worst NBA playoff record, post-ABA merger, belonged to the 1986 Bulls, who won just 30 games playing in arguably the toughest conference that the NBA had ever put on the nation’s courts — the Eastern Conference of the mid-1980’s.

How good was the 11-team East in 1986?  The young Bulls went 3-15 against the Celtics, Sixers and Bucks.  There were Dominique Wilkins‘ Hawks and Isaiah Thomas‘ Pistons to contend with, too, and the Bulls were just 3-9 against them.

The Western Conference champions, the Twin Towers Houston Rockets starring 7-footers Hakeem Olajawon and Ralph Sampson, would fall in six games to the Celtics in the 1986 NBA Finals.  The Rockets, with the luxury of playing in the West, finished 51-31 (#2 in the West behind the Lakers) but won just 3 of their 10 games against the Beasts of the East.  The Rockets would very likely have finished 6th in the East, and no better than 5th.

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Playoff atmosphere in Philly. The Sixers kicked off the Boston-Philly-Milwaukee round-robin by holding off the Celtics, 89-86, snapping a seven-game home losing streak to the Celtics.  Center Spencer Hawes, forward Elton Brand and swingman Andre Iguodala led a balanced Sixer attack that ended with five players in double figures.   The Celtics were led by Jeff Green (18 pts) and Nenad Krstic (16 and 15 boards)?

No, these are not the Celtics and Sixers of the great Bird and Dr. J rivalry, but the Wachovia Center crowd roared playoff intensity nonetheless as Iguodala waltzed through the lane for the game-clinching layup.

Ray Allen had perhaps his worst game this season, scoring only 5 points on 2-11 shooting. The Celtics have lost two in a row.

The Sixers are playing their best ball since Allen Iverson’s heyday for coach Doug Collins, and moved to within a half game of the Knicks for 6th place and three games back of the Hawks in 5th.

The Hawks looked downright sick losing by 18 to the Carlos Boozer-less Bulls in Chicago.  “All-Star” Al Horford contributed 6 points and 7 rebounds in the loss.  Did I mention that the Bulls power forward, Carlos Boozer, didn’t play?

I watched Hawks-Bulls a second time, late night.  The Hawks simply turned dumb and selfish when faced with the in-your-face Bulls defense, just as they do when playing the Bucks.  They don’t like being challenged, and, even though Kirk Hinrich just joined the team, they looked completely lost when he wasn’t on the court.

They switched and had bigs guarding Derrick Rose in the 3rd quarter, same way the Mike Woodson Hawks of last season played Brandon Jennings.  That was a miserable failure.  Luol Deng got hot, and the Hawks had no one to guard him.  Josh Smith and Joe Johnson made horrible decisions on offense, repeatedly, Al Horford disappeared, and Jamaal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich seemed like the only guys interested in playing the game.

Zaza Pachulia was, as usual, a useless hack who isn’t too effective when a stronger player (Kurt Thomas) is matched up against him.

It was games 3, 4, and 5 last May all over again, with the Bulls dominating like the Bucks never could have without Bogut.   Bucks play the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday, and that game looks very winnable.

Amar’e Stoudemire fuels feud with Bucks coach Skiles

Today at the Knicks afternoon shootaround in Cleveland, Amar’e Stoudemire took aim at Bucks coach Scott Skiles when asked about his 15th technical foul of the season, which Stoudemire received Wednesday in the final minute of the Bucks-Knicks game.

Stoudemire was tee’d up when he tossed his goggles after being whistled for his sixth foul.

“Scott Skiles probably doing what he does best: being out of control and having them make the call,” Stoudemire said.  — NY Post Knicks blog.

Asked if he ever played for Skiles, Stoudemire said, “No, I’m glad I didn’t.”

They just missed each other in Phoenix, where Skiles was coach until midseason 2002, just months before the Suns drafted Amar’e.  Given the defensive demands of playing for Skiles, Stoudemire, indeed, would have hated it.

Earlier this season after a blowout loss to the Bucks, Stoudemire questioned whether Skiles told the Bucks to retaliate against him for that little shove in Andrew Bogut’s back last March, which instigated AB’s season-ending fall and arm injury.

He actually accused Skiles of instructing the Bucks to “play physical” against him. Really.

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Just George being George

Denver coach George Karl lit into Carmelo Anthony after the Nuggets game last night against the Celtics.  I guess George didn’t like the fact that Carmelo’s not such a dedicated defensive player.

Ball Don’t Lie blog.

Seems like old times for George, though he’s certainly mellowed with age.

After the Bucks traded Ray Allen (err, after the Bucks traded Ray Allen, finished the season out with Gary Payton and let George go), George expounded to the press on Ray’s “disrespect” for the game of basketball.

“Oh, that’s just George being George,” explained Sam “I Am” Cassell at the time.

“WHEN THE GRASS IS CUT THE SNAKES WILL SHOW,” tweeted Carmelo.

Michael Redd set to return to the Bucks on Monday

Michael Redd will return to the Bucks Monday, after All-Star weekend.  By all accounts, he won’t play right away, but will work to get himself “in a position” where he could possibly play.

Redd’s in the final year of a contract that pays him $18.3 million this season, more than Carmelo Anthony, more than anybody on the Celtics not named Kevin Garnett, more than anybody on the Lakers not named Kobe Bryant.

This makes Redd very valuable to any team looking to cut costs next season, including the Bucks, who could use some payroll breathing room after last summer’s flurry of contract activity (Drew Gooden, John Salmons, Keyon Dooling).

Nobody in Milwaukee media has bothered to ask GM John Hammond, with the trade deadline eight days away, whether a trade is a possibility.  Those questions will surely arise once Redd is back in camp.

Currently, the Bucks insurance is reimbursing the team 80 percent of the cost of the contract, due to Redd’s long rehabilitation from a second knee surgery.

$18.3 million! For Michael Redd?  It’s insane, but there was very little the Bucks could do to avoid it back in 2005 when the deal was struck.  Such are the NBA economics that spun out of control in the last decade, as teams wrote ridiculous agreements with All-Star players such as Redd, Tracy McGrady and Gilbert Arenas, not so much because they were forced to, but because the ethos of the league and the setup of the league’s collective bargaining agreement said that superstars bring in the fans, and that every team should have one — a superstar, that is, not a fan (even the Clippers had a fan or two before Blake Griffin).  Even very good, borderline All-Star players such as Richard Jefferson got similar deals (RJ’s still working off his final year down in San Antonio).

The justification for Redd’s contract points most directly to the five-year, $85 million contract that Ray Allen signed with the SuperSonics in the summer of 2005.  Redd, of course, was effectively replacing Allen as the Bucks star shooting guard and had been an All-Star in 2004.  The Bucks:

1) Didn’t want to lose Redd in free agency. He had courted some interest (about 5-yr/$70 million) from the Cavaliers, on the hunt for a second scoring option after Lebron James; and

2) Wanted to reward Redd with a contract comparable to Allen’s $17 million per season deal.  The market dictated that Redd should not be paid quite at Allen’s level, so the Bucks basically made a 5-year, $14.5 million per year offer (exceeding what the Cavs were able to offer over five years) and tacked on the outrageous sixth year “player option” to exceed the total of Allen’s contract.

Was the sixth year necessary?  Probably not, but five-six year agreements with the final year an option for players were in vogue back then, and, well, nobody in the Bucks organization wanted to see Redd suit up alongside Lebron James, unless it was for an All-Star game.

So here we are, the 2011 trade deadline fast approaching, the Bucks needing a shot in the arm and Redd (probably) nowhere near playing shape.

This may be little more than an insurance check to upgrade Redd’s status and handle the legalities of his sunsetting disability status.  It may mean the Bucks have brought him back into the news to draw trade interest.  It may mean that Redd has rehabbed his way into shape to play.  It almost certainly means that Redd doesn’t want his career to end, and wants to show the NBA that he can play next season.

On Monday, the elephant returns to the Bucks locker room.

(Special thanks to Bucks fan Sidney Lanier, the originator of the altered New Yorker artwork above).

Celebrating Ray Allen as the generally uninteresting Jerry Sloan era ends

NBA-TV has been reporting all day (Thursday) that coach Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz have scheduled a press conference for 5 PM (EST) and it is expected that Sloan will resign as Jazz coach after 23 years.

The Jazz have, in fact, accepted the resignations of Sloan and his top assistant, Phil Johnson, ending an era of stability in Utah that went on and on longer than any coaching run in North American “big four” professional sports; it was an era in which nothing terribly exciting or interesting ever really happened for the sports team from Utah.

There was “the shot” drained by Michael Jordan in game six of the 1998 NBA Finals to finish off the Jazz, but even that moment — a moment that belongs to Jordan and the Bulls — seemed less exciting and interesting than it might have been had the Jazz been elsewhere at the time.

It was a shot had been shot before, heard previously around the world against the Jazz in another game six of the NBA Finals, in 1997, with Steve Kerr doing the honors for the Bulls off a routine draw and kick from Jordan.

Yes, Jerry Sloan’s Jazz teams ran steadily like clockwork, played good defense, were consistently good and remarkably efficient — but they were never interesting or great.  Point guard John Stockton and power forward Karl Malone were likewise consistently good, remarkably efficient, an offensive clock ticking off the Stockton-Malone pick-and-roll — but there was nothing dynamic about the duo, and they never achieved greatness.

So the Jerry Sloan era — defined as it was by Jordan even as it failed to push to Jordan to further greatness or a game seven (Patrick Ewing‘s Knicks were the more worthy foils) — is over.  It’s about time, one might say, if only the timing had been better.

Tonight was expected to be a night to celebrate the greatness of Ray Allen, who needs to make just two high arching expressions of basketball beauty from Downtown to become the most prolific three-point shooter in NBA history.  That may happen tonight in Boston when the Celtics meet the Lakers.  It may even happen over the outstretched hand of Kobe Bryant, Allen’s longtime nemesis.

If the basketball gods are watching — and they surely will be — they might marvel at Allen’s longevity as the game’s most dangerous shooter.  They might wonder at the perfection of his shot, or pass a comment or two on Kobe’s competitiveness, reflect on the panicked despair that fell upon the faces of the Celtics last June when they realized they were on the brink of losing game seven.

Reggie Miller, the current career three-point shot record holder, will be on hand in Boston, in the TNT broadcast chair, fittingly, appropriately.  This was to be Ray and Reggie’s night, a night to celebrate the art of shooting a basketball and the poetry of the game’s finest point. It even offered the possibility that two of the game’s great shooting guards might, for a change, take the spotlight from Kobe.

This was not a night to attempt to define the Jerry Sloan era, 23 years in which so many of the things taking place in the NBA were much more interesting than whatever it was that was happening with the team from Utah.

Shelved and Jinxed: Drew Gooden to miss another 4-6 weeks

Not to detract from matters at hand for the Bucks — salvaging something on their last West Coast swing and the politics of Andrew Bogut’s first All-Star selection — but the Bucks announced today that power forward Drew Gooden will miss the bulk of the 2011 stretch run.

MILWAUKEE (AP)—Bucks forward Drew Gooden will be sidelined four to six weeks because of lingering problems with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

General manager John Hammond says Gooden will undergo treatment on Wednesday in Los Angeles. The injury has already cost Gooden 21 games this season, including the past six. LINK to story.

So that’s that.  Coach Scott Skiles is free to play Ersan the rest of the way without any pressure to play the GM’s big summer free agent signing.  Ilyasova’s already won the starting power forward job — now he has the opportunity to build on his stake in the battle for a playoff seed.

This officially keeps Gooden out through the Feb. 24 trading deadline and into mid-March.  So much for the trade rumor mills that might have whirled around the Bucks with Ilyasova relegating Gooden to bench duty and the Bucks in need of a backup center.

GM Hammond has effectively killed the Gooden-for-Haywood trade idea with Dallas.

He’s also saved face, should the Bucks fail to make the playoffs with his his 5-yr, $32 million power forward officially sidelined. He can write the failure off on injuries to his key summer acquisition (and others) and “wait ’til next year.”  Gooden’s injury then becomes bad luck, not a monumental mistake that left his team without a backup center.

(Hammond apparently thought he was signing the Drew Gooden who played for the Cavs 4 years ago. This isn’t merely a one-liner as there is something to be said for Hammond’s dogged interest in Gooden dating back to his days in Detroit. Keep in mind that the Bucks jinx at the power forward position from which this blog derives its name may have played a role in the case of mistaken Drew Gooden identities.)

If the Bucks do make the playoffs (and they likely will unless Bogut breaks his left arm — the Bucks have still played the toughest schedule in the East) Gooden should be healthy by then and able to lend a hand in a first round series against the Celtics, Heat or Bulls.  More likely than not, the Bucks would land with a #7 or #8 seed a high profile matchup against the Celitcs or Heat, where they’ll need all the healthy help they can find.

*Note that the Bucks record has been 8 wins – 17 losses in games that Drew Gooden played. (Source LINK).

**Also note that in only two games this season did a big contribution from Gooden come in a Bucks victory:  Home wins against the Warriors and Knicks back in November.  If you should happen to be looking through box scores, pay no attention to the one from the blowout win over Atlanta — the Bucks bench led by Ilyasova and Maggette rolled the Hawks after the Bucks starters had dug a 9-to-22 deficit.

Make of those notes what you will.

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ALL STAR SELECTION UPDATE:  Tonight’s the night the reserves are unveiled by Charles, Kenny and Ernie, McHale and C-Web on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”  None of the NBA’s leading talking heads had Bogut among their reserve picks, largely due to the Bucks disappointing record (Bogut’s name wasn’t even mentioned on last week when they made their picks).

But cooler heads may prevail.  Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie puts Bogut in a group of five or six players under consideration for the two wild card spots in the East.  Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand and Josh Smith are among them, with Al Horford and Chris Bosh the favorites.

Not only are Boozer and Bosh more deserving of an All-Star nod than Ray Allen, so too are Josh Smith and (don’t laugh) Elton Brand. Brand might whiff of a millstone to you, but he’s also averaging 15 points and 8.5 rebounds, making more than half his shots with 2.6 combined blocks/steals for a team in the playoff bracket.

And though his offense has been awful this year — a True Shooting Percentage of 49? for a center? — I’m not sure I’ve seen a player with as strong a defensive impact as Andrew Bogut this season.  And I’m well aware that Dwight Howard has played basketball this season.

No, Ball Don’t Lie doesn’t get a vote — but it’s a prominent media opinion that hasn’t been heard in media working directly for the NBA. (That was my bold added to the text).

Bogut is definitely in the conversation, and there is a lot of support out there among coaches in the East.  Perhaps this is as much because he was snubbed last year. Perhaps it’s because he’s played through injuries where others haven’t, and still had a major impact.  His team in the hunt for a playoff spot, his defense has been superlative — Defensive Player of the Year worthy.

Boozer, Ball Don’t Lie’s selection, has missed 18 games for Chicago. That’s almost half the first half.

Coaches notice that stuff.  For them, making Bogut the center pick on the reserve ballot requires much less debate than picking Al Horford over his teammate, Smith, who, like Bogut deserves first time All-Star recognition.

Actually, everyone notices that stuff except Bulls fans, which is why a Boozer selection over Bogut or Josh Smith doesn’t make much sense.

A number of coaches, Avery Johnson, Stan Van Gundy, Doc Rivers are very likely to vote Bogut as the reserve center — they’re not blind to the fact that Horford isn’t the Hawks starting center against them.  Doug Gollins from Philly, according to recent comments, is also very likely to vote for Bogut.

This might be the year, and don’t be surprised if Bogut’s name is called despite the lack of support from the TNT hosts who’ll be calling it.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching with interest tonight.

Dogged in Denver and notes from around the NBA

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.

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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.