A sparsely-attended Izod Center has never looked so inviting. Having lost five straight, the Bucks finally found the right tonic for their March blues in the form of the Nets, who had lost four straight themselves and looked lifeless after losing yesterday in Minnesota. Granted, three of those losses had come to the Lakers and Cavs (twice), but you could tell from the tone in Marv Albert and Mike Fratello's voices that the Nets' no-show wasn't a surprise.
Of course, the final score should be hint that there was more to this game than a poor effort from the Nets. The Bucks came out with a hop in their step, pushing the ball on every Nets miss or turnover--and there seemed to be plenty of those in the early-going. And while the Bucks eventually settled into a groove from distance (10/21 threes), it didn't feel like one of those random nights where the Bucks were making everything from the get-go. They simply were patient, aggressive, and unselfish. Easy buckets early built confidence and tougher shots seemed to fall as the game progressed.
The Nets meanwhile never played their game. They regularly schooled the Bucks by running pick-and-roll with Devin Harris and Brook Lopez in the teams' previous encounters, but tonight it only seemed to happen a couple times as Lopez was starved for touches early as the Bucks made their run. Vince Carter was taking off-balance jumpers instead of attacking, and when Harris did get into the lane he couldn't seem to get anything to fall. The Bucks went on a 28-5 run to close out the first quarter and that was really it.
- Richard Jefferson. I've complained a lot about RJ's declining all-around game of late, but there was nothing to complain about tonight: 29 points on just 12 shots in only 28 minutes to go with a season-high tying 10 rebounds. I'm guessing the locale didn't hurt RJ's motivation, but in truth there wasn't much forced about it. He's had a penchant for taking long twos with guys right in his grill, but tonight it was all about open threes and attacking the paint.
- Ramon Sessions. I just liked how Sessions managed the pace of the game. The Bucks seemed to be looking to run at every opportunity early, perhaps realizing that a halfcourt game doesn't work well for a team without an inside presence or a consistent ability to make contested shots. Sessions was making consistently good decisions even without having to shoulder much of the scoring load himself (4/11 fg, 13 pts), and threatened a triple double (eight boards, seven assists) in just 28 minutes. In contrast, his all-star counterpart Harris managed less than half his average--10 pts (3/11 fg) compared to 22.4 ppg coming in.
- Charlie Villanueva. Villanueva finally got some open looks and made the most of them. With the Nets often struggling to match up in transition, CV found himself with plenty of good looks early and that seemed to help his confidence. He later stroked a couple of threes in defenders' grills and ended with 20 points (8/16 fg) in 30 minutes.
- 16. Joe Alexander again saw meaningful minutes, capping off the Bucks' big first quarter by drilling an open three to make it 32-13 with 2.0 seconds left. He kept at it, too, making his first four shots en route to a career-high 16 points in 28 minutes. After his fast start he forced a few shots and could have added to his point total if he hadn't missed three of five freebies, but tough to complain given Alexander's slow development this season. Also of interest: Alexander actually leads the team with a 38.9% mark from deep.
- +34. Though both teams were playing their scrubs by the fourth quarter, the Bucks' starters stomped the Nets' by a 69-35 margin.
- 27. The Bucks had 17 first half assists and 27 total, eclipsing the 16 they had in Miami by halftime. Scott Skiles likey.
Big Three. Of late there have been precious few games where Jefferson, Villanueva, and Sessions all seem on at once--and with little depth to speak of that's been difficult to overcome. Tonight they didn't need herculean efforts from anyone, just patient game management from Sessions which went a long way to making things easier on RJ and CV. Oh yeah, the Nets' lack of defense helped, too. Overall they piled up 62 points, 20 boards, 12 assists and just five turnovers in 88 combined minutes.
Gadz! The night was pretty much summed up midway through the the third quarter on a single play (you can watch it by clicking "AP Recap" above). After a Nets rebound, Dan Gadzuric stole the ball near his own foul line from Trenton Hassell. Now, you'd hope that the big fella would kick it to a teammate or otherwise do something that prevents him from, you know, dribbling. But no. Gadz started dribbling down the lane at Hassell, angling slightly to his right. Based on everything we know about Gadz, I was expecting a rushed right hook/flip shot that probably wouldn't draw iron.
But my was I wrong. With the deftness of a dumptruck in slow motion, he pulled the ball around his back with his right hand, picked it up with his left, and thred it down over the smaller (observing) Hassell. The Nets called timeout and everyone might as well have gone home at that point.
- Joe's baby steps. He still does stuff that's kind of cringe-worthy--like thinking he can post up seven-footers, fouling with reckless abandon and trying to dunk from the scorers' table--but Alexander is settling down a bit. That allowed him to contribute to the Bucks' big run in the first half, as he took good shots and looked more like a basketball player than a bull in a china shop. Keep it up, Joe.
- The Nets. Specifically, Carter, Harris, Hassell, and Jarvis Hayes. I can't tell you how excited I am to watch a game and come away thinking the other team looked terrible.
Pretty much every road announcing team except Marv/the Czar. For some reason I never seem to get the FS Wisconsin feed on League Pass anymore, though tonight I knew that was going to happen since it was an NBATV game. It's often times pretty annoying--guys like Austin Carr (Cavs) and Dominique Wilkins (Hawks) are almost impossible to listen to if you're not a fan of the home team. Actually, as worthless as 'Nique is, he doesn't deserve to be mentioned alongside Carr. Let me emphasize that again: Austin Carr is a terrible, terrible broadcaster.
Fortunately, the Nets boast a couple of absolute gems behind the mic. I enjoy Mike Breen and Walt Frazier, too, but I grew up listening to Marv/Mike on NBC so I get kind of nostalgic listening to them call Nets games these days. And when the game is a complete blowout it's definitely nice having announcers who can riff about random stuff to pass the time.
- Reality. It's fun finally watching the Bucks win again, but it probably won't matter except to reduce their lottery odds slightly. The Bucks are still four games back of the Bulls for the final playoff spot and 12th in the lottery rankings. Welcome to no-man's land!