Tag Archives: Derrick Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Brandon Jennings, #1 at age 10 (pic from the famous ballboy archives)

BJ4GThe 45-34 Bucks are 3-1 without center Andrew Bogut and are playoff bound in the East with a seed no worse than 6th. They’ve successfully avoided a Round 1 matchup with the Orlando Magic, which could have been quite embarrassing and depressing to watch with no Bogut to battle on in the paint against Dwight Howard.

I’m sure Howard’s happy about this too, given the mano-a-mano nature of center battles and the pride that goes into the post rivalries. Sixers center Sam Dalembert, ever the Bogut nemesis, seemed a little lost on the court against the Bucks in Philly Friday, eventually picking it up in the second half to help bring the Sixers back into the game with some active help D … above the free throw line?  Never if Bogut was on the court. On Saturday, the Celtics gave KG the night off and center Kendrick Perkins played just 18 mins.

But I digress. It’s time to celebrate in Brewtown, to party, literally, like it’s 1999 and Dominguez High out of Compton is the Division II state champion, the top-ranked ballers in all of California.  A 10-year-old named Brandon Jennings was a ball boy for the Dominguez basketball factory, led by smooth shooting, 6’4″ senior guard Keith Kincade and sophomore center Tyson Chandler (at left), already a household name thanks to a 60 Minutes profile. Kincade scored 23 in the title game against Sacramento Grant, while Chandler was held to 5 pts, 5 boards before fouling out.

The above photo came my way via an email from Dewey (thanks again Dewey!), a blogger at PlaymakerMobile. Dewey’s site is all-sports with what looks like a strong NFL focus (lots of McNabb trade stuff there now), and he’s been keeping an eye on BJ’s exploits in his rookie season.

Back to this photo:  We all know what became of the Dominguez ballboy. And Chandler, a Parade and McDonald’s HS All-American by his senior year, declared for the 2001 NBA draft right out of high school. The Clippers drafted him #2 overall and traded him to the Bulls for 2000 ROY Elton Brand. After years of back trouble, grumbling by Chicago fans about “potential” and a few more in and out of Scott Skiles‘ doghouse, Chandler became a shot-blocking, offensive rebounding machine.  He’s now with Larry Brown in Charlotte, a good place for that sort of specialist to be.

Funny isn’t it, that the the towering 10th grader on the left and the beaming 4th grader in the lower right would eventually end up under Scott Skiles’ tutelage, like it or not. But whatever happened to Keith Kincade?

Celtics 105, Bucks 90: I’ve never believed the reports about the demise of the Celtics, and not for once thought the Bucks could take them in a 7-game playoff, Bogut in the lineup or not. Playing without Kevin Garnett and with center Kendrick Perkins sitting out two-thirds of the game, the Celtics flexed what was left of their muscles and simply overpowered the Bucks. Kurt Thomas didn’t dent the Celtics front line. Ersan Ilyasova was game but too often on his own in the paint, with Luc Mbah a Moute in foul trouble. Ray Allen (21 pts on seven shots; attempted a single three pointer) Rondo and Pierce were too much for BJ, Salmons and Delfino. Sheed was a Bucks killer, as always, and Big Baby wants to fight, someone, anyone.

BJ’s brashness aside, the Celtics are not the playoff matchup for the Bucks —  this year. With better inside help for Bogut, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute, the Bucks should be ready for the Celtics in 2011.  The Hawks? The Bucks are ready for them right now. 

Bucks 99, Sixers 90: The Bucks won in Philly without Bogut, which, as discombobulating as that was for Dalembert, is just plain weird given The Revenge of the Airball and all things that make little sense about a Bucks-Sixers game. The Bucks managed it with half-a-John Salmons too, as their leading scorer fought a bout with the flu through halftime but looked dead on his feet by the 3rd quarter. Jennings had a bad night shooting (4-17) but I’m becoming more and more impressed with BJ’s defense. Tuesday night he slowed down Derrick Rose in the 4th quarter, enough for the Bucks to eke out a win in Chicago. Last night BJ harassed fellow rookie pg Jrue Holiday into an 0-10 start from the field, a far cry from the hot shooting night Holiday had in Milwaukee March 24.

Where’d the offense come from?  Carlos Delfino was lights out with 23 pts (5-8 from downtown) and Luke Ridnour had one of those nights off the bench where everything found the bottom of the net (18 for Luke on 8-12 shooting). … Centers Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric were awful on the offensive end but solid and focused on D (5 blocked shots between them). The Bucks do what they can, and it’s been good enough all year.

Yi Jianlian #9 of the New Jersey Nets looks to shoot during the second half of a pre-season game against the New York Knicks on October 20, 2008 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Knicks won 114-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.The Nets’ Brook Lopez got away with a goaltend to dunk the Nets into overtime against the Bulls in New Jersey, on an otherwise very workable play drawn up by coach Kiki Vandeweghe with 3.6 seconds to go. Vandeweghe set up a football-like screen for Lopez and Yi Jianlian to freely stream into the paint as Terrence Williams drove in on Derrick Rose.  When Williams’ shot rimmed out, both Yi and Lopez were right there for the tap, which Lopez delivered, hand and ball clearly in the cylinder. No call, and on to OT they went, tied at 103.

In the first overtime, the Bulls jumped out to a 110-103 lead but some more terrible officiating (two no-calls on Courtney Lee hacking Rose) and two missed free throws by Rose pushed the game to a second overtime, 112-112.  In the second OT, Devin Harris and T.Williams staked the Nets to a five point lead and the Bulls folded.

This was actually a pretty good game, New Jersey’s 12th win.  Lopez and Yi combined for 41 pts and 26 boards; Brad Miller and Joakim Noah responded with 43 and 19, while Williams had the second rookie triple double of the season for the Nets.  But refs will be refs in the NBA. And this loss by the Bulls (38-41) sets up a Sunday night showdown with the 38-41 Raptors in Toronto for the 8th playoff spot in the East.   

Over at Blog-a-Bull, friendly neighborhood Bulls fans are, as usual, trying to fire coach Vinnie Del Negro.

Very, very interesting box score from Miami. Pistons fans have always regretted trading the wrong guard (Chauncey) for Allen Iverson in 2008 but very few fans seemed to notice that the Pistons went 8-2 last year with the Answer doing his thing while Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace were out with injuries.  This season, it’s more of the same. Deactivate Hamilton and suddenly coach John Kuester remembers that Ben Gordon is on his team. 39 points from Gordon later and the Pistons had broken Miami’s nine game winning streak. Things are getting real obvious in Detroit, as in Michael Redd-Tracy McGrady obvious.

Somebody in the West plays defense?  Of coures the Lakers do when they want to but how about the Oklahoma City Thunder?   I didn’t think coach Scott Brooks had them playing Eastern Conference style D but after last night in OK City vs. the Suns, I’m a believer. The Thunder held run-and-gun Phoenix  to 34 pts in the 2nd half and closed out a 96-91 win. This is the kind of game that will win Brooks Coach of the Year honors, though it doesn’t seem as though OK City fans really appreciate a good defensive performance.  Or maybe it’s just because the blog I read was one of those ESPN jobs. 

I’m still in awe about the final shot defensive stand the Bobcats made this week in New Orleans. Mean and suffocating it was, and game winning. The Cats and Bucks are tied as the stingiest defenses in the NBA, ahead of the Magic, Celtics and Lakers. Then the Heat and the Cavs. The Thunder are 8th, giving up 104.2 pts per 100 possessions, just ahead of the Spurs and Jazz, rounding out the top 10.

Point being – it doesn’t take much to get it together in the NBA, really. Play dedicated team D, rebound the ball, have a reliable, go-to scorer and you’ll win some games.  It’s no great secret why the Bucks are 21-6 since acquiring John Salmons – they were winning and playing great D most of the year, and Salmons gave them the go-to offense they needed.  The Thunder play some excellent team D for Brooks; Kevin Durant‘s got the scoring end of it well in hand. It’s the D that makes them a likable sleeper pick to get to the West semis.

How good is Andrew Bogut? Bucks center is only entering his prime

He’s only 25 years old, and has improved with every season of his five-year NBA career, to the point where he was an obvious All-Pro selection and easy choice on the NBA All-Defensive team. In “the land of the giants” there are two: Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut.  A broken hand only changes this fact of NBA life for the time beng as the Bucks center plays into his prime.  Yet in reading the many great tributes to Bogut’s 2010 season written since his season-ending injuries Saturday, you’d think AB had been permanently crippled, or worse.

How good has Andrew Bogut become? Prior to the 2009-10 season, I predicted the Bucks would win 33 or 34 games, while struggling with their rookie point guard and dealing with the health and uncoachability of Michael Redd. I figured they would finish anywhere from 10th-12th in the East, better than a lot of NBA junkies had them if only because coach Scott Skiles would demand the kind of intensity and defensive commitment that would keep them in a lot of games. Playoffs? Forget it. 

There were however, two big IFs that could (and would) put the Bucks in playoff contention: IF Brandon Jennings could exceed expectations and IF Bogut returned from his career-threatening lower back injury and established himself as an All-Star center. Jennings delivered and helped get the Bucks off to a good start. But by mid-January it still hadn’t quite happened for Bogut. Almost, but not every night. For many Bucks fans and even Bogut’s coach, Scott Skiles, the tendency was to focus on the tough nights: a couple of bad games vs. Big Ben Wallace, a rough night against Brendan Haywood and the Wiz, foul trouble against the monsters of Cleveland, the usual struggles vs. Sam Dalembert (why didn’t AB make the All-Star team? Four coach votes in the East right there weren’t going his way and the Bucks hadn’t played the Heat or Hawks yet; and I’m pretty sure Larry Brown voted for Al Horford). Then there were six games missed in late November with a strained/bruised left leg that raised questions about whether the Bucks would ever get into a rhythm playing with their center.

By January, Bogut finally got healthy and the big IF happened. More than anything, it happened on defense as Bogut became active in the paint night in night out. Whereas before he was tentative on the help, Bogut was rising up to challenge every shot that came through the paint. The Skiles defense is simple: 1) Apply constant pressure on the ball; 2) Show help but don’t leave your man – no switching on picks or double teams; 3) Let no shot go unchallenged.  This funnels drives to the bucket but doesn’t create a great deal of rotating help for a center leaving his man to go for a block. Bogut had to learn how to play like the help didn’t matter, to challenge above the rim instead of positioning to take charges (a habit he’s had to break), and he did.

Bogut blocked 40 shots in JanuaryMILWAUKEE - APRIL 08: Andrew Bogut #6 of the Milwaukee Bucks wears a mask over a broken nose suffered earlier in the season during a game against the Boston Celtics on April 8, 2008 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Celtics defeated the Bucks 107-104 in overtime. From Getty Images., 39 in February and in March 44 (in 14 games for a league-leading avg. of 3.14 bpg). Suddenly he appeared in the Top 5 of the NBA defensive ratings and stayed there. By mid-March he had separated from the pack behind Howard, and then there were two. There was Dwight all alone at the top, his Magic giving up 95.0 pts per 100 possessions when he’s in the game; and there was Bogut and the Bucks at #2, allowing 97.9 pts per 100, the only other player/team under 99 or 98. This was mirrored on the blocked shots leader board (Howard 2.8 bpg, Bogut 2.5, Haywood a distant 3rd with 2.1).

Bogut’s Bucks are the best defense in the league … when Dwight Howard is eating, resting, sleeping, playing X-box with D-Wade or Chuck, messing with his i-phone, doing anything other than stepping on an NBA court for the Magic. The stats are there: Add the steals and charges to the equation and Bogut’s been averaging more than 4+ denials per game since January. But more importantly, Bogut — like Howard — is the literal, psychological and strategic center of everything his team does defensively. They’re real NBA centers in the throwback meaning of the position; they’ve become a rare breed.

The rebounding was always there (10.2 rpg, 10th in the NBA, top 10 in rebounding percentage). The offense is improving all the time. The left-handed jump hook is softer than the right but he shoots both with ease. He’s facing up opposing centers and taking them to the hoop this season. He’s not afraid to take a 12-foot jump shot anymore (in the 2008 Olympics he was hitting 3-pointers for the Aussies, so look for his face-up shooting to become more of a weapon in seasons-to-come).

AB has always been one of the best passing big men in the NBA, with Tim Duncan being the only other center I can think of who’s good for the occasional behind-the-back bounce pass to a cutting teammate. Even the free throws are finding the bottom of the net. After a bad start at the line, Bogut has made 66% (108-158) in the new year, signs that he’s outgrowing the Dwight-Shaq liability at the line. No, his 15.9 pts per game doesn’t scream All-Pro and he’s not a particularly efficient scorer as far as big men go (his 52% shooting could be better).  But his scoring line is fairly consistent — if Bogut is scoring 15 or more against you, chances are the Bucks are winning the game (in the 40 Bucks wins he played in, Bogut averaged 17.7 ppg), and they’re doing it primarily with defense.

Star power: Andrew Bogut in action for the Bucks.The bottom line is that the Bucks were winning. Much has been made of the acquisition of John Salmons at the trading deadline, and true, Salmons made the Bucks complete and dangerous, a good shot to make it to the East semis before Bogut’s fall. And too much has been made (in Milwaukee, anyway) of the Jerry Stackhouse pick up. The Bucks and Bogut had turned it around in mid-January during a long, six-game road trip West and were 8-4 in the 12 games leading up to the trading deadline. The Bucks had already righted their season when Salmons joined the team, and their center, the #1 pick that the team is building its future around, was playing like an All-Pro.

It really is a shame that fans won’t get to see Bogues in the playoffs this season — and it’s a shame that the Celtics and Hawks frontlines will miss him … this time.  Bogut’s only 25 years old.  A broken right paw isn’t going to limit his mobility or stop his left handed hook.  It’s not a knee injury or anything at all like the lower back injury that ended his 2009 season. The surgery was successful, the bones in his hand will heal, his dislocated elbow will knit, and he’ll be as good as new by late summer, probably playing for Basketball Australia in the world games. He can begin rehab in six weeks, according to Bucks doctors.

Come next fall, AB will be the same All-Pro center who was leading the Bucks into the 2010 playoffs, only better. One constant of Andrew Bogut’s career is that he has improved some aspect of his game every season of his five in the league, whether it was blocking shots in 2010, learning Skiles’ defense last season, or developing parts of his offensive game.

“Get used to this guy Bogut,” TNT analyst Kenny Smith said in March after Bogut scored 25 pts, grabbed 17 rebs and blocked 4 shots in a Bucks win over the Celtics. “He’s going to be in the league a long, long time.”

BUCKS vs. BULLS pregame:  You can’t blame Joakim Noah if he’s relieved about Bogut’s absence from tonight’s game in Chicago. In three previous games against Noah and the Bulls this season, Bogut averaged 21.7 pts, 13.7 rebs, 4.3 blocks, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals. Bogut was a beast against Chicago, and the Bucks are 2-1 on the season series, the Bulls eking out a 4th quarter win in the 3rd game of the season, just days after the Michael Redd experiment fell apart once again.  Noah was held to 4 pts in that N0v. 3 matchup. 

But now what?  The Bucks have activated backup center Dan Gadzuric, but don’t expect him to play much. Most of the post responsibilities will fall to Kurt Thomas, who’s biggest concern will be staying out of foul trouble against Noah. Bucks forwards Ersan Ilayasova and defensive ace Luc Mbah a Moute will be asked to do more in the paint, and that’s not a bad thing for the Bucks. Ilyasova is a matchup problem for the Bulls.

This’ll be John Salmons’ first game against his old teammates. One hallmark of the earlier matchups was Salmons vs.  Charlie Bell‘s pressure-cooker defense, which obviously can’t happen now that Salmons is in Bell’s starting spot. Now it’ll be Salmons vs. Kirk Hinrich, one of the NBA’s best defensive 2-guards and a Skiles protege.  Hinrich and point guard Derrick Rose are logging heavy minutes on the Bulls desperate push for the playoffs and are coming off a 50 point game against Charlotte (Bulls won).  Luol Deng is back for the Bulls after missing most of March with a thigh strain and is also playing heavy minutes, as is rookie forward Taj Gibson.  Noah and Brad Miller split the center minutes.

Hak Warrick gets some PT in the rotation, but the Bulls are essentially a six-man team on their playoff drive. And Rose wants badly to be in Cleveland for Round 1. The Bucks will have a tough time keeping him out of the paint, which is where Rose’ll be headed in the absence of Bogut. The Bucks can clinch their playoffs, though not their position, with a win.  This is going to be one intense game.

“Forget Gordon, I miss Skiles”: That’s the view from Chicago blogger i94 Sports, going down memory lane to two-and-a-half years ago when Skiles lost the Bulls and was fired, or they lost him and he quit, or … nobody’s quite sure what happened but the Bulls and Skiles parted ways amid talk that he had worn the team out. Luol Deng and Ben Wallace trouble? The better approach would have been to fire the players and keep Skiles, i-94 says:

“Some times, I think all the “Bulls miss Ben Gordon” stories would have been more accurately aimed at a certain former head coach. Just imagine if Derrick Rose had a coach who stressed defense for the last two seasons.”

You don’t have to Chicago – just watch Brandon Jennings.

Charlie, you’re such a dumb-twit: He’s at it again, twitting over Tweeter, tweeting on Twitter. Charlie V just can’t twit it. Apparently “something” happened at the Pistons practice yesterday and now Charlie Villanueva is very upset (apparently at coach John Kuester) and tweeted about his frustrations, and rookie forward Austin Daye has something to say on Twitter too. He’s “twisted” mad. 

Remember two years ago when Larry Krystkowiak challenged Charlie to a fight in a practice and called him a wuss when he backed down? “Some powere forward you are, Charlie,” or something like that. Oh, the memories. And that great Charlie V work ethic! Such a pro, this Detroit Pistons forward is. Need4Sheed.com is all over it.

Detroit – he’s all yours now.

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.

Rose or Beasley, Beasley or Rose?.. A coach?.. Pizza?.. Bulls GM Paxson just can’t decide

John Paxson in more certain timesSATURDAY EVENING, Celtics-Pistons tipoff less than an hour away. I was getting ready to run to the grocery store before missing any of the pregame when the telephone rang. It was Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson.

“J-Mo, do you have that money I lent you last month? Jerry Reinsdorf cut off my expense account again.”

“Huh? Pax, that was 17 years ago, and I won it back. Remember our three-point shootout?”

“You won that?”

“I have witnesses.”

“Why’s your number still in my phone?”

“Why’d you call it? This is a Bucks blog line.”

“I don’t know. I felt like calling somebody, but I couldn’t decide who to call.”

“Why didn’t you just call for pizza delivery? … [pause] … [no answer from Paxson] … [Still pausing] … Umm, Pax? Hey, congratulations on winning the lottery. It doesn’t make up for two decades of Bears quarterbacks or Eddie Curry, but the people of Chicago’ave gotta to be at least half happy about your dumb luck.”

“Yeah, thanks. I’m still in shock to tell you the truth. I still don’t know what to say, especially about the Bears quarterbacks.”

“Please, don’t say anything about Bears quarterbacks. But what about the ultimate question, Pax? Who’s it gonna be? Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose?”

“I dunno. I guess I’ll decide after I get them both in here for workouts. I won’t decide until then.”

“Is that really necessary? I don’t think Beasley and Rose are lying on their resumes. Rose could be the second coming of Chris Paul, if only because every team wants a CP3 or Deron of their very own and this requires a second coming. Beasley’s a good-sized forward who loves the paint — you know how rare that is nowadays. None of that’s going to change at the workouts. The only thing that matters is who you think helps you more.”

Beasley vs. Wisconsin in the tournament:




“It’s just …. such a tough choice.”

“Well, you haven’t had a low post scorer in Chicago since, since … Bill Cartwright? … Artis Gilmore? I’m gonna say Artis.”

“Artis? You know that’s not true.”

“Artis is funnier. Like the first coming of Ben Wallace. I’m trying to make a point.”

“What is your point, J-Mo?”

“Beasley’s the point. Most of your talent is at the guard spot – four players. If you draft Rose, you’ll get better eventually but in the meantime, you’ll be back to having a rookie point guard again, five years after Kirk Hinrich — and you still won’t have a low post scorer for your rookie to pass to.”

“I have Drew Gooden. He’s maybe more of a post-up guy than Beasley. Gooden’s 6′ 10″ and he’s only 26.”

“Gooden? Please! Beasley’s all over the court. He’s the All-World version of Nocioni, loves to scrap and rebound. Nocioni you just trade to make your fans happy and you’re back in the playoffs. Just make sure Noah doesn’t shoot, try to coach, talk to the media or drink in front of Florida cops when he’s stoned. … By the way, going through your roster, you had NO business being in the lottery.”

“I don’t know about that. This season … everything just got so ….”

Rose vs. Georgetown, Dec. 2007




“Pax, if you draft Rose, it’s the same as making a decision about Hinrich. You’d be saying, ‘Kirk, I know that when you signed your contract we said you were imperative to the foundation of the organization, etc., etc., but we don’t think you can lead us to the next level. Thanks for the memories.'”

“Did I really say that?”

“Yes, you did. ‘Imperative to the foundation of the organization.’ And then some stuff about ‘character and commitment.’ It’s on your website, October 2006.”

“You know, Kirk was the only guy who signed the extension I offered him. Gordon and Deng wouldn’t do it and now they’re free agents. I don’t know what to do with them.”

“Well, you were trying to trade them. Or someone. Did you ever decide who were going to trade?”

“No, no, I never did decide. But I knew I wanted Kevin Garnett. And then Kobe wanted to be a Bull. I don’t know what that was all about. But Kirk, you know, he made a commitment … and it’s such a good contract too. Four more years, $36.5 million, fair for both parties. I don’t want to devalue that …”

“So just draft Beasley and you’ve still got Hinrich, Duhon, Gordon and Hughes. You can always trade one or two of them later. You’ve got too many good guards already Pax. And the ‘draft the best player available’ NBA wisdom – the Jordan rule – forget it this year. It’s entirely debatable whether Beasley is the best player available or whether Rose is better. In this case, draft for bigger need.”

“I dunno J-Mo. You make it sound so easy.”

“It is easy. We’re learning that lesson up here in Milwaukee with John Hammond and this ‘Detroit Way’ of his. Make a decision and get on with it — ‘Just like me and Joe did in Detroit,’ he says – before the competition even has time to pick up the telephone. Some fans don’t like it, but most seem to find it kind of liberating. We’ve got a full coaching staff already. Bucks coaches are watching film, evaluating players, going to China to check up on Yi … Hammond is already working on trades. While other teams …”

“Can’t even hire a coach. Just say it, I know. Look, I had D’Antoni hired. I thought that was done. Reinsdorf dawdled.”

“Dawdling seems to be part of corporate Bulls culture. What happened to Carlisle? I thought he was your defensive coach.”

“He was the Chicago Sun Times’ coach, J-Mo. Our columnists are bigger idiots than you are. I never made a decision. I talked to Carlisle, he said he wanted to wait. I said that was fine with me, so we waited. I’m still waiting.”

“Pax, he took another job. He works for the Dallas Mavs now. What were you doing, feeding the pigeons under the ELL?”

What are we doing Pax?“Not with Carlisle, but with Avery, yeah. It was fun. We spent a few days feeding the pigeons and I thought we were building a relationship. I was about to hire him.”

“And then you postponed the interview, Avery got tired of waiting and went home. Pax, you’ve got to start making decisions. Your head coach candidates have dwindled down to the assistants and guys who’ve never coached at all. I read you’re planning to interview Eric Snow?!”

“Well, maybe. I’ll decide on that soon. I will. They are all such good candidates. It’s just been … such a tough decision. And now this lottery thing … Why do we have to choose first?”

“You shouldn’t have been in the lottery at all!!!!”  

“I mean, I like Beasley and I can’t find a knock on him, even if he turns out to be only 6′ 8″, but, I just don’t know. … I guess I don’t like our guards as much as I used to.”

“Well, then draft Rose and make a deal for a power forward who can score. We have two in Milwaukee, Yi and Charlie Villanueva. You’ve got enough talent to make a good trade.”

“I … I dunno. Yi has great upside. He’s a great athlete and can shoot, and we have a substantial Chinese population in Chicago. It would make people happy. I can picture Deng and Yi running the floor with Derrick Rose. It would be beautiful. …”

“Yi’s not really on the market, Pax, unless you risk your job and make an offer the Bucks can’t refuse. That’s one less decision to make, in any case. Draft Rose and maybe the Bucks will deal you Charlie V … and Mo Williams.”

“No, J-Mo … Charlie’s OK, but he’s so soft. Where did he learn to play power forward like that? Is he afraid of the paint, or does he just not like Bogut?  He seems to be a decent enough player when he remembers to play near the basket … I dunno. There’s always Gooden. And I am going to ignore that Mo Williams crack. I’ve got four guards just as good or better than Williams and my guys play defense.”

“There. That almost sounded like a decision. Are you saying, ‘No’?”

“I guess so.”

“So draft Beasley and you can keep your guards until a later date.”

“But Rose is from Chicago and the fans seem to want him … You know, that whole Chris Paul thing. And we need a leader …”

“Rose is 19. He can’t even buy beer much less lead.”

“It’s just … such a tough decision.”

“Don’t sweat it, Pax. You might as well wait until you hire a coach before you make a final decision anyway. The coach will want some input, right? So who’s it going to be?”

“We’re talking to Corbin, and I’m going to wait until I talk to a few more before I decide. … There are so many good coaches out there. Detroit still won’t let me talk to Michael Curry. And Tom Thibodeaux’s still in the playoffs, too, with Boston … It’s just … such a–“

“Pax, why did you fire Scott Skiles anyway?”

“I didn’t fire him. I told him I wanted to wait a little while to see if things turned around and …”

“He didn’t want to wait, did he?”

“He basically fired himself J-Mo, right on the spot. Gave himself a nice buyout too. It was just … such a…

About 9 minutes into the first quarter of the Celtics-Pistons game, Doc Rivers goes to his bench and for the first time in four games, SAM CASSELL HAS ENTERED THE GAME FOR THE CELTICS … 

“tough …”

“Pax, I gotta go. My guy Sam’s in the game.”

“… decision.”

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