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Bucks season looking to improve

Alec Dopp, Sports Writer/Commentary
February 13, 2013
Filed under Sports

Had the Milwaukee Bucks’ preseason aspirations come to fruition, they would be in a different place.

First, they would have the Eastern Conference’s best record. Second, they would have a healthy roster top to bottom. Third, they would have the same head coach they began the season with.

Unfortunately, in the National Basketball Association, teams can’t have everything they want Milwaukee’s current situation illustrates this fact.

As the 2012-13 NBA All-Star break draws near, the Bucks instead find themselves injury-riddled and without their original head coach while maintaining a 25-22 record, seven games behind the front-running defending champion Miami Heat for the top spot in the conference.

The team lost forward Tobias Harris for a few weeks due to a laceration to his right elbow. Point guard Beno Udrih sat out for 12 games with a sprained right ankle. Small forward Mike Dunleavy rode the pine for seven games with a bone bruise to his left knee. Power forward Drew Gooden can’t shake off lagging injuries from previous seasons.

Adding insult to injury, Milwaukee’s coaching staff has endured changes as well.

Shortly after celebrating the New Year, head coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond agreed it would be best for the organization to relieve Skiles of his coaching duties. Assistant coach Jim Boylan took over the helm Jan. 8

The team has gone 9-6 since the coaching change.

Despite injuries and coaching carousel, the Bucks have played an improved brand of basketball compared to a season ago—particularly versus top competition.

Against teams with a winning percentage of .500 or more, Milwaukee has averaged 96.4 points, 43.5 rebounds, 21.4 assists, 6.9 blocks and 8.8 steals per game this season. Last year, the Bucks averaged 93.5 points, 41.1 rebounds, 21.8 assists, 5.0 blocks and 7.9 steals against similar competition. Only in assists per game has the team declined from 2011-12.

Defensively, the Bucks haven’t played exceptionally well but have improved nonetheless. So far this season, they have held opponents to 98.1 points per game compared to the 98.7 points per game they allowed all of last season.

On a player-by-player basis, Milwaukee has received much productivity.

Point guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis—mainstays of Milwaukee’s roster—have combined to form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league. Together, they’ve contributed 11.5 assists and a league-high 3.7 steals per game.

Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and Samuel Dalembert have created a physical, post game down low for Milwaukee. Sanders is currently the league leader in blocks per game at 3.11. Udoh and Dalembert have averaged 1.16 and 1.3 blocks per game, respectively.

Mike Dunleavy and Ersan Ilyasova have delivered tremendous outside production. Altogether, the team is shooting .355 percent from behind the three-point arc—good enough for sixth-best in the Eastern Conference.

Veteran contributors Marquis Daniels, Joel Przybilla, Udrih, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute have each been of value coming off the bench. Overall, Milwaukee’s bench ranks 13th in the league with 35.9 points per game and is fourth overall with an efficiency rating of 44.7.

Rookie power-forward John Henson and shooting guard Doron Lamb, both taken in last summer’s NBA draft, have not been able to consistently contribute to this juncture of the season. Henson, 22, has averaged just 13 minutes and 4.3 rebounds per game. Lamb has averaged 12.2 minutes and 3.4 points per game.

With the midway point of the season here, the Bucks have put themselves in favorable position to make the postseason if they continue to build off what they’ve already accomplished.

However, the road to the playoffs will be far from effortless.

Milwaukee’s post All-Star break schedule includes road trips to Miami, Oklahoma City, Golden State, Brooklyn and Los Angeles. The Bucks have held their own against those teams this season with a combined 4-3 record to show for it.

If Boylan’s bunch can withstand tough competition, a deep run in the playoffs may not be a far-fetched possibility.

But for a franchise that has only once made it out of the first round of the playoffs since the turn of the millennium, Bucks fans would be ignorant to expect the team to compete for a world championship come June.

Staying relevant in the Eastern Conference may be the more realistic and worthwhile goal for Milwaukee this season.

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