Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova expected back to face Nets on Friday

Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

The Bucks' injury woes have been a major theme of their 6-22 start. So what should we expect with Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova expected back in the lineup on Friday in Brooklyn?

Alas, the days of a Miroslav Raduljica/Caron Butler starting big man combination may be numbered.

Andrew Gruman from FS Wisconsin reports that Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova both returned to full practice on Thursday and are expected to play in Brooklyn on Friday, offering a major boost to Larry Drew's depth up front--and raising some potentially difficult rotation decisions in the not too distant future.

Drew didn't have any answers on Thursday as to how he would be using his returning big men against the Nets, though on Friday he not surprisingly said Sanders would be limited tonight.

Regardless of how they're integrated back into the Bucks' rotation, it's difficult to imagine either displacing John Henson from his starting role in the short term. Despite beginning the season as understudy to the starting duo of Sanders and Ilyasova, Henson has been the Bucks' best player by a mile so far, with December averages of 15.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 2.5 bpg underscoring the major strides he's made on both ends. And did we mention he's also younger and cheaper, too?

So in the big picture it seems as though both Sanders and Ilyasova will be auditioning to be Henson's wingman, a situation that serves as a nice reminder of how quickly things can change in the NBA. After assuming the unofficial face of the franchise title over the summer, Sanders had one of the worst Novembers in recent memory, and not surprisingly he's itching to get back on the court to make amends. Via Gruman:

Sanders will play with a glove-like joint stabilizer on his thumb that's covered with a wrap for the foreseeable future but says catching and holding a basketball is no problem.

"I couldn't wait for it," Sanders said of his return.

"There was a little bit of discomfort just getting used to it. "Just to be back around the guys and to be back in this atmosphere playing, I can't really describe it. It feels great."

Much was made of a potential Sanders/Henson pairing heading into the season, but they haven't played a minute together this season and shared the court for only 109 nondescript minutes a year ago. So yeah let's give that a try, OK?

It's also been a rough start to the season for Ilyasova, who was shut down a week ago after continued struggles with the ankle injury he first sustained in the Bucks' preseason opener October 8. He's been in and out of the lineup since returning in time for the Bucks' regular season opener in New York, and struggled through a 6/35 shooting slump before the Bucks wisely opted to give him more time to right himself physically. Gruman reported that Drew was encouraged by Ilyasova's appearance on Thursday, but it's probably not worth getting too excited until we see him figuring things out on the court.

"Boy, he looked better than I've seen in a long time as far as his movement," Drew said. "He moved really well. He didn't show any signs of the ankle bothering him. He was very bouncy as well. Let's hope he can stay that way."

What this means for the frontcourt rotation remains unclear. The skeleton big man crew of Henson, Ekpe Udoh and Miroslav Raduljica hasn't prevented the Bucks from some surprisingly competitive basketball of late, with Caron Butler and Khris Middleton seeing smallball power forward minutes as well. But that shouldn't distract from the fact that Ilyasova and Sanders need to be playing major minutes. It's not clear if one, both or neither of them have a long-term future in Milwaukee, but we won't get any closer to an answer until we see them back on the court.

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