A night after their game in Atlanta was cancelled due to snow, the Bucks return to sunny Milwaukee to complete their season series with the league-leading Spurs. After losing consecutive games in New York and Boston last week, the Spurs have run off three in a row, albeit the last two coming in a home-and-home with the lowly Timberwolves.
Good health and good play no coincidence
Hopefully by now you've seen Jacob's team-by-team study of games lost to injury, which confirms what we've been assuming all year: the Bucks have been really banged up. Even if you exclude Michael Redd and players who have missed the entire season, the Bucks have totaled the most games lost to both starters and regular (15+ mpg) players, while the Spurs and their fancy 32-6 record have been among the healthiest. There have plenty of injuries to go around for the Bucks, with Carlos Delfino (29 games), Drew Gooden (15), Chris Douglas-Roberts (15), Brandon Jennings (10), and Andrew Bogut (7) among the key players having missed at least 20% of the team's game's thus far.
The good news is that help should be on the way. Delfino hopes to be back by the all-star break, Jennings may only be a week or two away, and Gooden may finally return tonight after resting his plantar fasciitis the past couple weeks. Charles Gardner spoke to Gooden before the Atlanta
game night off:
"I'm still feeling some of the discomfort in it but it's the best I've felt in a month. I just want to see how it feels with the travel and after shoot-around and after my pre-game routine.
"Besides a couple twisted ankles, this has been the worst for me as far as trying to battle it and play through it and keep coming back and trying to fight it. I've put a lot of time in rehab but it is discouraging not being able to be out there playing 25 or 30 minutes a game and playing to the best of my ability.
"There's light (at the end of the tunnel). If I wake up tomorrow and feel like I can go, I'm going."
No respect but plenty of wins for the Spurs
The Spurs have the best record in the league, but it doesn't seem many have noticed. A Sports Illustrated survey of players last month showed just 1% predicted the Spurs would be NBA champs come June, but in the meantime they just keep chugging along. Buck-killer Manu Ginobili has been as good as ever, putting up 19 pts and five assists on typically excellent 61% true shooting and a career-high 1.9 steals. The 33-year-old is also playing a career-high 31.8 mpg, a surprisingly low figure for a guy who's been one of the league's most dangerous guards for the better part of the decade. Ginobili's contributions have also allowed Tim Duncan to play a career-low 29.3 mpg, the theory being that less burn now will have Timmy fresher for the playoff run.
JS: Skiles' gamble pays off
Not to be overlooked in the Bucks' 115-92 throttling of the Nets was how the Bucks' small-ball starting lineup shut down Brook Lopez. With Andrew Bogut missing due to a virus, Scott Skiles' decision to start Ersan Ilyasova at center struck me as a bit of a headscratcher, particularly since Skiles was also moving the smaller Luc Mbah a Moute to PF. But it was more than validated by the scoreline and Ilyasova's surprising statistical domination over the much bigger Lopez (22 pts/13 reb vs. 5 pts/1 reb). It's not to say Jon Brockman and Larry Sanders have been consistent in the pivot either, but it seemed like a stretch for Ilyasova to bang with a skilled seven-footer when he's often looked too small to handle stronger post PFs. Thankfully, the Nets never seemed all that committed to establishing Lopez, and the former Stanford big was similarly disengaged for much of the night.
That said, the Bucks' lack of depth up front wasn't completely masked by the Nets' ineptitude. Kris Humphries scored 22 on 12 shots and the 19-year-old Derrick Favors (12 pts/ 6 rebs) showed a number of times why the Nuggets are demanding him as a centerpiece of all the proposed Carmelo Anthony deals. In the end, the Bucks won because they were making shots at a very un-Buck-like 58% clip, finding little resistance driving to the hoop and getting out in transition with surprising frequency. The Bucks are last in the league with 9.8 pts/game on fast breaks, but scored 21 in New Jersey.
Wingmen coming around
Corey Maggette's only real purpose on the court is to score points, but the Bucks have been surprisingly incapable of winning when he does. The Bucks entered Saturday's game just 2-10 when Maggette scored more than 10 points, so it was encouraging to see Maggette make the most of his first start (20 points on nine shots) while playing a key role in a Bucks win.
Maggette and Earl Boykins had been the only guys on the roster who hadn't started yet this season, but the timing of Maggette's first start was a bit interesting considering he had scored just two points in seven minutes the previous night vs. Miami. Maybe Skiles just figured Maggette would have fresh legs? You could have made a better case for Chris Douglas-Roberts earning a start after his 30-point night against the Heat, but in the end it's hard to complain with the end result. CD-R came off the bench and was at his active best, mixing in both jumpers as well as his usual array of cuts, transition, and floaters in scoring 24 points on 14 shots. Update: Luc Mbah a Moute is reportedly sliding back to the starting SF slot tonight.
What I particularly like about CD-R is how he gets his buckets in the flow of the offense, which is a major reason that you can play him alongside guys like Maggette and John Salmons. According to Synergy, Maggette and CD-R are the Bucks' biggest threats in the open court (each getting 14-15% of their plays in transition), though Maggette is most comfortable in the halfcourt when he's in the high post and can use his quickness and foul-drawing savvy one-on-one. Compared to CD-R, Maggette gets twice as many plays out of isolation (17% to 8%) and is almost twice as productive (0.84 PPP to 0.44). But where CD-R has separated himself is in spot-up situations. While we don't think of either guy as a spot-up shooter, both Maggette and CD-R get most of their plays that way (around 33%). And though Maggette has been surprisingly respectable in that phase (0.95 PPP), CD-R has been lights-out at 1.27 PPP, good for 17th in the league. Unfortunately, both guys have struggled to finish around the rim (52-53% each), suggesting that Maggette may have lost a step and reiterating CD-R's lack of top-shelf explosiveness.