Looking at the schedule, if the Bucks are 9-10 at the end of November, Bucks fans will have reason to rejoice. If they're 8-11, that's a big step in the right direction, too.
Last night's win ON THE ROAD (remember what road wins are like?) against the Oklahoma City Thunder was the kind of game the Bucks need to have in order to win 8 or 9 of these first 19 games in November Are the Bucks going to beat San Antonio, Cleveland or Boston? Not much of a chance. The Thunder? This is a team you jump out on early, keep 'em down and close them out, no matter that the Thunder were playing their first home game in team history.
(I still think the Seattle swindlers should have named this team the Rawhides, but the OK City Thunder "group" are not the sort of ownership folks who take advice well. Just ask the good people of Seattle.)
How did the Bucks, who looked no different from last season's Bucks in the opener against Chicago, get it done in Oklahoma? They went early to the big advantage they have against most teams — Andrew Bogut — and played inside-out in building a decisive lead.
OK City, with Kevin Durant, big forwards like Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison and rookie point guard Russell Westbrook, is an interesting team, but they have no center to handle Bogut. Bucks coach Skiles, who's never had much of a big man in his previous jobs at Phoenix and Chicago, did what he could not do against the Bulls — he took advantage of the Bogut advantage. Bogut scored 8 in the first quarter, finished with 11 at half and the Bucks were on their way. Suddenly three-pointers fell for the Bucks, Charlie Villanueva got loose 20 points and 12 boards, and the Bucks built a 20-point 3rd quarter lead.
There were a few more highlights:
The benching of Michael Redd in the first quarter. When Redd plays selfish and starts chucking (0-3 to start the game, bad shots all), sit him down. Simple stuff. Don't worry Bucks fans, Redd won't be here that much longer, but at least we now have a coach who will park Redd's butt on the bench. Redd recovered to have a solid, 20-point game, but was caught selfishly trying to pad his scoring in the 4th quarter with a hold-the-ball, dribble-right, dribble-left, chuck-the-ball-up play that also should have landed him on the bench. The shot he flung up there, with a defender in his face, nearly injured the OK City player under the basket when it shanked the rim and rocketed toward the baseline. Coach Skiles, let's once and for all put an end to this sort of bush league basketball in Milwaukee. Bucks fans have had more than our fill.
Richard Jefferson: 20 points on ten shots. That sort of efficiency will win some games for the Bucks. Jefferson at small forward was another big advantage the Bucks held last night against the Thunder, who play former Time Warner Cable pitchman Dez Mason and Jeff Green at small forward.
Charlie Villanueva: Can he get 20 pts, 12 rebs every night? Maybe, if he gets the opportunities and can find some consistency playing near the basket. After logging only 6 minutes of PT against the Bulls opening night, Charlie showed Skiles that he ought to be out on the floor. For all of OK City's size at forward and Wilcox's athleticism and dedication to the boards, Charlie V has a much more dynamic offensive game than any of the OK City bigs (Bogut does too) and piled on to the frontcourt advantage that the Bucks exploited last night.
The other Charlie: Charlie Bell played backup point in the 3rd and 4th quarters, and was in control of the game, if not the officials who seemed dead set on helping OK City make it something of a game. It looks as though there will be plenty of minutes for Bell this season, backing up Redd and Jefferson. That's a good thing.
Two days off before the home opener Saturday: They'll need the rest to jump Toronto at home 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 will also give 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 with Bogut, Villanueva and Jefferson. The Bucks do not have an edge over the Raptors in the backcourt.
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.