Tag Archives: Earl Boykins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone was a spot in the playoffs.

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

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

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

The Revenge of the Airball, part XX: Lou Williams shoots down the Bucks in Philly

The Curse of the Airball. Revenge for all that ever went wrong for Nellie’s Bucks in the Golden Age.  That’s what the Sixers represent.  But the Bucks in the Michael Redd era have never seemed to grasp the importance of a Philadelphia 76ers game, not like Ray Allen and Allen Iverson did. Now that Redd’s little more than the elephant in the room that no one sees, the Andrew Bogut Bucks still can’t seem to grasp it.

Last week Scott Skiles’ record against the Philadelphia 76ers fell to 2-and-7.  Lou Williams remains one of the biggest reason why, as the Bucks can’t seem to figure out how to prevent Williams (who came off the Philly bench behind Dru Holiday) from playing like an All-Star against them.  With the Sixers trailing 94-92 in the final minute, Sweet Lou launched a bomb from downtown, about two feet behind the line, over John Salmons’ outstretched arm.  It found the bottom of the net.

It was one more highlight for the Sixers in a long history of crashing Bucks’ hopes, and it ensued off of one of the Bucks most embarrassing possessions of the season — 48 seconds of agony as point guard Earl Boykins dribbled and dribbled, failed to advance the ball, threw up one shot that Andrew Bogut and Salmons corralled and brought it back out to Boykins so he could do it all over again, after playing catch with Drew Gooden, who shouldn’t have been on the court at that point.

The Revenge of the Airball, indeed. Since the Sixers traded Iverson to Denver four years ago, they have won 11 and lost 4 against the Bucks. Williams and forward Andre Iguodala are all that’s left in Philly from Iverson and Mo Cheeks’ 2006-07 team.

Chemistry problem: 2010 Bucks and 2001 Clippers are a strange mix

What did Corey Maggette, Keyon Dooling, Earl Boykins and Brian Skinner have in common entering the NBA’s 2010 offseason?

They were all teammates on the 2000-01 Los Angeles Clippers, the last team that Bucks GM John Hammond coached in the NBA before taking a front office job in Detroit as Joe Dumars’ basketball operations VP.

Other than that, not much except a lot minutes on losing teams until, one-by-one last summer, Hammond brought them to Milwaukee to play for the Bucks.

Coincidence?  It doesn’t seem possible.  Maggette in 2010 was a player the Golden State Warriors couldn’t use and a 3-year, $31 million salary cap burden they didn’t want to bear through June 2013.  The Bucks proposed trade of Dan Gadzuric’s 2011 expiring contract and Charlie Bell’s $4 million per year salary was well received in Oakland, to say the least.  Done deal, thank you very much Mr. Hammond.

Dooling was a free agent whom the Bucks targeted to back up Brandon Jennings after Hammond decided his available sub-luxury tax room was better spent on Drew Gooden than on Luke Ridnour, who signed a four year, $16 million deal with the Timberwolves.

Boykins was also a free agent pickup, fan friendly bench filler behind Jennings and Dooling.

Skinner was the last 2001 Clipper added, prior to training camp.  He didn’t make the Bucks roster but early season injuries made Skinner the obvious big man roster-filler-who-had-been-in-training-camp.

The Maggette trade opened a lot of questions.  “The Machette” isn’t a player who comes to mind when one is looking to improve an NBA “good chemistry” team with the in-your-face defensive mentality of the Bucks.  He doesn’t exude “Scott Skiles player” at all — quite the opposite.  Offensively, Maggette has a well-earned reputation for getting his 20 points, damn the outcome of the game or his wide open teammates.  One of his nicknames is “Bad Porn.” Defensively, well, nobody’s ever accused Corey Maggette of being all that interested in defense.

Perhaps Hammond held a different view, having coached Maggette in Maggette’s second NBA season.  He also cleared $1.7 million in payroll making the deal with the Warriors (which he quickly spent).

Hammond and Maggette both arrived in L.A. in the 2000 offeseason.  Maggette was acquired — along with rookie Dooling — in a trade with Orlando for draft picks.  Hammond arrived a couple of months later with new Clipper head coach Alvin Gentry, who the Pistons had fired during the 2000 season.  Hammond and Gentry are part of a Larry Brown coaching tree that began in the late 1980s and early 1990’s in San Antonio and L.A., and extended to the Pistons during the Grant Hill era.

There they were, ten years ago, assembled in Los Angeles.  Maggette and Dooling, Skinner and Boykins, part of the Clippers kiddie corps; Hammond part of the coaching staff from Detroit assigned to develop the kiddie corps into an NBA team. The Clippers won 16 more games that year than they did the previous year.  Of course, the Clippers won only 15 games in 1999-2000 but improvement is improvement.  Hammond would stay only for the first year before returning to Detroit in 2001 to work for Dumars.

The Maggette trade, in and of itself, might have stood on its own despite the questionable judgement of integrating Maggette with a Skiles team.  But when Ridnour agreed to a 4-year, $16 million contract with the T-Wolves and the Bucks responded by offering their Bi-Annual Exception to Dooling only days later, the 2001 Clipper connection came into view.

July 13 – 21 was a strange week.  Ridnour, a Skiles favorite whose scoring off the bench had been key for the Bucks in 2010, had figured in the Bucks 2011 plans until Hammond made others.  Ridnour had solicited the offer from the T-Wolves and agreed to it July 13, but didn’t sign it right away.  The Bucks actually signed Dooling (and made a trade with Sacramento for forward Jon Brockman) before Ridnour finalized his T-Wolves contract.

This brought Maggette and Dooling — part of a Magic-to-the-Clippers trade ten years earlier, Clippers teammates from 2000-04 — together again in Milwaukee.  In the very least, their old assistant coach had to find it amusing.

Combine this with the availability of free agents Boykins and Skinner and it was likely too much to resist — a sign from the Clipper gods!   The chances that mere coincidence brought four 2001 Clippers to the 2010 Bucks all in one summer seems remote. Very remote.

It wouldn’t matter — and could have been fodder for a feel good 2001 Clippers reunion story — if things were panning out for the Bucks.  But the Bucks are a disappointing 12 wins, 18 losses, and, due to injuries, have had to rely on Hammond’s new acquisitions far more than planned.  Chemistry questions have arisen, with Maggette the focus after grading his Milwaukee experience an “F,” following a tough loss to the Bulls on Tuesday.

“Fear the Deer?” NBA.com writer Steve Aschburner asked last week after the Bucks lost to the Bulls in Chicago.  “Right now, Bucks the ones ducking for cover.”

Over the Christmas break, Bucks center Andrew Bogut described the current situation, or the mental saga that is  learning to play for Skiles:

“No disrespect to guys from other teams but when guys first come here and think, ‘Oh this is a tough system. Am I going to buy into it fully?’  And then they realize that our coaches keep it professional, and they make you keep the (same) system every day. Once you realize they’re not changing the system for anybody, guys start to buy in because you have no choice. … So it usually comes to that at this time of the season. Guys kind of realize that nothing is changing.  This is what wins us games. It’s a proven winner, so if we keep doing it, we’ll win games.”

The problem is that too many of the players who know the Skiles system is “a proven winner” just don’t seem to be around this season.  In addition to losing Ridnour, the Bucks saw veteran center Kurt Thomas escape to the Bulls in free agency.  The Bucks have missed them both this season.  Badly.

Starting small forward Carlos Delfino‘s  been out since early November with concussive symptoms and may not return this season.  Jennings will be out at least three more weeks with a broken hand.  Right now there are just as many 2001 L.A. Clippers on the Bucks bench as there are 2010 Bucks.

Sentimentality is sometimes nice in professional sports, a relief from the “it’s a business” aspects of it all.  But considering the good chemistry the 2010 Bucks finally found on their 30-13 finish and 7-game playoff battle with Atlanta, the sentimentality of a 2001 Clippers assistant named John Hammond — or the whims of the Clippers gods — may have gotten the better of Hammond’s current team.

Note: There is no evidence yet that forward Drew Gooden — also signed as a free agent last summer — had any previous connection to the 2001 Clippers, other than finishing the 2010 season as a Clipper.  Gooden in 2001 was a 19-year-old sophomore at U. of Kansas.

F.U. too, Kobe

Upon being ejected with 2:07 to play in the Bucks’ 98-79 blowout of the Lakers in L.A. Tuesday, Kobe Bryant issued the following statement:

Because there was nobody else but the Bucks Earl Boykins in the general vicinity (90 degrees to the left) toward which Kobe hurled his only post-game statement, it is believed that the statement was aimed at Boykins.  What did the 5′-5″, 135-lbs Boykins say to elicit such a succinct post-game analysis from the Lakers star?

Boykins led all scorers in the game with 22 pts, shooting 4 of 5 from 3-point-land.  That’s saying plenty.

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The Bucks (11-16) get set for the 3rd and final game of their pre-Xmas West Coast trip tonight in Sacramento against Tyreke Evans and the Kings (5-21),  the team worst record in the NBA.  With the Bucks trying to hang in there while Brandon Jennings recuperates from foot surgery, the Bucks cannot afford a let down or a loss, considering what the mean ol’ NBA schedule makers have in store for the Bucks over the next three weeks.

They Bucks have played the toughest schedule in the league this season, yet it gets even tougher between X-Mas and Jan. 12 — two games against the Heat and the Hawks; one each against the Bulls, Magic, Spurs and Mavs.  The Kings and Nets are the only bottom-feeders in the upcoming 10 games, both on the road.

The Bucks in this 10-game stretch need to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat, a problem in November when nearly every Buck not named Brandon Jennings was dealing with an injury of one sort or another, physical or mental.  If they don’t, what they do head-to-head against the Bulls and Hawks may not matter.

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The KINGS: Rookie big man DeMarcus Cousins lost his starting job earlier this week when he pissed off coach Paul Westphal … etc.  Does anybody really care?  We’re talking about the 5-win Kings … and Cousins will at least play.  Bogut should dominate in this game and … wait — who’s that on the Kings roster?  It’s none other than Bogut’s old nemesis from Philly, long-armed center  Sam Dalembert.  Bogut has had some of the worst games of his career against Dalembert, worse (though not recently) even than the Monday night embarrassment in Portland.  The injury report says Sam’s in, and Westphal would be a fool not treat the Sac fans to Bogut vs. Dalembert.

Another player of interest is Donte Green, starting at small forward for the Kings.  At least Green ought to be starting at the three — he’s got one of the worst rebounding averages I’ve seen for a guy who goes almost 6’10”.   The Bucks took a good look at Donte before the 2008 draft, working him out with their top 2 choices, forwards Joe Alexander and Anthony Randolph.  Green wasn’t considered a lottery pick by anybody in 2008 (and neither was Alexander until the Bucks decided he was) mainly because, like White Thunder, Green was a ‘tweener — a lot of leaping ability but not rugged enough to play power forward or skilled enough to play the wing.

Teams basically had the same questions to varying degrees about Alexander, Green and Randolph, with the Bucks choosing Alexander because he was a lot stronger than Green or Randolph, which seemed to offer the possibility that Alexander could play some power forward.  Looks and strength tests can be deceiving, John Hammond.  For 2008 draft hindsight’s sake, it’ll be interesting to see how well Green has developed with the Kings.

And there’s Darnell Jackson to check in with, too.  The Bucks picked Jackson up off waivers from the Cavs late last season, played him in one game and left him off the 12-man playoff roster.  Hammond didn’t offer Jackson a contract in the offseason, traded Jackson and the Bucks 2011 2nd-round pick for big forward Jon Brockman.  Then Hammond opted to use the Bucks MLE on free agent big forward Drew Gooden  — a signing that’s shaping up to be a sore spot for Hammond for, well, as long as it takes to figure out how to use the good in Gooden’s game or find a team willing to take his five-year contract.   Jackson is the Kings starting power forward.  Brockman’s had his moments — but those have been few and far between.

Steve Blake should write this Earl Boykins headline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bucks’ left feet: Brandon Jennings out — can Keyon Dooling deliver?

First it was Corey Maggette‘s left ankle.  Then it was plantar fasciitis in Drew Gooden‘s left foot.  Now it’s a left foot that really matters.  Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, who’s never missed a regular season or playoff game in his young career, will miss 4 to 6 weeks with a bone fracture in his left foot.

The timing couldn’t be worse.  The Bucks had struggled with chemistry and new personnel, injuries and All-Pro center Andrew Bogut‘s overall health since the start of the season.  After a miserable 5-and-10 start, they had begun to pull the car out of the ditch, powered by Bogut’s return Dec. 4 from a two-week bout with back spasms.  Prior to Bogut’s return, the Bucks had lost five out six games.  Since then, they’ve won four of seven against one of the toughest schedules in the league.

Jennings’ backups are Keyon Dooling, who — until recently — was turnover prone, struggling with his jump shot and generally hurting the team (seven negative game scores don’t lie); and diminutive Earl Boykins, electrifying, good-shooting but too, too short to guard anybody in the NBA.

It’s been said before and there’s no more opportune time than now to say it again:  Bucks GM John Hammond‘s decisions to let quality point guards Ramon Sessions (2009 to the T-Wolves), Luke Ridnour (2010 to the T-Wolves) and, yes, even the unsung Royal Ivey (201o to the Thunder) slip away in free agency stick out now as a glaring miscalculations.  (If the trend holds true, Ivey will be back, one way or another).  No, those decisions didn’t seem so important as long as Jennings was the Bucks iron man — but Hammond, all along, was tempting the NBA fates and winning with Jennings, until now.

Can the Bucks expect help from their guards and forwards?  It’s not as simple as it was in Nellie’s day, when not having an effective point guard meant that the Bucks could keep Junior Bridgeman, Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief and Brian Winters on the court as much as possible, and give Paul Pressey something to do off the bench.  “The point forward” was an invention of obvious necessity and made the 1983 Bucks more potent offensively than they already were.  The current Bucks are a different story, and Scott Skiles’ options are limited.

If there’s a Pressey on this team, he’s 6-8 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute — perhaps even better than Pressey was, defensively, and that’s saying a lot (Pressey was a multiple time All-NBA defender).  Skiles has dispatched Mbah a Moute to defend point guards in the past guard — Chris Paul, to name one.  Luc has the smarts and a decent enough handle to play the point, and he’s played in more games for Skiles than any current Buck.  But much of his offensive game remains in development.

Other forward-assisting candidates are out with injuries:  Carlos Delfino, who played some point last season, is out with a concussion; Maggette is still struggling with his own left foot, along with other issues, such as remembering that it’s sometimes a good idea to pass the ball to one’s teammates when three defenders collapse on a drive to the hoop.  Nothing new with Maggette there, and he’s not a good option.

3rd-year forward-guard Chris Douglas-Roberts may be the most likely candidate to run some point for Skiles.  A disciple of the Calipari dribble-drive, CD-R puts a lot of pressure on defenses by taking it to the hoop and can easily create movement and space off the dribble — enough to run an offense.  He’s been the Bucks most effective shooter in the Bucks last ten games (after missing the first 15 with an eye injury).  At forward, CD-R is an eager defender, often guarding players much bigger and longer than he is, but he’s better suited for guard duty.  He’s simply not strong enough on the glass to go up against many small forward in the NBA — 2.8 rebounds in 24 mins are a guard’s haul.  And with John Salmons ensconced as the Bucks shooting guard and Mbah a Moute the likely small forward for now, it only makes sense to elect CD-R as a utility point guard, if for no other reason than to extend his playing time.

For the most part, however, it’s incumbent on Keyon Dooling to step up.  In New Jersey, Dooling had become something of a 3-point bomber off the bench, only to find himself throwing anvils at the rim in Milwaukee.  It cost the Bucks a couple of games early on in the season, but in the last seven (perhaps not coincidentally, the seven games since Bogut returned from his lower back problems) Dooling has been sharp.  He’s shooting better and he’s not turning the ball over  — just 2 turnovers in the last seven games, remarkable in almost 20 mins per game.

Dooling’s defense has been fairly solid, if not very good, which became noticeable in the five-game stretch that Bogut missed.   Skiles challenged his players in those games, and Dooling was one Buck who responded.  He’s quick enough to stay in front of most point guards and his long wingspan is havoc-causing in opponent passing lanes.  But he’ll be replacing Jennings, one of the best point guard defenders in the NBA — there’s really no replacing Jennings’ dogged D or his determination.

Dooling will need help — lots of it — from all corners.  At times, he’s been a better distributor than Jennings, who’s still learning when to pick his “me-first” spots.  But if Salmons, for example, stays in his scoring funk, good ball distribution only ends with the ball finding the rim.  If Bogut can’t get his true shooting percentage up into the mid-50’s range or higher, the Bucks will continue to play most games in a five-point hole.  If coach Skiles can’t get the Drew Gooden-Ersan Ilyasova situation at power forward figured out once and for all, the Bucks will continue to wonder who they are.

Andrew Bogut might have said it best when asked what it’ll take for the Bucks to make-do while Jennings recuperates:

“It’s a matter of getting guys to play hard in their minutes, knowing they’re going to play and try to earn minutes for when Brandon is back and healthy.  Maybe we’ll find a couple of shining lights.”

Maybe Dooling is “a shining light.”  Maybe it’s CD-R who will pick up the scoring slack.  Maybe Salmons finds his groove and breaks out of his season-long slump.  More minutes for Mbah a Moute has usually meant that the Bucks are more competitive — they’ll soon find out if that still holds true.  Players “knowing they’re going to play” was a key phrase in Bogut’s comments.  He may have been referring to the sparse 12 minutes Mbah a Moute got against Utah.  He may have been referring to the 17 minutes Ilyasova played.  He may have been referring to Boykins, who’s hardly played all season.  Whatever Bogut was implying, the injuries have left Skiles with little choice but to play the nine or 10 guys available to him now.  Given Skiles’ sometimes maddening quick hooks– regardless of the matchups on the floor — and unexpected DNPs, less may turn out to be more for the Bucks.

And again, much as it was last season when Michael Redd’s knee gave out, this is another chance for the Bucks — and the rest of the NBA — to rediscover how good the Bucks leader, Andrew Bogut, really is.

Note to Scott Skiles: Last season’s forwards, please

The Bucks 2010-11 Bucks in their first two games look eerily similar to the 209-10 team that tried and failed last Nov.-Dec. to work Michael Redd into its rotation.  The Bucks with Redd stood around on offense; the ball didn’t move; they lacked chemistry and consistent defense; and they lost twice as often as they won (the Bucks were 6-12 when Redd played).

To be fair, that team — like this season’s Bucks — had injury issues.  After a 6-3 start Andrew Bogut went out for six games with a deep thigh bruise and Luc Mbah a Moute missed a couple of weeks with a bum ankle.  Mbah a Moute has been hobbled by a bad ankle in the Bucks first two games this season, and Bogut has been limited by foul trouble, his healing right arm and some conditioning issues.

What last year’s Bucks team had that the current Bucks do not was a backup center in Kurt Thomas; a backup point guard nicknamed Frodo who knew the offense as well as the coach and played with desperate energy; and they had the unselfish “D-Wade stopper” Charlie Bell, who made sure that the ball was going in the post to Bogut.  With the unsung hero Bell starting in Redd’s place, last year’s Bucks were 19-16 including a couple of clumsy, disjointed losses with Redd firing ill-timed bricks in a reserve role.

What last year’s Bucks team didn’t have was a logjam at forward; they had a simple rotation (when Redd wasn’t playing).  The eight-man rotation of Jennings, Bell, Luke Ridnour, Carlos Delfino, Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Bogut and Thomas was well-knit, smart, unselfish, and extremely hard-working. Nobody outrebounded that team by 23 boards (the T-Wolves had a 62-39 rebounding advantage). That team never gave up 19 offensive boards. What’s different about this season?

1) Not once last season did Skiles relegate Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute to scrub 26 minutes … COMBINED.  And;

2) Not once during the 2009-10 82-game schedule did the Bucks suit up without a legitimate backup at center for Bogut.

Those two factors are directly attributable to the rebounding failure in Minneapolis Friday night, and the failure to win “50-50” plays and get to loose balls in the paint.  And it’s no accident that when Skiles played Mbah a Moute, finally, late in the 3rd quarter, the Bucks pulled back into the game and erased most of a 17-point T-wolves lead.

On the court for that run were Brandon Jennings, pint-sized Earl Boykins, Corey Maggette, Mbah a Moute and Bogut.

Skiles can’t solve the backup center problem until GM John Hammond acquires a backup center.  But coach Skiles can remember last season, and some of the things that made the Bucks tough, scrappy and competitive for most of it.

More Mbah a Moute, now that he’s able to play, and some renewed trust in Ersan Ilyasova are two of those things.  Here’s hoping Skiles remembers them tonight in the home opener against Larry Brown’s Charlotte Bobcats — no strangers themselves to scrappy play and tough D.

A must win home opener: Both the Bucks and Bobcats are looking to avoid starting 0-3. With a difficult Portland-Boston back-to-back on the schedule next week for the Bucks, 0-and-3 could very quickly become 0-5.