Tag Archives: Joakim Noah

NBA Playoffs 2011 Notes: Joakim Noah’s defense may have killed the Bulls title hopes — but don’t tell Charles Barkley

Beginning of the 3rd quarter, Game 5 in Chicago, Bulls with their season on the line down three games to one to the Heat, leading by seven points at halftime. …

On the Heat’s first possession of the second half, as Dwyane Wade stunted toward the lane, Bulls center Joakim Noah, as he has so often this series, sagged deep into the lane to close the gap, this time leaving Chris Bosh all alone at the right elbow.  Wade flipped a pass to Bosh, who was already bending his legs to shoot as Noah planted, lunged

… and went sailing past Bosh as Bosh drove to the hoop for an easy layup.

“There wasn’t anything Boozer (Carlos, the nearest available help defender) could do about that,” Marv Albert noted in his play-by-play.  And there wasn’t.   Three Heat possession later and Bosh had another bucket on a midrange jumper and Noah had committed a foul, and the Heat had cut the lead to five.

Coming into the game, Bosh was averaging 24.5 points per game in the series, including a 30 point Game 1 and a 34 point Game 3.  No, despite Noah’s hyper-activity and the lunging-for-the-ball tip and block efforts, the Bulls center had blocked just six shots through four games (his season average) and had a miserable time guarding Bosh, who found Noah an all-too-willing sucker for the pump fake, and all-too eager to leave him to help out on the driving Heat, even when help wasn’t needed.

It wasn’t anything resembling the play of a 2nd-team All-Defensive forward-center, the honor bestowed upon Noah by the NBA coaches in 2011.  To compound matters, Noah had shot 29 percent from the field entering Game 4.

Yet  few — if any — Heat-Bulls observers (Noah’s biggest fan, Charles Barkley, included) seem to have noticed.  “On the court and off, Noah not your typical NBA player,” gushed the Chicago Tribune headline above a long feature on Noah before Game 5.

Yeah, the Tribune story set out to tell the human interest story behind a basketball player fined for a vulgar, homophobic slur toward a fan in Miami. But this story aims to talk about Noah the basketball player, the guy who is not making plays on the court, not with the regularity that his fans seem to think he is.

What gives?  Were these games against the Heat an aberration, a tough matchup (Bosh, Wade and Lebron) that belied Noah’s All-Defensive status?

Hardly.  Noah’s defense in the Heat series was exemplary of how the Bulls center plays defense, and has played it that way since he entered the league in 2007, the season Scott Skiles was let go by the Bulls.  Noah rushes to help, lunges after  shot attempts, goes for ball fakes, and, as a result of this activity, tends to leave his man wide open or in weak side rebound position.  Generally, he tries to be everywhere at once on the defensive end.

While his style surely reflects Noah’s confidence in his athleticism and relative inexperience, it’s also impossible, often foolish, and is a dangerous way to play Chris Bosh — hey !  It’s not good defense.

We actually have statistical evidence of Noah’s folly. Using a newly developed measure of defensive play, ezPM, when counterpart scoring is taken into account (that seems obvious) Noah’s marginal score for individual defense takes one of the biggest dives in the league.

EZPM is a rather basic yet complex and comprehensive metric extended from box score stats developed by Warriors-centric blogger EvanZ at “The City.”  For a full explanation on the “ezPM” metric, CLICK HERE. For the opponent scoring (Defense) calculations and rankings, CLICK HERE.

For the record, the ezPM results verify what the eye is telling the NBA fan:  Noah is often playing active but poor defense, and the man he’s guarding reaps the benefits.  Despite making about 3.0 defensive plays per game (1.5 blocks, 1.0 steals and taking charges) and playing on the NBA’s top-rated defense, Noah finished well behind the top rated big men in the league (see below), and out of the top 25.  The Bulls may have clamped down on opponents as they so often did this season, but their center was too often losing track of his man.

In 2010-11, Joakim Noah was not 2nd-team All-NBA Defensive material.  In the end, his poor defense on Bosh — and the absence of any offensive game to speak of — may have cost his team a trip to the NBA Finals.

As the Bulls-Heat series played to its conclusion in the 4th quarter of Game 5, backup center Kurt Thomas was the big man on the floor for the Bulls, helping to build a 12-point lead that Dwyane Wade and Lebron James extinguished down the stretch.  Noah remained on the bench the entire 4th quarter.

I wonder if anybody in Chicago (or Charles Barkley) noticed.

More later on ezPM, which was fully implemented for the first time this season.  Suffice it to say that there were no surprises about the NBA’s top-ranked big men.  Noah posted a 1.702 defensive mark — above the margins but behind the Bucks backups, Larry Sanders (2.792) and Jon Brockman (1.767, and even his own backup, Omer Asik (2.214).  For now here’s a snapshot of the ezPM defensive scores Top 5:

1. Dwight Howard 5.08
2. Ronnie Brewer 4.98
3 Andrew Bogut 3.403
4 LeBron James 3.326
5 Tim Duncan 3.212

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.


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.

The People’s 2011 NBA Trade Value Column

Earlier this week, I was asked by the Knicks blogger who runs the imminently readable “What Would Oakley Do?” website to participate in the first annual “People’s NBA Trade Value Column” — the NBA blogosphere’s response to The Sports Guy’s annual NBA trade value column at ESPN.com.

If you realize nothing else about WWOD, know that it has everything to do with a chain of carwashes owned by “the roughest and toughest power forward ever to own a chain of carwashes,” which met with hearty approval from The Bob Boozerjinx editorial board.)

Also know that, while I don’t mind The Sports Guy Bill Simmons so much, there is much about ESPN coverage of the NBA that I find truly abominable, so I jumped on board to be the Bucks’ voice in The People’s Trade Value Column.

This basically entailed figuring out who I would trade Andrew Bogut for straight up, taking age, health, salary and contract length into consideration.  Brandon Jennings has, as most Bucks fans realize, fallen out of consideration for this Top 50 list and the Bucks don’t have anybody else quite worthy of consideration unless it’s the Mbah a Moute-Ilysaova monster at power forward.  I decided to make a note on Ilyasova and leave it at that.

Would I trade Bogut for Kevin Garnett?  Maybe, but then I looked at KG’s contract and dismissed the idea.  I wouldn’t trade Bogut for Chris Bosh unless Bogut couldn’t walk, but then Bosh’s contract moves Bogut ahead of Bosh, too, on the list.  It all seemed fairly sensible until I read Simmons Trade Value Column this morning.

Simmons, in a podcast preview, had Bogut at about 30th, ranked with KG and Bosh, guys whose contracts are a lot more onerous the Bogues’, so I had in mind that I would probably move him up a few spots.   But in Simmons’ published version, he dumped AB all the way down to #40, at the head of a group that included Nene, Luis Scola, Danny Granger, Paul Millsap and Kevin Martin.  And Simmons failed to mention that Bogut is playing with one arm this season.  For reasons known only to someone who lives in L.A., Simmons then irrationally ranked notoriously injured Lakers center Andrew Bynum ahead of them all, despite his more-expensive-than-them-all contract.

Without further ado, here was my response:

Brandon Jennings is Simmons’ “toughest omission.”  The part of that I would argue with is this “toughest” thing.  Brandon’s a great kid who’s so quick he makes John Wall look like Chauncey Billups, and Isaiah Thomas raves about him in the March issue of GQ as one of the NBA’s top “five under 25” — but BJ has some growing to do.  He may never shoot consistently well enough to be a winning NBA point guard, and the Bucks should be open to offers for him.  Ouch, the Sports Guy is right — it is tough to come to that conclusion.

Ersan Ilyasova would be a much tougher omission if anybody at ESPN could remember his name. The Bucks starting power forward’s star will rise as fast as the Bucks allow it to, which is to say that the team has not allowed Ilyasova’s star to rise even as they’ve discovered that he’s making every five-man rotation he’s a part of play winning ball (+/-).  The hope here is that the Bucks will set his value (he’s currently a steal at $2.5 million per year, next season unguaranteed) without interference from the rest of the league. We may not get there, but he deserves consideration as a “cost effective building block.”  (Let’s call this a “watch list” note).

22. Andrew Bogut. When your center dominates the second half of a nationally televised NBA without taking a shot, there are two logical reactions.  The first is to wonder why the biggest man on the court isn’t getting more touches in the offense, and what could possibly be wrong with either the biggest man on the court or his teammates.  The second is to start counting blocked shots and rebounds and, oh there’s the charge he just took, and to look at the beleaguered faces of the guys on the other team fighting in the paint with your center, possession after weary possession. A third (and completely obligatory) reaction is to look up at the scoreboard, where you see that your team is ahead by 5 midway through the 4th quarter against the rugged sea of tattoos that are the Denver Nuggets.

The Bucks managed to lose the game down the stretch, but then, your center isn’t the player who threw the ball away in transition after he killed another Nuggets possession with a blocked shot.  Your center didn’t shoot 1-for-18 from the 3-point line or put himself in a position where the coach has to play him 44 minutes to give your team a shot at winning the game.  All Andrew Bogut did against Denver was grab 20 rebounds, block five shots, alter countless others, take a charge and control the defensive paint while wearing the Nuggets down and putting his team in position to win the game.

Bogut does this night in and night out. He’s 5th in the league in rebounding (11.5 per game) and leads the league in Defensive Plays (blocks, steals, charges taken) clocking in at just over 4 per game.

People, all this is difficult to trade and well worth the $13 million per year that the Bucks are paying Bogut through 2014.  That’s full time, borderline All-Star/All-NBA center pay in the NBA, and it’s less of a commitment than the Bulls have made to Joakim Noah, who’s under contract through 2016. Noah’s health has been worse than Bogut’s, believe it or not, and he’s been routinely outplayed by Bogut on the occasions that they’ve gone head-to-head.  Wherever one stands in the Bogut-Noah debate, edge to Bogut based on more reasonable length of contract.

Would you rather have Josh Smith’s shorter contract (2013, $25.8 million) and a hole in the pivot?  No.  And Bogut’s DPOY play at center gives him an edge over the other guards and forwards ranked behind him in the “borderline franchise player” group.

Want more efficient offense out of Bogut?  Trade for Al Horford or Amar’e Stoudemire, the big men ranked just ahead of Bogut.  But note that AB is clearly out of the can’t-win-with-Chris-Kaman-woods and is one of the better passing big men in the game.  And did we mention that his right arm, mangled in a horrific fall last March, is still on the mend?

Bogut’s scoring 13 points per game in the NBA with one arm, but we’re the Milwaukee Bucks, so, no — we’re not infuriated that you asked us about his availability.

So there you have it.  My thinking was to simply organize Simmons list and move Bogut up into a group of “Borderline Franchise” players that are (or will be in Joakim Noah’s case) working under $12 million per year contracts and all happen to play in frontcourt.  It’s a natural grouping that Simmons mixed up by putting in … the Warriors starting backcourt and Eric Gordon?   The result looks like this:

25. Rudy  Gay

24. Josh Smith

23. Joakim Noah

22. Andrew Bogut

21. Al Horford

20. Amar’e Stoudemire

No, that’s not an acknowledgement that Horford, or Stoudemire for that matter, are centers (Horford’s not; Amar’e plays more center for the Knicks than Horford does in Atlanta) but more of a nod to the fact that Horford’s right hand works better than Bogut or Noah’s.

Stoudemire begins Simmons’ first “Franchise” group, and rightly so, though I’m pretty sure he and D’Antoni will never deliver a championship.

Is 2011 the year Andrew Bogut finally makes the NBA All-Star team?

Last year he was snubbed.  First by the Eastern conference coaches, some of them anyway, content to name Hawks big forward Al Horford as the East’s reserve center.  Then Commissioner David Stern took his turn, choosing the Knicks’ David Lee over Bogut to replace injured Kevin Garnett, a nod to New York the media market as much as it was to Lee’s scoring and rebounding numbers.

Milwaukee’s just too damn small.  If Bogut was outplaying Lee and scoring 22 on a Friday night in November, nobody noticed.   If All-Star is about winning, the Knicks hadn’t, and still haven’t taken a game against the Bucks since March of 2009.

The Bucks did win — 30 of their last 43 games last season and a run to a seven-game series against the Hawks.  They were 40-29 with Bogut in the lineup in 2010, before his horrific fall last March, resulting in a broken, mangled arm and the end of Bogut’s best season as a pro.

The scoring was there, above average if not All-Star:  15.9 pts per game on 52 % shooting.

The defense, for those who care about defense, was superlative.  Bogut last season led the NBA in Defensive Plays, with 3.82 blocked shots, steals and charges taken per game.  He was second to Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard in blocked shots (2.5 per game) and Defensive Rating (98.1 team points allowed per 100 possessions).

Add 10.2 rebounds and it was good enough for the All-NBA 3rd Team.

This season, Bogut again leads the NBA in Defensive Plays with a low estimate of 3.7 per game (the charges taken not accounted for), leads the NBA in shot blocking (2.8 bpg) and is 6th in Defensive Rating.  Is it enough to get him to the All-Star game?

His 13.4 points per game say “no” — but his 11.7 rebounds per game (5th in the NBA) say, “yes.”

But those are merely the stats.  Bogut is not only the anchor of the Bucks defense but the heart and soul of a team that has in 2011 been ravaged by injuries while playing the most difficult schedule in the NBA, based on opponent record.   They’ve won 19, lost 27 but are just a half game out of a playoff spot in the East and closing, looking up at teams that have played much softer schedules.  Bogut is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.


As the NBA reached the late January halfway mark and prepared to unveil the 2011 All-Star starters, the Bucks turned in a horrendous 2nd quarter in Chicago, were never really in the game afterward and found themselves at their lowest point, a 16-26 record, 13.5 games behind the Bulls.  They desperately needed to make a statement that their 2011 season wasn’t over, and they made it the following night in Milwaukee, beating the Atlanta Hawks, 98-90.

There were no earth shattering, SportsCenter highlight dunks from Bogut in the victory, but he hauled in 14 rebounds and took a charge and blocked a shot that turned the momentum the Bucks way at the end of the second quarter.  In the 4th, when the game was on the line, the Bucks limited the Hawks to 1 for 14 shooting for 9 minutes and held them to 15 points in the quarter.  The 2nd quarter block and ensuing fast break would find its place on the NBA highlight reels for the week, a fitting statement for the defense-first season Bogut has had.

Defense wins games, and a center’s job is to anchor the defense and control the traffic in the paint.  Among NBA centers, Bogut has only defensive rival:  the Magic’s Howard, of course, perennial All-Star and the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year.  Honors aside, Howard and Bogut have a lot in common:  They are true centers in a league that has drifted to the 3-point line, and they are established defensive forces on the basketball court.

Unfortunately, the matter of “what’s a center?” is not resolved in the All-Star selection system.  Horford and other “centers” such as Lee, Andrea Bargnani and Marcus Camby, log most of their minutes at power forward, especially when matched up against a Bogut or Howard.  The coaches must name one reserve center on the conference All-Star teams, and, as evidenced by last season’s vote for Horford, the reserve center doesn’t have to be a full time center.

“[Bogut]’s probably more of a true center than a lot of the other guys that people have talked about at that position,” said Howard’s coach, Stan Van Gundy, last season after Bogut was snubbed.  “Most of them are power forwards playing up a position, while he’s like Dwight, more of a true center.  I don’t think there’s any question he’s an all-star caliber guy. But when you’re picking 24 guys out of 400 in the league, it gets difficult.”

There is competition for the East’s All-Star reserve spot.  Shaquille O’Neal, still “The Diesel” in limited minutes for the East-leading Celtics, was second in fan voting, due largely to both the largess of Shaq and the Celtics’ East-leading record.  Bulls center Joakim Noah, third in the fan voting, was off to a strong start with the Bulls before a broken hand sidelined him until after the All-Star break.

Roy Hibbert was scoring 16 points per game for the Pacers early in the season but has tapered off.  Brook Lopez of the Nets is scoring 18+ points per game, but the Nets are losing and Lopez can’t seem to grab a rebound (only 6 per game, half of Bogut and Howard’s haul).  The Raptors Andrea Bargnani scores 21.4 pts per game but spends an awful lot of time far outside the paint — he’s actually list in most places as a forward.

That leaves Bogut, 4th in fan voting, his scoring down (12.9 ppg) this season as he slowly makes his way back to 100% after last season’s injury.  Bogut, whose Bucks aren’t winning as much as most preseason prognosticators had predicted.  Bogut, the 3rd Team All-NBA center after last season, the 11th leading vote getter in the All-NBA balloting.

Bogut, leading the league in blocked shots and Defensive Plays, and one of the league’s top 5 rebounders.  Howard, of course, is top 5 in those categories, and is an All-Star.  He’ll start the 2011 game at center.

Not to say that Horford does not deserve All-Star recognition (he does, moreso than any other Hawk), but Horford is not in the top 10 in any of those categories.  But then, Al Horford is not a center.

In the NBA, circa 2011, Andrew Bogut is a center.  As a center plying his trade in the Eastern Conference, he’s earned the honor of backing up Dwight Howard at the 2011 All-Star game.

Bucks vs. Bulls: Best of times, worst of times for Andrew Bogut and the beleaguered Bucks

After getting all up in the Lakers business by blowing the champs out by 19 last week in Los Angeles, they’ve followed it up with a disappointing stinker at home against a playoff rival their fans hold no love — and now head down I-94 to play their actual rivals, the Central Division leading Chicago Bulls, without injured point guard Brandon Jennings.

These are the worst of times for the Milwaukee Bucks.  Yet there may be no better times for the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that — despite never suiting up a full squad — has not yet backed down from a challenge when it realizes they’re facing one.  Ask the Lakers, the Mavs, the Celtics, the Spurs, the Jazz and the Heat.

Unfortunately, the Bucks haven’t been good when they don’t necessarily feel like they’ve got a challenge on their hands.  They don’t respect the Hawks, so it seems, not when they’re playing them with center Andrew Bogut.  After humbling the Hawks by taking them to seven games without Bogut last April in the playoffs, the Bucks stuffed the Hawks and their new coach, Larry Drew, in Atlanta in November.

Same old mentally challenged Hawks, not used to adversity, bad on the road, flinching when the Bucks flexed their muscles.   The worst opponent for the Bucks playing at home before a Bulls game.  The 15-point loss was almost predictable — almost.  Predictability yet eludes the Bucks.

The Bulls have problems of their own — center Joakim Noah‘s broken right hand will be in a cast for at least another month.  Bogut is healthy, generally playing his best basketball since his season-ending injury last season and will be guarded by the Kurt Thomas, Bogut’s backup last season.  The Bucks will have an interesting time chasing Derrick Rose without Brandon Jennings’ rare ability to stay in front of the Bulls point guard, but these are the best of times for the Bucks in the paint against the Bulls, despite new Bull Carlos Boozer.

Bucks 6th man Corey Maggette looked more out-of-sync than his out-of-sync teammates did against the Hawks, a sign that the Bucks on-court chemistry with its new additions is still a work in progress.  The worst of times.

But Maggette’s hasn’t been the “bad porn” player for the Bucks that he’s was with the Warriors and the Clippers, when he went through the motions, selfishly got his points and didn’t seem to care who was winning the game.  He’s been determined to make this 6th man thing work in Milwaukee, he’s a tough matchup for the Bulls and he’s due for a big game.  The best of times.

Diddo for Bogut, forwards Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute and Chris Douglas-Roberts, minus the chemistry question and the bad porn.

Diddo for Bogut, forwards Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Mbah a Moute and Chris Douglas-Roberts, minus the chemistry question and the bad porn.

Only the Dallas Mavs and the Denver Nuggets have played a tougher schedule than the Bucks, according to today’s Strength of Schedule rankings.  The best of times for now that it’s behind them.

Over the next ten days the Bucks schedule gets tougher with the Mavs, two against Lebron, D-Wade and the Heat, and the the Magic, the Hawks again and the Spurs.  The worst of times.

The Bucks are playing the Bulls, coach Scott Skiles’ old team, against whom they won three games from last season and let the fourth slip away.  The best of times.


Hawks power forward Al Horford had an efficient and workman-like 18 pts and 12 rebs Monday against the Bucks, possibly solidifying an All-Star vote from Bucks coach Scott Skiles.  Yes, power forward Al Horford — he didn’t start the game on Bogut, who spent much of his 40+ minutes on the court guarded by 7-foot center Jason Collins.

Yet this was a startling development for Bucks broadcasters Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin, repeatedly hyped the Bogut-Horford matchup as a battle for the East’s backup center slot behind Dwight Howard.  When Bogut opened the game by taking Collins baseline for a layup, Paschke identified Collins as “[pause as he was about to say Horford then noticed that Horford wasn’t gaurding Bogut] um … the big man guarding [Bogut].”  The charade continued for the rest of the game, with neither Paschke or McGlocklin — who work for the Bucks — bothering to correct the “Al Horford – center” misperception.

It’s not as though an inefficient 14 points on 7-19 shots is going to get Bogut to Los Angeles in February, but is it any wonder that events in the East conspired last season to deny Bogut his first All-Star appearance?  Is anybody working in the Bucks P.R. department?

At least TNT analysts Kevin McHale and Charles Barkley (“he’s undersized;” “I still don’t think he’s a center;” “his midrange jumper has made Horford one of the better power forwards;” etc.) this season (and last) have paid attention to what position Horford actually plays.  So does Atlanta coach Drew, obviously.  One has to assume that the rest of the East coaches are doing the same.


“The scary thing is, maybe they were trying.”

There, somebody finally said it.  “They” are the Los Angeles Lakers, losers at home to first the Bucks (by 19) on Tuesday and the Miami Heat on Christmas Day.  The scary realization from the Lakers perspective is that there was very little difference in their energy, focus and commitment last week against the Bucks and Heat.

Of course, you had to be watching the Lakers’ games against both the Bucks and the Heat to realize it.  L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke did, and wrote it. The Lakers were playing hard last week.  They were trying.  All-Star center-forward Pau Gasol was simply outplayed by Bogut and Chris Bosh.  Andrew Bynum isn’t anywhere close to 100%.  Some of the other Lakers (Derrick Fisher, Ron Artest, Steve Blake) don’t look like they’re up for a third championship run.

Feeling sorry for the Knicks because … they’re still the Knicks

I’m watching the Heat destroy the Knicks in New York in the second half and find myself feeling sorry for the Knicks.  This game was tied at 59 in the 3rd quarter.  A few minutes later it was a blowout as the Heat clamped down and the Knicks offered little more than token defensive resistance to Lebron, D-Wade, Bosh and Arroyo.  Even Joel Anthony got into the act as the Heat outscored the Knicks 54-32 from the 3rd quarter tie on.

Why feel sorry for Amar’e Stoudemire and his coach, Mike D’Antoni, who came into the game with a 16-10 record, 5th in the East, just a half game behind the 4th place Magic?

Because the Knicks just made it too easy for the Heat — something the Bucks refused to do two weeks ago at the Bradley Center, the last time I saw the Bucks play live.   Where the Bucks clawed at Lebron every time he touched the ball, the Knicks gave him a yard to survey the floor and decide how he was going to make them pay for it.  Where the Bucks scrambled for loose balls, the Knicks lost the 50-50 battles every time.  Where the Bucks made D-Wade fight for his game-leading 25 points, the Knicks let him waltz through their defense unattended.

After one long Knicks miss, Lebron broke out leading a three-on-three break and Chris Bosh cut to the basket, open for an instant but with two Knick defenders in the vicinity.  Lebron held the dribble top right, looked away, paused … and fired a no-look bullet pass to Bosh for a layup.  Bosh hadn’t moved from his spot — yet none of the Knicks near the hoop had bothered to pick him up. (Thinking back, James’ look-away fake seems gracious – he assumed — wrongly — that the Knicks were interested in defending Bosh.)

I felt sorry for the Knicks because, despite their 16-11 record, they’re still hapless and there’s little they’ll be able to do about it.  They can’t win in the East playing the porous, disinterested D that D’Antoni seems to encourage.  Oh, they’ll score alright, especially against the lesser teams.  But the top 5 defensive teams in the NBA are the competition in the East, and they rebound the basketball, too.  The Knicks don’t play D, and they don’t box out well either.

Where the Bucks were able to challenge the Heat and hold Lebron to 14 pts, he disgraced the Knicks with a triple double – 32 pts, 11 rebs and 10 assists and left the Knicks in his wake as though they were the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ patsy.

Where the Bucks are 10-14 and playing the toughest schedule in the league, the Knicks have played a soft one.   Despite their record, the Knicks have a negative SRS number (a complicated thingy that ranks teams success against their schedule).  (After losing in Cleveland on Saturday, the 16-12 Knicks are actually BEHIND the 10-15 Bucks, who took a tough loss to the Jazz at home, in SRS ranking.  The Bucks schedule has been that tough, the Knicks schedule that weak.)

I felt sorry for the Knicks because there no amount of hype can make them more competitive than a slow-starting, injury plagued 10-and-14 team from Milwaukee.  I felt sorry for the Knicks because, despite the Amar’e highlights, they’re still the Knicks and they can’t help it.


Bogut since his return against the Magic Dec. 419.8 pts – 14.2 rebs – 4 blks – 1 steal – 2.3 assists per game.

Add in the possessions that he turns over by taking charges and the result is a center playing better now than Dwight Howard.  Overall, Bogut leads the NBA in blocks per game (3.1) and has the 3rd-best defensive rating in the league (96.5 pts allowed per 100 possessions when he’s on the court) behind Kevin Garnett and Howard.  That’s the sort of company AB keeps these days.

If Bogut keeps it up and continues hitting 55% of his shots (50 of 89 since tipping it off against the Magic), the Bucks should weather the current scheduling nightmare (and AB’s horrendous free throw shooting) by earning a few tough road wins in the West — and be right on the Bulls’ tails by late January.

The Bulls, it should be noted, won’t have their center for 8-10 weeks.  I don’t, however, feel sorry for the Bulls.  This, I suppose, is just one more reason to feel sorry for the Knicks.

Note: The Knicks on Saturday lost to Cleveland in OT, 109-102, in the kind of game Mo Williams loves — No defense required. Mo led all scorers with 23.  New York fell to 16-12.

The “Ginobili rules” of the West don’t put the Spurs in title contention

He took the ball on a bounce after a sloppy, tipped inbound.  He held it too long, allowing precious seconds tick away, robbing his team of any chance for an offensive rebound if his final shot missed.  He advanced then toward Luc Mbah a Moute, one of the best defenders — if not the best defender — in basketball.  He drove hard left but Mbah a Moute was there first.  He pushed Luc off with his right arm but not far enough — Mbah a Moute stayed right on him as he planted a pivot foot.  He had no time and no choice but to jump full back, with both feet — traveling — and tossed up a 20-footer that barely lofted over Mbah a Moute’s outstretched hand.

No whistles.  The jumper poured through the hoop at the buzzer, giving the Spurs a 92-90 win over the Bucks.

“He” is Manu Ginobili, Charles Barkley’s second favorite player.  How about Charles’ boy this week?

“You mean that he travelled?” – Sir Charles doth speaketh.  “… That’s a travel. In all 50 states, that’s a travel.”

Not in San Antonio, Texas, on a Wednesday night in December — and not when the 10-13 Milwaukee Bucks were on the verge of pulling off a Texas sweep of the teams with the best records in the West.  Are the Spurs and Mavs truly title contenders?   Maybe.  But no, not if Boston and Miami continue playing the way they’re playing, not really.  Not if they’re struggling — and the Mavs failing — to beat the Bucks in Texas.

It’s been two-plus seasons since Ginobili, Parker and Duncan made the West Finals but the story seems to be that this summer they “banded together” for a title run in 2011. It’s an improbable story when you consider that they haven’t really been close to a title since 2007 when they last won; and it’s not a story everybody’s buying into — the Denver Nuggets certainly didn’t on Thursday night.  FoxSports “In the Paint” NBA analyst Marques Johnson this week qualified  his take on the Spurs and Mavs as “the best in the West” with a telling … “for now.” And he says it twice for emphasis.

Marques (1977-1984) was the greatest forward to ever wear a Bucks uniform, the only Buck not named Kareem or Sidney to be a 1st team All-Pro.   It’s always strange to see Junior Bridgeman‘s #2 up in the BC rafters (though they on the court together for roughly half the game, Bridgeman was Marques’ backup) while Marques’ #8 is still in circulation, worn by rookie Larry Sanders (heck, I’d wear it too if I were a Bucks rookie).  Like Barkley, Marques is more keen on the Mavs chances — probably figuring that Dirk Nowitzki is the one player whom none of his contending Bucks teams would have had a defense for.  The Spurs?  “The Spurs are the Spurs,” Johnson shrugged.

But the thing that’s going unmentioned in the NBA this week by Marques, Barkley or anybody is that neither the Spurs or Mavs looked like championship contenders against the Bucks — a concession perhaps to the idea that the Bucks have the unluckiest 10-14 record in basketball and are so-under-the-radar in terms of contention that you need sonar to track them.  The Bucks haven’t backed away from any challenges since Andrew Bogut came back into the lineup, including the Heat, but that’s not the point — nobody’s going to talk about the Bucks until they start putting the ball in the basket with more regularity, go on a winning streak and actually beat the Heat, which they’ll get two chances to do the first week of January.

The point is, the Bucks were screwed in San Antonio — no other way to put it.  The refs didn’t just eat their whistles on Ginobili’s buzzer beater, they were loathe the entire game to call fouls on the Spurs starting five.  That isn’t going to happen if and when the Spurs meet Kobe, Gasol and the Lakers in the playoffs.

Here’s the foul story: One on Manu, one on Parker, one on DeJuan Blair and three on Tim Duncan, who was guarding Bogut most of the night and basically humped his arm with the score tied 90-90 and the Bucks trying to feed their All-Star center in the post.   No fouls on Richard Jefferson.  That’s six fouls in 150 minutes played by the Spurs starters — or an astounding one foul per 25 minutes played, which means the refs were not about to whistle even 5 fouls on the Spurs starters per 120 mins of available PT in a half.

Brandon Jennings was hacked all night by Tony Parker and battered to a 4-18 shooting night.  Yet the Bucks, with John Salmons and Corey Maggette all but benched for the game and Carlos Delfino still recovering from a head injury, had the ball with the score tied at 90 and 30 seconds to play.

The following night in Denver it was more of the same for the Spurs, playing at full strength against the Chauncey-less Nuggets.  Duncan fouled out two or three times by my count but was only whistled for four, even as his counterpart, Nene Hilario, was fouled out.  Parker — who fouls everybody in sight — was caught for all of one foul playing 37 minutes.  In the end it was Manu twisting for a layup to give the Spurs the lead and then saving the game by leaping into Carmelo Anthony‘s path to draw a charge as time expired — taking the winning points off the Denver scoreboard.

Was Ginobili there, planted in position in time?   It was close, too close not to question — but it was Manu.  Of course the call went his way, whether or not what he did was to jump — leap, literally, both feet in the air from the weakside — under Carmelo as Carmelo (31 pts in the game) was gathering to lift to the rim.

But hey — it was Manu.  Tough luck, Carmelo.  “Bullshit,” said Nuggets coach George Karl.  The Spurs are now 22-3, the best record in basketball and they’re playing at full strength in December. It’s the fastest start in Spurs history.  But I watched the Spurs lose twice this week, and so did you — only to see the refs award them the wins.  No, the Spurs are no title contender — they don’t have the muscle in the paint to help Duncan and truly contend, and no amount of magical refereeing will allow the Manu and Parker and RJ show to carry them to the finals.

Call the Spurs a lucky 22-3, as lucky as the Bucks 10-14 mark has been unlucky and injury riddled.  As lucky as the Bears 9-4 record atop the NFC North (oh, that’s probably stretching it).  The luck of things in the NBA have a tendency to even out over the grueling 82-game schedule — let’s not go ahead and crown their asses yet.   Remember, against the Bucks, the Spurs were posterized in the 4th quarter by, of all people, Drew Gooden.


“I still don’t think he’s a center” — Kevin McHale on the Hawks Al Horford — who is not a center despite the Hawks insistence (under Mike Woodson anyway) that Horford is a 6’11″center.   In Boston, Horford had just hit an early 18-footer against the Celtics, and McHale noted that Horford’s improving 18-footer was the thing that “separates him from other big forwards.”  Al Horford, power forward.  Too small to start against Andrew Bogut and other centers (that task goes to Hawks big man Jason Collins), and too small at 6’9 to appear on center ranking lists.  Hopefully, commentary like McHale’s is a sign that Bogut will be making his All-Star game debut in Los Angeles in February.


Bogut since his return against the Magic Dec. 4:  19.8 pts – 14.2 rebs – 4 blks – 1 steal – 2.3 assists per game.  Add in the possessions that he turns over by taking charges and the result is a center playing better now than Dwight Howard.  Overall, Bogut leads the NBA in blocks per game (3.1) and has the 3rd-best defensive rating in the league (96.5 pts allowed per 100 possessions when he’s on the court) behind Kevin Garnett and Howard.  That’s the sort of company AB keeps these days.

If Bogut keeps it up and continues hitting 55% of his shots (50 of 89 since tipping it off against the Magic), the Bucks should weather the current scheduling nightmare (and AB’s horrendous free throw shooting) by earning a few tough road wins in the West — and be right on the Bulls’ tails by late January.


Speaking of centers and the Bulls, Joakim Noah will be out nursing a broken right thumb until after the All-Star break.  With the Bucks in the middle of the toughest stretch of basketball in the league this season, fate (or Bulls management) has conspired to make sure the Bulls don’t run away with the Central.  The Bulls can’t and won’t keep up their 16-8 pace (and 3rd-ranked defense) without their defensive anchor in the paint having the All-Star season he was having — but the Bucks have a six game hole to climb out of while playing the toughest December-early January schedule in the league.

The Bucks play Dec. 28 and Jan. 24 in Chicago.  Noah will miss both of those, which means the Bucks won’t get a chance to see the Rose-Noah-Boozer Bulls until Feb. 26 in Milwaukee.  That’s too bad, because a Bucks-Bulls game without Joakim Noah is like playing the Celtics without Kevin Garnett — it takes the fun out of the battle for the paint.  I wonder if Bogut will miss him.

I can’t help but wonder, though, given that 2-handed push shot that Noah throws up at the rim,  what he needs his right thumb for?

Bogut ranked #2 in Ball Don’t Lie center ratings

Defense matters in the NBA.  When it comes to the best big men in the world, there is Dwight Howard and then there is Bucks center Andrew BogutBall Don’t Lie’s Kelly Dwyer — one of most dogged NBA junkies in the blogosphere — concurs.

Bucks fans have seen Bogut improve every year in the face of a couple of broken noses, a smashed kneecap, a bashed upper thigh and a troublesome lower back.  The rest of the NBA finally took notice last February as Bogues — healthy at last — anchored coach Scott Skiles’ tenacious, turnover machine defense and at age 25 seized the mantle of leadership, lifting his Bucks out of the abyss of the Michael Redd era and reenergizing a fan base that had been dormant since the trade of Ray Allen in 2003.

No, Bogut didn’t make the 2010 All-Star team but everybody from Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to the TNT’s Round Mound of opinion, Charles Barkley, went on record saying he should have — and would have had the Eastern Conference coaches been able to recast their ballots a couple of weeks after the voting deadline.  At season’s end, Bogut was voted 3rd team All-Pro by the league’s media, just missing the 2nd team with the 11th highest overall vote total.

Dwyer, at heart a Bulls fan and a bonafide Scott Skiles expert, tends to pay more attention to the Bucks than most NBA geeks, and his meta-awareness of the game’s sometimes unmeasurable intangibles is unrivaled.  Here’s his take on Bogut:

That’s right. The man who I think is the second-best center in the NBA didn’t even make the All-Star team last season.

This isn’t me trying to be obscure — Bogut was a No. 1 overall pick fercryin’outloud. It’s just the end result of seeing this guy work expertly on either end of the court last season. Bogut was an at-times dominant defender on par with Dwight Howard, especially when Howard started 2009-10 slow. And Bogut’s versatile offensive game still isn’t being taken advantage enough by his Bucks teammates.

All he does is do everything well, save for the odd trip to the free-throw line. And because he turns 26 just a month into the season and so many other bigs are either playing out of position, coming back from injury or starting to put it all together, I think Bogut establishes himself as a clear No. 2 in 2010-11. To those that pay attention to defense, at least.

As for Dwyer’s Top 11, I’ve gotta take issue with Hawks big man Al Horford‘s #4 ranking, and I think it’s fair to say that the Lakers Pau Gasol plays as much center as teammate Andrew Bynum (#5), given Bynum’s ever-nagging knee problems.  Spurs Hall-of-Famer-to-be Tim Duncan plays center most of the time, too, it should be noted, and deserves to be in the Top 5, nevermind the Spurs’ insistence on listing Duncan as a forward, which they’ve continued to do since David Robinson retired in 2003.  Duncan’s the Spurs center.

Ranking Brook Lopez  # 3 seems to beg a “what has Lopez accomplished?” question, and wouldn’t a lot of teams take Joakim Noah’s defense and rebounding over Lopez’s sometimes uninspired D?  No way is Lopez the #3 center in the league but I realize that Dwyer was giving a nod to Lopez’s offensive game and that youth weighed in KD was balancing his criteria.

I could quibble all day into next season about rankings 3-11 (that’s what we obnoxious and insufferable NBA blogo-junkies do).  But the spot that Dwyer nailed was the one that mattered most and is most contentious among NBA faithful who care about center play — #2 behind Howard.  Bogut earned it last season and will have to fight to defend it through the coming season as guys like Lopez, Bynum, Noah, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol continue to improve and they all try to stay as healthy as the freakishly fit Dwight from another planet.  I can’t wait.

And damn you Dwyer for getting your center rankings done before I even started mine.

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.