Wizards vs. Bucks Preview: Struggling Bucks hope to right ship against streaking Wiz

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

At 14-35, the Wizards might seem like just the tonic for a Bucks squad that's lost three in a row and could desperately use a win to get its playoff push back on track. But with John Wall and Nene finally healthy, the Wizards have won three in a row and figure to give the Bucks all they can handle at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Monday.

2012/2013 NBA Season
Was
(14-35, 3-21 road)
vs.
Mil_medium
(25-24 13-11 home)
February 11, 2013
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
John Wall PG Brandon Jennings
Garrett Temple SG Monta Ellis
Martell Webster SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Nene PF Ersan Ilyasova
Emeke Okafor C Samuel Dalembert
2011/12 Advanced Stats
92.1 (12th) Pace 94.6 (4th)
97.6 (30th) ORtg 102.9 (23rd)
102.0 (5th) DRtg 103.8 (9th)

On the Wizards: Bullets Forever | Washington Post Wizard Insider | Truth About It|D.C. Sports Bog

Dr. Block. As of early Monday morning there had been no indication of whether Larry Sanders (lower back contusion) would be ready to return to the lineup against Washington, though he did participate in the Bucks' light practice on Sunday. Sanders has now missed two games following the nasty spill he suffered in Denver last Tuesday.

UPDATE: No Sanders again tonight.

Video preview. If you'd like to see my ugly mug talking about this game, we did a two-minute preview for the Wizards and Monumental sports that you check out right here.

Wiz update. The Wizards are just 14-35 overall and have an NBA-worst 3-21 record on the road. Exactly what the Bucks need, right? Well, not so fast. Washington is 9-7 since John Wall made his season debut on January 12, and all told the team coming to the BC on Monday night bears little resemblance to the one the Bucks beat on November 9 in Washington. Emeka Okafor is the only Wiz starter from that game who figures to be on the floor at tip tonight, with Wall and Nene having returned from injury and Martell Webster and ex-Buck Garrett Temple slotting into the swing spots in place of Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza.

Beal figures to replace Temple in the starting five sooner rather than later, but the Wizards 2012 lottery pick came off the bench on Friday after missing five straight games with a right wrist injury. His return also meant a DNP for combo guard (and Buck killer) Jordan Crawford, who appears to be in Randy Wittman's dog house at the moment. Not that Bucks fans should be complaining--Crawford destroyed the Bucks in four games last year with an eye-popping 24.5 ppg on .523/.556/.833 shooting.

Good health helping. The Wizards arrive owning a three-game winning streak that saw them handle three of the better teams in the league (Clippers, Nets and Knicks), all of which has them wondering how things might be different had Wall and company been healthy to start the season. That said, they've still lost four in a row and have yet to solve their significant road issues.

Wall and Nene. Neither Wall nor Nene have hit their quite stride yet, but they're getting there. Nene has recorded back-to-back double-doubles and is a nightmarish matchup in the post for Ersan Ilyasova, so don't be surprised if Jim Boylan cross-matches Sam Dalembert or Larry Sanders against Nene while trying to hide Ilyasova against Okafor. Not that Ilyasova can handle Okafor defensively either, but the hope is that the hot-shooting Ilyasova can take advantage of the Wizards' big men on the other end as well.

As for Wall, his raw stats (14.2 ppg, 7.1 apg) are down modestly, though that's mostly a product of limited minutes as he works his way back from the knee injury that cost him the first two months of the season. Per minute he's scoring and assisting at career-high rates (18.7 ppg and 9.0 apg per 36 minutes), but he's still as inefficient as ever (48.3% true shooting) and turns it over a ton.

Monta. Speaking of inefficient (segue!), Monta Ellis insists that his uncertain future in Milwaukee is not to blame for his recent struggles. I'd insist his struggles all season are rooted in a willingness to shoot jumpers he can't consistently make (33% on long twos! 24% on threes!), but then again no one asked me. Charles Gardner reports that Jim Boylan is painfully aware of the problem:

"He's just got to stay aggressive," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "There have been discussions. He's not being singled out or anything like that.

"But he's a vital piece of what we do. We need him to play his game. If he does that, we'll live with it, whatever the results are. I believe if he plays his game then he will be effective."

Ellis and Jennings are posting nearly identical (awful) shooting percentages this year (39.8% for Ellis, 40.0% for Jennings), but it's interesting to note that they're virtual polar opposites in terms of what they're doing well. After hitting 57% of his shots at the rim a year ago, Jennings' finishing has plummeted to an unacceptable 51% this year, though he's made up for that somewhat by boosting his three point percentage to an above-average 37%. Meanwhile, Ellis continues to finish at the rim quite well (61%) but has been terrible when he's not converting at the bucket.

Out like a lion? Stop the presses: Doron Lamb actually had a good game! The Bucks' second rounder hit 9/14 shots, 4/6 threes and scored 24 points along with five boards and four assists in Fort Wayne's 119-108 win over Iowa on Saturday night, and by noon on Sunday the Bucks announced he had been recalled to the big club.

Don't read too much into the call-up, though. Fort Wayne doesn't play again until after the all-star break on February 22, so the Bucks had every incentive to bring Lamb back to Milwaukee regardless of what happened on Saturday night. Either way, it's encouraging to see Lamb showing signs of life no matter where he might be playing, though it's not clear what if any role he'll have with the Bucks for the remainder of the season. He hasn't played in an NBA game since January 5 and hasn't played a minute under Jim Boylan.

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