Tag Archives: Toronto Raptors

More than a Slap on the Wrist: How referee Mark Davis sent the Bucks fishin’ early (and got promoted)

The slap was so loud, you could hear its echo snap throughout the arena. The fans heard it. Bucks coach Jason Kidd heard it. Bucks center Greg Monroe felt it, the smack of P.J. Tucker‘s left hand hammering down on his hands as the Bucks center secured the rebound, 9:31 to go in the game and the Bucks trailing by eight. You can hear it now still, in the Game 6 highlight reel posted on the Raptors official site, a sharp clap above the squeaky shoes and crowd noise (the play in question is at 6:40 of the video).

But NBA official Marc Davis, the ref under the basket, nearest to the play in the paint, apparently did not hear it. Davis swallowed his whistle, something he’d been doing all game where Raptors fouls were concerned. Tucker was allowed the rebound, and found Kyle Lowry free in the lane for a lay-up, making the score 76-66 (6:43 of the video).

Davis, who was named one of the three worst NBA officials in a survey of players and coaches conducted by the LA Times (*see note on survey below) during the 2015-16 season, had not called a single foul on the Raptors the entire first three quarters of Game 6. When the 4th quarter began last Thursday, the Bucks — facing elimination at home — had endured an overall 14-9 disparity in personal fouls called and were down 13 on the scoreboard.

The Toronto lead had been 25 but the Raptors were falling apart. The Bucks seized the momentum after a time out with 5 minutes to go in the 3rd, and were on a 20-3 run when Davis missed the loose ball foul on Tucker. The lead was down to eight, and now it was back to ten. A temporary setback. No big deal. But Davis would stun the Bucks and their home crowd again just 30 seconds later, making another highly questionable call that put more points on the board for the Raptors and blew the cool of Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who was hit with a technical foul — called by Davis.

So with Davis’ foul calls running 7 on the Bucks to one on the Raptors (yes, he had finally called his first foul of the game on the Raptors early in the 4th quarter, a shooting foul on Tucker) why should anybody have expected Davis to get a tough charge-block call correct on the very next Raptors possession after the slap-that-wasn’t-called?

Except this charge-block call was not so tough. As he drove for a layup with 8:40 to go, Kyle Lowry leaped into a set Khris Middleton. Middleton’s feet were planted clearly outside the circle, more planted than most defenders get when successfully taking a charge. Lowry didn’t shift to avoid the contact, and both players went down. Charge on Lowry? Not according to Davis. Foul on Middleton, Lowry to the line.

In and of itself, an official missing a charge/block call isn’t cause for alarm; it happens in nearly every game. But in the context of this play, Davis was exposed, and Bucks coach Jason Kidd reacted. Kidd this season has played it cool with the refs, maybe too cool at times. But Kidd had had enough of Davis in Game 6. Davis hit him with a technical as the Bucks home crowd jeered its disbelief.  While the Raptors shot their ensuing free throws, Kidd engaged in a lengthy discussion with referees crew chief Tony Brothers, the substance of which, one can only speculate, centered around the question of “what the hell is Davis trying to do to this game?”

The Raptors made the technical free throw but Lowry missed one of his two, pushing their lead to 12 points, 78-66 with 8:38 left in the game. Davis had put four points on the board for Toronto in less than a minute. There was still plenty of time for the Bucks, and they would score the next 14 points of the game to take an 80-78 lead and cap an improbable 34-7 run. The devastation might’ve been 34-3 or worse for the Raptors, had Davis not softened the blow of what would otherwise have been a knock-out punch.

The officials missed another key call with 1:54 to go and the score tied at 82 — a shooting foul on Patrick Patterson as Giannis Antetokounmpo wheeled into the lane for a 7-foot baby hook shot. This play was ruled “incorrect non-call” by NBA Officiating in the “Last Two-Minute Report” for the game. To view that play, click HERE.

Toronto forward Patrick Patterson pushes into Giannis Antetokounmpo as Giannis shoots over him with 1:54 left in Game 6. No foul was called on the play. NBA Official ruled that the refs made an “incorrect no-call” on this play, the correct call being a shooting foul on Patterson, two free throws for Giannis. The official on the baseline is Tony Brothers; Marc Davis is the official on the sideline. Both officials appear to have a good view of the play.

The impact of that non-call was immediate. Whether or not Giannis made his free throws (he missed 6 out of 13 on the night), the non-call allowed the Raptors to break up the court on the ensuing possession, which ended with a corner-3 made by Cory Joseph. Calling the foul would have at least slowed the flow of the game and allowed the Bucks to set up on defense, possibly with a one or two point lead. One or two points late in a close game, obviously, could have changed everything.

NBA Officiating also found enhanced video evidence that DeMar DeRozan slid his pivot foot before driving with 1:35 to go (no ruling was made on this, even though you don’t really need to enhance the video to see it — you can watch it right here); and ruled that Jason Terry fouled DeRozan on a dunk with 49.6 seconds left. Ironically, this determination was made with much less video evidence than there was for DeRozan traveling, on which there was no determination. (There’s a post on the ironic reality represented in the NBA’s “Last Two Minute Reports” coming soon.)

Everywhere one looks in this game, it seems, there is an officiating controversy brewing. Yet all three of the refs involved, Davis included, made the conference semifinals officials cut from 37 to 30. Davis and 3rd official Rodney Mott worked the Wizards-Celtics game on Tuesday. Davis is back on the job tonight in Houston for the Spurs Rockets game. What does that say about the 7 refs who didn’t make the cut? What does it say about the NBA’s officials review process?

But before we take a closer look at other parts of Bucks-Raptors Game 6, it should be mentioned that Davis, after being named one of the three worst refs in league in the LA Times survey, was the official who stood by watching as Dion Waiters and Manu Ginobili committed multiple violations on the last play of Game 2 of the Spurs-Thunder first round series last year.  To quote deadspin.com on that play “all hell broke loose” and the rulebook went out the window.

Bucks-Raptors Game 6 official Marc Davis (#8 above) was the ref who swallowed his whistle during one of the most notorious playoffs officiating fiascos in recent years. On the inbound play of the last possession of Game 2 of the Thunder-Spurs semifinal series, Dion Waiters of the Thunder illegally shoves the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili from out of bounds, as Ginobili tries to get away with illegally violating the inbound space. In the foreground, Kawhi Leonard has a handful of Russell Westbrook‘s jersey. No calls were made on the play. AP photo.

Whistles in the 1st quarter send a confusing mixed message

Considering how difficult it’s been for the referees to draw a technical foul out of Kidd this season, those four points midway through the Bucks run were writ large on the outcome of Game 6 as the Raptors scrapped out the win, 92-89, ending the Bucks season. That Davis did not call a single foul on the Raptors during the first 36.52 of the game, certainly raises some questions. The Raptors 9 to 14 foul call advantage as they built a seemingly insurmountable 25-point lead raises more questions. The non-call on the Patterson shooting foul under two minutes was key. Davis’ preceding reputation is interesting to point out, but Tony Brothers, the official along the baseline on that play, could also have made the call.

Does it all add up to the conclusion that the Bucks were robbed of a game 7 opportunity? Bucks fans would probably say it does, others might suggest that the Bucks had their chances and couldn’t close the game out, which was certainly true. The Bucks had an 82-80 lead with 2:29 left to play. The Bucks certainly could have won Game 6 in spite of Davis, in spite of the non-called fouls, and despite problems of their own in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, such as missed open shots and free throws throughout as Toronto built its lead.

A closer view of Game 6, however, does add more grist for the idea that, in the very least, a Game 7 in Toronto would have been played but for the refs. Whatever can be said, Game 6 from the outset was not well-managed by the officiating crew, and let’s start there.

The Game 6 refs were not short on experience, and all three are on the current officials roster for the semi-final round of the playoffs. Tony Brothers was the crew chief, with Davis and 3rd official Rodney Mott. Together they combined 63 seasons of experience and 39 playoffs. Davis is a 19-year veteran and Mott has 20 years on the job.

Davis’ whistle blew the most often in the game, with all of his calls against the Raptors made in the 4th quarter, and all but one after he issued a technical foul on Kidd.

Source: NBA.com, Raptors-Bucks play-by-play, 04/27/17. Chart graphic added to post 5/12/17                                           Note: Goaltending against Bucks, John Henson, 2nd quarter (called by Davis).

As you can see, the whistles stopped blowing against the Raptors after the 1st quarter, when at one point the violations were 6 against Toronto, 2 on Milwaukee.

  • The quarter began with Brothers hitting Raptors center Serge Ibaka with a  quick foul trying to guard a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo and another on Ibaka guarding center Thon Maker. This forced Raptors coach Dwane Casey to sit Ibaka down 2:16 seconds into the game. Ibaka returned to start the 2nd quarter.
  • Mott then called a rare defensive 3-second violation (the rule few understand) on Ibaka’s replacement, Jonas Valanciunas, though Brothers offset that Bucks free throw by immediately calling an offensive foul on Middleton.
  • From 6:18 to go in the 1st quarter to 11:08 of the 4th quarter — 31:10 — the calls ran 12 against the Bucks to only 4 on Toronto, as the Bucks fell behind by 25.
  • Davis and Brothers combined called 1 foul on Toronto in the middle two quarters. One.
  • Davis called 0 fouls on the Raptors for the three quarters. (It still doesn’t seem possible, but it happened. Those zeroes can’t help but look bad for the league. — 5/12/17 edit 

P.J. Tucker grapples with Greg Monroe. Tucker, a tank-like forward who makes up for his size with physical play, tends to commit so many violations on the court that the referees are bound to miss a few.  License: Standard noncommercial purpose/use.

A blocking foul on Tucker was the Raptors fifth team foul in the 1st quarter, which put the Bucks in the bonus with half of the first quarter still to play. At this point, the message seemed to be that it was going to be a long night for the Raptors; the visitors weren’t going to be allowed to bully the Bucks out of the playoffs on their home court.

It seemed a fair message, given how even the series was been statistically, save for the Raptors big advantage in free throws attempted and made. A Game 7 was the logical conclusion. But Davis apparently had ideas of his own. The rest of the calls made in the 1st quarter of Game 6 — most of them by Davis — went against the Bucks.

The first call was made by Mott, the first foul on Monroe. Then came four straight by Davis, including Monroe’s 2nd foul, a highly questionable loose ball foul that seemed little more than an obvious attempt to even the score with Ibaka’s two fouls. The call prompted coach Kidd to take Monroe — who put up big impact numbers against the Raptors (a series-leading 16.29 BIER) — out of the game. Monroe would not return in the first half, a decision by Kidd that, if it didn’t open the door for the Raptors double digit lead, it at least altered the complexion of the game.

Davis wasn’t done yet. He called a shooting foul on Monroe’s replacement, shot-blocker John Henson, on Henson’s first possession. With 23 seconds to go, Davis put the Raptors on the line with the 5th Bucks team foul, a call on the floor against defensive specialist Tony Snell, sending Raptors star Demar Derozan to the line. Two free points for Derozan, and the quarter ended with the Raptors ahead, 28-24.

The Bucks had the edge early on, but Davis had helped even the score. In the very least, the 1st quarter officiating sent a confusing message and offered some relief to the Raptors. Davis had given them a break on the road, they had the lead, and the Bucks 2nd best player, Monroe, was on the bench with foul trouble.

Lowry in the land of the giants. Thon Maker (left) and Giannis Antetokounmpo surround Toronto’s Kyle Lowry in the paint. Lowry, listed at 6’0″, is small even by point guard standards, but seems microscopic here, swarmed by 7-footers. Great photo by AP’s Nathan Denette that probably won’t be here for long. License: Standard noncommercial purpose/use.

Looking for a motive – natural bias and recent Davis trends

There is more than ample evidence, a compounding of events not all circumstantial, that leads to the conclusion that the Bucks were wronged by the Game 6 officiating crew and by Davis in particular. But why? What would motivate a ref to tip the balance in a game to deny the Bucks a Game 7, given that, if anything, what the NBA and its media desire (in theory) would be a do-or-die 7th game played in Canada’s largest media market (2.85 million pop, twice the size of the Milwaukee area market).

If the Bucks engender any bias against them it’s due to the lack of success in recent history, their last playoff series win having been 16 years ago with the Sam-I-Am, Big Dog and Ray team, or before most teen-aged Bucks fans were born. In Game 6, however, the Bucks had the natural edge being the home team, and being the home team counts for something in the NBA (where home teams win 57-60% of the time) and in the Big Ten and just about anywhere in the world one plays basketball. Add to this the “Game 7 media theory” and the perception was that the Bucks had a certain advantage going into Game 6.

The Bucks had jumped out to an early lead as Antetokounmpo forced the action, scored 12 points and shot five free throws in the first six minutes. One theory this season as Giannis’ star rose high and the Bucks relied on him to do just about everything except make the locker room sandwiches, has been that The Greek Freak constitutes unfair advantage. At times, certain referees will make calls against the Bucks to balance the scales. This may have been what Davis had in mind the last half of the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Bucks, Davis went too far by dumping foul trouble on Monroe and throwing the game out of balance.

The Bucks are not as deep as the Raptors at center. The Raptors can readily go to Valanciunas, usually a more reliable player and stronger center than Ibaka, and not worry about losing ground. They proved that in Game 6. The Bucks have Henson, a 5th year project that was all but abandoned in the second half of the season. Jason Kidd can’t take the risks Dwane Casey can at the center position. The absence of Monroe, statistically the Bucks biggest per-minute impact player in the series, crippled the Bucks in the first half.

The second call against Monroe did not appear to be circumstantial, nor were the non-calls in the 4th quarter, or Davis’ apparent glaring refusal to call any fouls on the Raptors during the first three quarters of the game.  Compounded, these instances draw the conclusion that something was amiss with Davis.  A different referee for Game 6, and the Bucks and Raptors play Game 7 in Toronto, Saturday, April 29.

Not sure of the what , but that’s Marc Davis above. “Effective pregame advice” might be … don’t even try to fathom the bottomless pit of referee motivations. From Peachtree Hoops.

Referee Stats!

In a different information age not so long ago, I’d have to leave it at that. Here comes the summation about how, for the love of the game, the paranoia about the refereeing in the NBA, justified or not, is not good for anybody. When a society no longer trusts its judges, what then becomes of the social fabric? Davis should be handed a stern warning by someone not named Stern, the former commissioner who made every small market team in the NBA nervous except the one in San Antonio.

But in this information age, the NBA and its ever-advancing statistical society have provided stats and trends for each and every referee! Exciting stuff. Marc Davis stats can be found here at basketball-reference.com. And from what those numbers say, a home vs. road theory can be built to explain why Davis was so tough on the Bucks in Game 6.

Two things stand out in Davis’ stat charts. The first is a trend over the last three seasons that shows fewer fouls than average called in the games he works, a range of 2.5 to 3 fewer fouls since 2014. That certainly held true for the Raptors in Game 6 but not for the Bucks, where Davis went against his usual m.o. and called more fouls than the other officials and more than he would normally call.

The average number of personal fouls per team in this year’s playoffs so far has been 19.7 per game (or 6 or 7 calls per official per team; it had increased to 20.3 pfs per team as of 5/12). Davis called 9 personal fouls on the Bucks.

The other outstanding trend has been an up and down relationship to the NBA’s home court advantage (a fairly consistent win rate of about 60% for the home teams). Home court advantage seems to be out the window when Davis is working. In the 2014 season, the visitors won 47% of Davis’ games. In 2015 the visitors won 50% of the time – a 15% variation from the norm. So the road teams have done well when Davis is managing the game. This is no doubt confusing to the home players, which may in part explain his “NBA worst officials” dishonor.

But hold on – the trend completely reversed itself wildly in the 2016 season, and home teams won 65% of Davis’ games. Whether a memo was issued to Davis is unknown, of course, the process of reviewing officials being top secret stuff — but there have never appeared to be any repercussions for bad or incompetent officiating. Whatever the cause, this was a 27.7% swing from the previous season, the highest of Davis’ career. This season, Davis’ trend swung even more wildly back in favor of the visiting teams.

In 2017, the visitors won 54% of 65 games officiated by Davis. The league trend was 60/40 in favor of the home teams. That’s a 24.4% divergence from the average the highest of Davis’ career.

Now let’s look at this season’s playoffs. Coming into the Bucks-Raptors game, the home team had won all five of the games in which Davis worked. Is it possible that Davis had decided a victory by a road team was due, and the Bucks were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong referee? Maybe.

Wizards-Celtics Game 2: Marc Davis’ next game

[I took the Wizards-Celtics analysis and the notes below and made a stand-alone post, “More than a Slap on the Wrist, Part 2: Wizards-Celtics Game 2, throwing the rule book out the window”  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the notes (they’re really good notes), but the post has two videos and a two-tone chart, just so you know.]

Davis and Mott officiated the Wizards vs. Celtics Game 2 in Boston Tuesday with Tom Washington as third official. The Davis trends suggest that the Wizards, the road team, have a good chance of winning the game. This was a tough, physical game (the Celtics like to bully the opposition) that went into overtime and featured 50 personal fouls called — 29 against the Wizards, 21 against the Celtics (about average considering the OT).

Here’s how the 50 calls broke down per official:

  • Davis: 16 or 32% of calls, 8 per team
  • Mott: 17 or 34%, 9/17 on the Wizards
  • Washington: 17 or 34%, 12/17 on Wizards

First thing to note is Davis calling fewer fouls than the other officials, part of the trend that emerges for Davis over the last six seasons.

Below is the breakdown by quarter:

  • Boston was hit with the most fouls in the first quarter (7) but only 14 the rest of the game, including the overtime, below the average in the playoffs so far this season.
  • Nine fouls were called on the Wizards in the 2nd, as all three officials unleashed their whistles on the Washington bench.
  • Six fouls vs. the Wizards in the 3rd quarter, only 2 on Boston. (The Wizards were threatening to blow the game open middle of the 3rd quarter).
  • Fourth quarter & Overtime – 9 on the Wiz, 7 on the Celtics.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the referees helped keep Boston in the game, though Davis was the least involved in that. 3rd official Tom Washington’s 12 to 5 call disparity in favor of the Celtics is hard to ignore. If Davis leaned to the visitors, Washington more than made up for that, a reminder that it’s difficult for a ref to wire a game with two other officials on the court with him/her.

The Wizards went cold from the outside in the 3rd quarter after they had built a 13 point lead that was still 12 with 3:20 to play in the quarter. Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal had a horrific game (4-15 shooting, 6 turnovers). The Wizards also had opportunities on the last possession of the 4th quarter to win the game, but Beal and John Wall misfired on open looks.  Isaiah Thomas heroically torched the nets in the overtime and scored 53 points on his late sister’s birthday. Thomas also made the free throws that tied the game and forced the overtime (Mott made that rather questionable call – see NBA Official video here).

As for Davis, other than keeping to his trends of, 1) calling fewer fouls; and 2) making things tough on the home team (fewest calls against the visiting Wizards), a call he chose not to make in the 1st quarter helped the Wizards later on. During the opening minutes of the game Wizards PF Markieff Morris threw Al Horford into the sideline area as Horford tried to save a loose ball (this was retaliation for a foul in Game 1 that caused Morris to sprain an ankle). Davis called a loose ball foul on Morris but, for reasons unclear, did not issue a flagrant foul (1 or 2) technical to Morris as called for in the NBA rule book. Had he done so, Morris would have been tossed from the game in the 3rd quarter when he and Thomas were T’d up after a confrontation.

What Davis did do in the wake of Morris’ retaliation – on the Celtics next possession – was call an offensive foul on Celtics big man Amir Johnson. Can it really be that the NBA doesn’t look at this stuff?

*Note on LA TImes Survey: The “best officials” survey was anonymous, involving 36 current players, coaches and assistant coaches. Each participant was asked to name a best and worst referee. Scott Foster (24 votes) was voted worst; Lauren Holtkamp was next (14 votes); and Davis, with 12 votes, was voted 3rd worst.

Here are the anonymous survey comments about Davis, published in the LA Times story January 30, 2016:

“He’s cool as they come, but he’s so arrogant,” one player said. “He instigates things sometimes. Marc will go back at a player. He forgets that he’s talking to another man. Don’t challenge a man’s manhood. Now you are going too far.”

“Marc Davis is hands down the worst,” a player said. “He acts likes he’s your friend, but he’ll just screw you. He’ll screw you and he’ll get the biggest attitude about it.”

Danny Crawford was voted “best official” (30 votes). Joey Crawford (no kidding) was next best (25 votes). Crawford retired after last season, which I suppose makes Monty McCutchen (13 votes) the 2nd best ref in the league.

Other sources: This post was edited to include the “Last Two Minute” reports from Raptors-Bucks and Wizards Celtics, and their findings, as well as other source material from NBA Official. Other main source material is from either Basketball-reference.com or NBA.com.

  • Bucks-Raptors Game 6 highlights, NBA.com/raptors:  http://www.nba.com/raptors/video/teams/raptors/2017/04/28/1493347703009-nba-web-170427-gamehighlights-1396692/
  • Bucks-Raptors Game 6 broadcast, Fox Sports North, analyst Marques Johnson.
  • Bucks-Raptors Game 6 play-by-play: http://www.nba.com/games/20170427/TORMIL#/pbp
  • Bucks-Raptors series stats: http://www.basketball-reference.com//playoffs/2017-nba-eastern-conference-first-round-bucks-vs-raptors.html
  • 2017 NBA season stats: http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2017.html#all_team-stats-per_game
  • 2017 NBA playoff stats: http://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/NBA_2017.html#all_all_team_stats
  • Deadspin, “Thunder-Spurs Game 2:
  • 2016-17 NBA rulebook: https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/2016-2017-Rule-Book-Final.pdf
  • Referee assignments: http://official.nba.com/referee-assignments/
  • Playoff officials selection process: http://official.nba.com/playoff-officials-selection-process/
  • Last Two Minute Report: http://official.nba.com/nba-last-two-minute-reports-archive/
  • Playoff officials roster: http://official.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/2016-17-NBA-Referee-Headshots-Conference-Semifinals-1.pdf
  • Radio Media Markets: http://www.radio-media.com/markets/main.html

Nellie ties Wilkins… Moments of truth for Raptors, Bosh

There’s only so much thinking one can do about Andrew Bogut’s season ending injuries. So yesterday I spent the afternoon and early evening watching the Celtics-Cavs, Lakers-Spurs and the piece de resistance in the Warriors-Raptors game:  Don Nelson’s record-tying 1,332nd win as an NBA head coach.

I realize that rooting against the Raptors only serves  Derrick Rose on his mission to make the playoffs,  which in turn lowers the Bucks 1st round pick in the 2010 draft due to the pick swap that was part of the John Salmons trade. But this was about Don Nelson, our Nellie, the coach who took over the “Green and Growing” Bucks after the 1975 Kareem trade and built a decade-long legacy of winning that still stands as the Bucks franchise heyday, NBA championship or no. Nellie won 536 games in Milwaukee (40% of his total), as the Marques-and-Sidney, Sidney-and-Cummings Bucks averaged 54 wins per season 1980-87. The Bucks playoffs series’ with the great Sixers and Celtics teams became the stuff of legend, along with the coach, his players and those fish ties of his. Nellie loved being in Milwaukee; the city loved him.

A championship yet eludes Nelson, and with the Warriors up for sale, this could be his last season as an NBA head coach. Sunday he tied Lenny Wilkens (Sonics, Cavs, Hawks) for the most wins in NBA coaching history. One more win and Nellie goes down in history. With games against the Wiz, the T-Wolves and the Clippers on tap for the Warriors this week, I’m looking forward to win #1,333.

The Raptors (38-38) are a game ahead of the Bulls (37-39) and hold the tie-breaker. But after watching the Raptors lose a 113-112 shootout at home to the 23-win Warriors Sunday, a day after they did all they could to give away a game in OT to the 26-win Sixers,  I’d have to say the Bulls have the upper hand in the race for 8th. The Raptors predictably ran a track meet with the Warriors (exactly what Golden State likes) and were helpless to defend a 39-point barrage from 3-point land in digging a 12-point 4th quarter hole. A furious comeback led by Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack fell just short when Sonny Weems, doing his best Larry Bird vs. the Pistons in the 1987 playoffs imitation, stole the inbound under the Golden State basket, passed underneath to Bosh as he fell out of bounds  …  and Bosh blew the layup at the buzzer. 

The young Warriors jumped around a smiling, dancing Nelson in celebration of win #1,332, Bosh (42 pts, 12 rebs) knelt along the baseline, head buried in his arms, Bird-to-DJ moment denied. … Steph Curry was brilliant for the Warriors, nearly putting up the season’s 2nd rookie triple double: 29 pts, 8 rebs, 12 assists.

The Raptors would probably make the playoffs splitting their last six games but that’s looking more and more difficult for this team. A good half of the Raptors rotation, Hedo Turkoglu included, looks ready for the season to end — and for free agent Bosh to move on to Act II of his career, which could very well be set in Chicago.

Derrick Rose Tank?  There was nothing for the Bulls to tank for after agreeing to swap draft picks with the Bucks, and they’re too good to fall in with the ping counters of the league anyway. Maybe that was the point all along in Chicago agreeing to the swap. That, and knowing that when picking in the teens and lower, it’s not so much where you draft as it is who you draft. The Bulls are reminded of this every day, watching their #26 pick overall pick in last summer’s draft, forward Taj Gibson, outperform the hobbled big forward they drafted ahead of Gibson at #16, James Johnson.  And then there’s 2008 #8 pick Joe Alexander wearing a suit on the Chicago bench, nothing if not a reminder of what can go wrong with a top 10 draft pick. For now, the draft can wait — Derrick Rose wants a playoff spot and we’ll all be better for it, Chris Bosh and the Raptors included.

The Bulls beat Charlotte Saturday and host the Bucks in Chicago Tuesday, the Bucks’ first game since losing Bogut for the season. This was going to be a tough game for the Bucks at full strength, the first game for John Salmons against the teammates he began the season with. With Luol Deng back in the lineup for the Bulls, and without Bogut to give Joakim Noah fits in the post… well, it’ll still be a Bucks-Bulls game, one that both teams need coming down the stretch. The Bucks can clinch a playoff spot with a win, which would also go a long way toward holding off the Bobcats for the 6th seed in the East.

Speaking of tanking: Nobody but nobody tanks quite like the Clippers. They’ve embarassed themselves at home against the Warriors and Knicks in the last five games, loafing through a three game road trip in between. Nobody even told the Knicks they had never beaten the Clippers in the Staples Center before Sunday’s game, and now no one has to.

Ray Allen: Lebron James had 42 pts and led the Cavs back from a 23-pt second half deficit after taking over offensive point guard duties. But the day belonged to Ray, who scored 26 pts on 17 shots (not including free throws) compared to Lebron’s 28 pts on 32 shots. Ray was 6-9 from the behind the arc, James 0 for 9 as the Celtics won in Boston, 117-113.  It’s good to see Ray shooting well since the All-Star break, bad news for Celtics playoff opponents. This has been his worst shooting year since 2003 when he shot 35% from three-point land after being traded from the Bucks to the Sonics. But since the All-Star break, Ray’s been back to his usual self, hitting 40.3% (54-134) . If he’s on, the Celtics are still one of the toughest teams to beat in the NBA (as the Cavs were reminded yesterday), a problem that becomes magnified in a seven game playoff series.

With two games against the Bucks ahead and the Hawks with the lighter schedule, the Celtics seemed a lock for the 4th playoff seed in the East. Now that Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett will miss Bogut, the Celtics may be inclined to win out the season. If I were a betting man, though, I’d take the Bucks to win a split vs. the C’s despite the disadvantage in the paint.

Carlos Delfino has a website. But it’s in Spanish, so I can’t really tell you what he’s been telling the fans back in Argentina. It’s good to see him back in the lineup, though, recovered from the neck and head injuries that forced him to miss three games last week. I didn’t see this in the Milwaukee media over the weekend but AP talked to Delfino about his comeback game Friday against the Bobcats (14 points after a rocky start) and the injury itself. Interesting conversation, as the reporter knew more about what happened to Carlos than Carlos did — he doesn’t remember the rebound play under the Bucks basket or the foot of Udonis Haslem in his neck and head area. That would be the foot now referred to as Haslem’s “inadvertant” foot.

I hope to hell we’ve seen the last of the freak injuries to Bucks players this season.

Image: Brian ButchBrian Butch to sign with the Nuggets:  Ridiculous Upside’s been keeping tabs on Butch’s progress with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Development League and it seemed only a matter of time before somebody picked up the 6’11” Badger and his reliable 3-point shooting. The big man they call Polar Bear was averaging 18 and 12 for the Jam and was the MVP of the D-League All-Star game.  Butch had been playing as an independent, without an NBA contract, but all that’s about to change as the Nuggets announced they’ve agreed to terms for the rest of the season (and playoffs), as well as a non-guaranteed contract next season.

The Nuggets are thin in the front court with big forward Kenyon Martin’s recuperating knee and an ankle injury to the Birdman, Chris Anderson. Butch may or may not be on the Nuggets 13-man playoff roster, but he is eligible because he is not coming to Denver from an NBA roster (unlike PF Darnell Jackson, whom the Bucks picked up off of waivers from Cleveland).  Also on the Nuggets roster are 7-footer Johan Petro and veteran Malik Allen, a Buck last season. Butch will be the 14th player on the roster.

The Nuggets have been expecting Martin to return for the playoffs, but comments he made last week cast some doubt on whether his knee is making much progress.  The Birdman’s sprained ankle seems to have compounded the need for an additional big man, prompting Denver to make a move.

Down in the standings: The next three games make or break the Raptors, Bosh

Toronto Raptors' Chris Bosh, left, dunks as Charlotte Bobcats' Stephen Jackson, right, looks on in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, March 29, 2010.It wasn’t so bad, being a Raptors fan for 24 hours, and they managed to overcome the locker room drama over the benching of Hedo Turkoglu to hold off the Bobcats in Charlotte, 103-101. And it was dramatic:

“Their postseason hopes suddenly in jeopardy, and with their $53 million shooter now an unwanted distraction, the Toronto Raptors came to Charlotte angry and on the edge of implosion.  … The Bobcats’ meek, nervous response showed this playoff race thing is still new to them.” — AP sports writer Mike Cranston, leading off his Raptors-Bobcats recap.

Dang, Mike. And most NBA fans think the high drama is in the West, where four teams are jostling for seeds 2-5. The race to settle 5-8 in the East may be just as good and not any less relevant, really, to the NBA title. The Cavs and Magic’s road to the championship runs East to West, and the beginning of that road is littered with teams playing .700 or higher basketball.

The Bucks remaining schedule is so difficult, it’s time to stop looking up in the standings and focus on the teams below them, all of whom have cake schedules and could make this too interesting for comfort. Besides, the Bucks play the Clippers tonight, and I certainly don’t want to spend any more blog time than I absolutely have to thinking about the Clippers.

The Raptors (36-37 and in 8th, just a game ahead of the Bulls) haven’t made any progress since 2008 when they finished 6th in the East (41-41), started slowly the next season and fired coach Sam Mitchell. With the addition of free agent Turkoglu, 2010 was supposed to be different — not a step back with 4th place even farther out of reach. 

So the blame has fallen on Turkoglu, who was benched Sunday in the loss to D-Wade and the Heat. Turk just wasn’t as responsible for the Orlando Magic’s success as people thought, and the Magic haven’t exactly missed the forward who was their weakest defender. In Toronto, where everybody from Jarret Jack to Andrea Bargnani to Chris Bosh can fill it up, Hedo’s solid offensive game is lost in the shuffle.

Offense never was the Raptors problem — they’re dead last in NBA defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) and allow more points per game than even the Knicks. If this can be laid on Turkoglu’s doorstep, I’ll bet you a contract extension for Toronto coach Jay Triano against Chris Bosh remaining a Raptor that says it can’t … even if he (Turkoglu) never was that good.  Not even Ben Gordon good.

That said, a split on a two-game road trip to Miami and Charlotte was better than half bad for these Raptors. The Bobcats in particular are an interesting matchup for the defense-challenged Raps, nearly their opposite. Larry Brown’s Cats may be one of the top four defensive teams in the league, but they have a difficult time putting the ball in the basket. The Raptors, led by Bosh’s 22 pts and some timely shooting by Turkoglu, put up 103 points last night and it was one bucket too many for the ‘Cats, even at home.

This was the right outcome for the Bucks, as it hung Eastern conference loss # 23 on the Bobcats. This will matter if the Bucks and Bobcats end the season tied, a reasonably good possibility given the difficulty of the Bucks last 10 games. Should the Bucks lose in Charlotte on Friday the season series would be tied, throwing the tie-breaker to conference schedule.  Bucks are 27-17 against the East this season, and would have to do a lot of losing in the conference for the Bobcats and their 23 losses to get the advantage in the race for the 6th seed.

The Raptors go home to play the Clippers, in the East this week to play back-to-back games in Milwaukee and Toronto. Then it’s down to Philly for a game against the suddenly good Sixers and back home to play Golden State. These three games should decide whether the Raptors and Bosh have any business thinking about the playoffs, because the next three (Cavs, Celtics, Hawks) say the Raptors are A) an afterthought (the Cavs) and B) a spoiler.

I think Bosh’s NBA stardom is also on the line in these next few games. You can only go so long losing more than you win before falling into the second tier or worse. If his Raptors are no match for the Clippers, Sixers or Warriors, this could be the last time we see Bosh as a centerpiece player in the NBA. Really. 

We went through this in Milwaukee with Michael Redd. Blaming the help (Turkoglu) is the first sign that the fall has already begun.  How’s that for playoff run drama?

Bucks-Clippers: I just realized the last thing I want to do is think about the Bucks two midweek games, tonight against the Clippers and Wednesday against the Cavs. At least it’s a back-to-back and the Bucks can get past these two quickly. And at least they play the Clippers first.

Having to play the Clippers at all in the middle of an Eastern Conference playoff run is kind of a distraction. But there are a few things the Bucks have going for them:

A) Hope that Carlos Delfino will return to the lineup tonight, recovered from the injuries suffered Friday at the feet of Miami’s Udonis Haslem;

B) That Andrew Bogut doesn’t want to be outplayed by Clippers center Chris Kaman; and,

C) The Clippers beat the Bucks two weeks ago in L.A., with point guard Baron Davis running a clinic on Brandon Jennings. Revenge to split the season series will be good for Jennings and make the plane ride to Cleveland much shorter. (Scratch Davis – he’s not playing. Steve Blake will start in his place. Typical Clippers – you never know who’s playing or not or who’s even on their roster.)

D) The Bucks are at home.

E) This is the last time the Bucks or their fans will have to think about Chris Kaman’s Clippers until next season. They’re the very definition of NBA distraction

Spoilers: Sticking in everybody’s business are the Sixers, who are suddenly playing like the playoff team they were supposed to be this season. They beat the Bucks and Hawks last week, and play in Charlotte tommorrow. Saturday the Sixers host the Raptors. The Bucks close their season series with the Sixers April 9 in Philly, where they haven’t won since 2007.

The Sixers rotation is filled with talented, athletic players, none of them the loafing kind (well, maybe Sam Dalembert takes a few nights off now and then, but never against the Bucks and Bogut). Mostly, they like playing D and, like a lot of defensive/hustle teams, will drive anybody who likes offensive efficiency nuts. They’ve had some injuries but forward Thaddeus Young (broken thumb) is the only player still sidelined as of this week. For teams like the Bucks or Bobcats, who like a good defensive struggle where the game comes down to turnovers and the battle for loose balls and rebounds (those 50-50 plays) the Sixers can be tough. They thrive playing the kind of ugly, possession-to-possession, Scott Skiles/Larry Brown style of basketball that breaks a lot of teams backs over 48 minutes.

Philly might wake up and realize that their season is over, but that would be very un-Sixer-like.  Very unlike an Eddie Jordan-coached team, too. In any case, it looks like the Sixers are doing exactly the opposite of quitting.  

“This is not a fluke. It is disappointing because we could’ve played like that the entire season.” — Sixers big forward Elton Brand.

The fluke may have been that they didn’t. And they haven’t lost their work ethic, according to coach Jordan. For future reference, here’s Jordan’s take on how the Sixers beat the Hawks and the Bucks last week:

“Obviously [in the wins], we’ve been making shots, but I do think we’ve been real solid in key areas. Whether it’s Andre [Iguodala] or Jrue [Holiday] locked up, or Samuel [Dalembert] locked up, it’s usually those three guys. They’ve been very good with their assignments, and that’s been very critical for us.”

Bucks brutal remaining schedule scares fan into rooting for Raptors

With 7:38 to play in the 4th quarter Sunday and the Memphis Grizzlies threatening to pull away from the seemingly exhausted, flat-shooting Bucks, Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings stalked onto the court from the sidelines with such determination and focus that anyone who saw it might have declared the game over right then and there.

Kurt Thomas, who had just turned the ball over by committing an offensive foul, headed for the bench, and Jerry Stackhouse, mired in an 11-game shooting funk (1-6 Sunday) that looks too business-as-usual to be called a slump, headed for the bench. Not to put the blame on those two reserves, both of them nearly old enough to be Brandon Jennings’ paw. The Bucks slide began late in the 3rd quarter with BJ and AB in the game and the Bucks in the process of making an 8-point lead vanish.  They were down 5 went Bogut and Jennings returned to the game. A 17-footer by Rudy Gay on the ensuing possession made it 85-78.  Coach Scott Skiles called time.  Enough was enough, time to see if Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Ridnour and John Salmons were into the game or not. They didn’t have much choice in the matter.

A rejuvinated Jennings quicked double-time into the pace of the Bucks offense, driving twice for layups. Luke Ridnour drove for one of his own. Salmons shot wasn’t flat anymore, Jennings was flying in for third layup and Ilyasova made the crowd forget about the airballs he had earlier tossed in zombie-like fashion from 3-point land.

Meanwhile Bogut challenged Memphis shots, took a charge on Gay, tapped back an offensive rebound, ate space in the paint and the Bucks found themselves clinging to a 94-92 lead in the final seconds.

The refs were apparently enjoying this spirited test of wills by the NBA’s new and interesting so much they didn’t want it to end. A phantom foul called on Jennings sent Mike Conley to the foul line to tie the game, which he did, and it went into OT tied at 94.   Check it out:

Didn’t touch him, did he? 

The Bucks, dog-tired in the 3rd quarter, seemed like the younger team in overtime (which they’re not, Jennings excepted).  They also made sure to get Bogut involved in the offense, and he delivered a running hook that served to collapse the Griz defense for the next few possessions, and that’s all it took.  The Bucks had open looks all over the court and wide open lanes to the hoop. They might have pulled away earlier than they eventually did but for a Gasol block of yet another layup by Jennings and a fluke step-out turnover by Ilyasova (refereeing at any level’s not supposed to be that good — it happened so fast it was difficult to see Ersan step out of bounds even in slo-mo replay, right though the ref was. Crazy.)

The Griz finally cracked, Zach Randolph got hit with a couple of dumb fouls trying to crash the boards, and the Bucks shot free throws to the 108-03 final. This turned into one of the better games of the season, and not because the Bucks schedule is so brutal the rest of the way that it was almost a must-win game. I said it when the Bucks stole the game in Sacramento and I’ll write it again — this was not a game the Bucks would have won 3 months ago.  

Bogut and Jennings willed this game into the win column. The knowledge that they can do this makes being a Bucks fan a hopeful fan to be with their first playoff together fast approaching. Jennings led the Bucks with a near triple double: 29 pts, 7 rebs and 8 assists. Bogut added 18 pts, 11 boards. And Salmons shot his way to 25. Ridnour refound his hyper-efficient groove and added 14 pts, 6 assists off the Bucks bench.

The Grizzlies starting five is fun to watch. Third-year-pro Conley, from the 2007 Final Four Ohio State team (Greg Oden) is at point; last season’s ROY runner-up Mayo is the shooter; UConn star Rudy Gay (2006 draft) is averaging 20 pts per game at small forward; there’s beastly 28-year-old Randolph (Michigan State) at big forward (31 pts, 15 rebs Sunday) and, at center, Marc Gasol, 25, younger brother of Laker Pau, but tougher and not complaining about Kobe’s refusals to pass the ball.

The Griz are 38-35 in Lionel Hollins’ first full season as the coach, as opposed to the interim/acting stints he’s served for the team in the past. Hollins was an assistant on Scott Skiles’ staff last season before returning to the Griz. That half-season in Milwaukee was the only NBA job outside the Grizzlies’ organization Hollins has held since the franchise came into the league as the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995. Up until 2008, Hollins had coached in one capacity or another ever single game in Grizzlies franchise history, beginning as an assistant to Brian Winters at the dawn of Grizzlie time in the NBA. (Winters’ retired #32 Bucks jersey is hanging from the Bradley Center rafters).  There’s a post way back in the BBJ archives about Hollins, written when Skiles hired him in May of 2008, and you should click here to read more about it.  Hollins is a great coach and if yesterday’s game was any indication, he’s got the Grizzlies moving in the right direction. The Bucks were lucky to have him here for the time that they did.

“I have no problems or worries about how we are going to finish the season,” Hollins said after the game. “But I told them if you have this kind of focus and effort, you are going to win a lot of games and we are going to have a good finish.”

Yeah they are. And it looks as though they’re going to be tough to beat for years to come. 

Are the Chicago Bulls serious about getting into the playoffs or is Detroit really this bad?  The Bulls have nothing to lose — GM John Paxson agreed to swap picks with the Bucks as part of the Salmons trade, providing that the Bucks finish with a better record than the Bulls. That will happen. There’s no sense in the Bulls tanking so the Bucks can have the extra pings, so they play on.  While pondering this and other things, reading the Bulls-Pistons game recap at yahoo.com/nba, my eyes fell upon this little factoid in the “Notes” section:

Detroit is 2-14 against the Central Division, with both wins coming against Milwaukee. Besides being swept by the Bulls for the first time in 14 years, they were swept by Indiana for the first time in franchise history. The Bulls have beaten the Pistons 7 straight times.

Yes, the Pistons are that bad. Earlier today I saw a headline on the Journal Sentinel website about “Villanueva” and a possible “demotion.” I hit the link, curious to find out the latest bunk on Charlie Villanueva only to find that it was only Brewers pitcher Carlos Villanueva trying to convince a reporter that the possibility of being sent down to the minors doesn’t bother him. For a second there, I thought the Pistons were considering sending Charlie V to the D-League for some shot selection boot camp. How did the Bucks lose twice to those guys?

In MIAMI —  A big comeback by the Heat in the 4th quarter commandeers a game the Raptors had well in hand. Chris Bosh and team appear lost as Dwyane Wade makes play after play, asserting the inevitable.  That’s the good news. The bad news is that the 35-37 Raptors were the only team remaining on the Heat schedule that had any chance at a playoff spot. All that’s left now are 8 teams fighting for pings, and the Heat have a scaaaaaaary 3-game road trip coming up that takes them to Detroit, Indiana and Minnesota, their only departure from the dregs of the East. The Heat have won five in a row and are 40-34, just two games behind the Bucks (40-32) on the loss side. The Bucks hold the tie-breaker but D-Wade wants the #5 playoff seed.

The Bucks, meanwhile, hope Carlos Delfino recovers nicely from the neck and jaw injuries he suffered agains the Heat Friday and are battling a flu bug (Ersan took IV treatment a couple of days ago and now Charlie Bell is sick). Bogut seems OK after missing Friday’s game with a muscle problem in his upper back, and he’s just in time for a rematch Tuesday against Clippers center Chris Kaman, who had 20 against the Bucks in L.A. without his feet ever leaving the floor. 

After that, six of the Bucks last nine games are against teams fighting for playoff spots or position.  Team # 7  is the Lebrons on Wednesday in Cleveland, not fighting for anything really but wouldn’t mind mathematically eliminating the Lakers from contention for home court advantage throughout the playoffs, the sooner the better.  Zydrunas “Big Z” Ilgauskas, made his big return from 30-day buyout exile last night against Sacramento.

Game 8 is at Philly, where the Revenge of the Airball seems a vendetta without end.

Game 9, April 7, features the hopeless crusade of the 2010 New Jersey Nets. But it happens to be the second game of one of four back-to-backs coming up for the Bucks and has “weird things are going to happen in this game written all over it.”  

For the moment, the Bucks play four games in five days, are tasked with winning the tie breaker against 7th place Charlotte Bobcats (38-34) in Charlotte on Friday, a game certain to be a nasty defensive struggle against Larry Brown’s team. It always is. The Bucks then jet home to face Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudamire (got the apostrophe this time) and the red-hot Phoenix Suns Saturday. It’ll be the Suns 5th game this week, too, and they’re fighting for home court advantage in Round 1 of the West playoffs.

Given the Heat’s pushover schedule, it’s looking more and more probable that the Bucks are destined for the 6th seed — if they can hold off Charlotte in 7th. The Cats have won 7 of their last 10 games, have a much easier schedule than the Bucks and tonight host Chris Bosh’s Raptors, fresh off their 4th quarter stinker yesterday in Miami. The Bucks need to go at least 5-5 through this ten game gautlet, with one of the wins seizing the season series and the tie-breaker from Charlotte.*

For the first time in the history of the Raptors franchise, I find myself rooting for them. Let’s see if it does any good.

*In the event the Bucks lose and the Charlotte season series knots at 2-2, the next tiebreaker is conference  division record.

After a whole bunch of nonsense that I just deleted, the bottom line is that the Bobcats are very much in striking range of the Bucks, especially if the Bucks crap out and lose six games to East opponents the rest of the way — a possibility considering that the Bobcats, Hawks, Celtics (twice), Cavs, Bulls (in Chicago) and a trip to Philly are on the schedule. The Bucks’ conference record is 27-17. The Bobcats are at 22-23.  The Bucks need 3 wins against East competition to claim the tie-breaker IF they lose Friday in Charlotte.

If this sounds like one too many scenarios springing from the art of losing, it probably is. Let’s just beat the Bobcats Friday and grab the tiebreaker.

Bucks Weekend: Raptors in home opener and Knicks Sun

The oft-injured Jermaine O'NealThis is reposted from the bottom of my last column. Why? Well, it’s a Bucks-Raptors preview, but in writing it I was reminded of something I thought needed highlighting (hence the bold typeface):

The Raptors come to town boasting two of the top three 3-point shooters in the NBA — All-time!  Reserve forward Jason Kapano is #1 in 3-point shooting percentage and starting guard Anthony Parker is #7. Plus, they bring a top tier point guard to the BC in Jose Calderon. Just as against many NBA opponent, the Bucks will not find advantage in the backcourt — but the frontcourt of Bogut, Villanueva and Jefferson should decide whether the Bucks are in this one or not.

GAME TIME 7:30pm — Bradley Center and on FSN.

After today’s game, the Bucks are off to NY, a game they’d better win if only because the Knicks stole two games from the Bucks last season. Watch out for David Lee, the Knicks big forward. The Bucks lost track of him repeatedly last season and he was the difference. Beating the Knicks is the responsibilty of Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva. Hold down the paint guys and you’ll likely have a win.


Two days off before the home opener Saturday:  The Raptors will be a good test, and let’s hope another debacle like the Chicago opener doesn’t occur. It’s another game the Bucks need to win if they have any hope of posting a respectable record this month (and next month too — the Bucks are staring down a December gunbarrel of a second trip west and a back-to-back in Texas).

Saturday offers Bucks fans a first look at the new Raptors, with TJ Ford gone and Jermaine O’Neal manning the post (check that – I don’t recall that O’Neal was ever much of a post threat; good midrange shooter, though). Another advantage for Bogut? Not certain with Chris Bosh also in the paint; also Toronto has a big edge at point with Jose Calderon, making this matchup a tough test for the Bucks guards. Nonetheless, it’s still a good idea for the Bucks to test O’Neal with Bogut just as they did last night against the Thunder and try to gain a frontcourt advantage.

The Bucks and Charlie Villanueva will have their hands full with Bosh, not to mention Calderon and some of the best shooters in the league, 3-point champ Jason Kapano, a reserve forward, and starting shooting guard Anthony Parker. Kapano’s career three-point percentage is .466 – tops in NBA history. Parker’s career 3-point percentage is .426, 7th all-time and 3rd among active players, behind only Kapano and Suns MVP Steve Nash. Kapano and Parker hit 6 of 9 threes against the Sixers Wednesday night, spoiling Elton Brand’s Philadelphia debut.

Here’s the active career 3-point shooting list at basketball-reference.com. As you can see, Michael Redd is down to 18th after a poor shooting season last year; Ray Allen is 12th among active players, though he’s second only to Reggie Miller in career 3-pointers made. Charlie Bell makes the active rankings at 44th, with a .361 percentage.