Two teams on the outside of the Eastern playoff picture kick off the season's second half when the Bucks host the Wizards in Milwaukee.
Bradley Center Blues. After starting the season 7-2 at home, the Bucks have conspired to drop six straight in Milwaukee, their longest streak of home futility since dropping seven straight at home in February of 2000. Though still "just" 2.5 games behind Boston for the final playoff spot, the Bucks' margin for error isn't terribly high--not with Andrew Bogut's return still in doubt and more talented teams like the Celtics and Knicks moving past them in the standings.
And while losses nominally all count the same in the standings, the Bucks' struggles at home are particularly problematic for a team desperately trying to maintain fans' interest. In short: if the Bucks have any expectation of turning things around this season, it starts tonight. They've won six of seven at home against Washington and nine of 12 overall.
JS: Gooden practices, will return vs. Wizards
Charls Gardner writes that Drew Gooden will be back in the lineup after missing four games with a torn ligament in his wrist, though it remains to be seen how effective Gooden can be without a fully-functioning right wrist.
"It's just a matter of me trying to play through it and see what happens in the future," Gooden said. "I had my first practice today and I got it caught up in a couple plays. But that's basketball.
"I'm right-handed, so I'm going to get a lot of plays with my right hand. That's the chance I'm taking by going out there and playing. It feels stable. That was the main concern, if it was stable enough to keep playing. I believe it is."
Tobias Harris (shoulder contusion) should also be available, though Jon Leuer missed practice on Monday due to illness. And then there's Stephen Jackson (aka Steve von Horn's favorite player), who continues to be out with what's being termed a hamstring injury.
Blatche-ulism. In news that should surprise no one, the Wizards are reportedly hoping to part ways with captain and lead knucklehead Andray Blatche. Still just 25, the seven year veteran was having his worst season in about five years even before a calf injury put him on the shelf for a month. Blatche's absence has meant extended minutes for second year PF Trevor Booker and rookie Jan Vesely, though Vesely has most recently lost time to veteran Rashard Lewis. Though they've lost four straight, the Wiz are 5-11 under Randy Wittman after struggling to a 2-15 record under Flip Saunders.
The Wall. Following a slow start to the season that included a 1/9, six point showing against the Bucks on December 30, former first overall pick John Walls seems to be getting the hang of things. Over his last five, Wall is averaging 20.4 ppg, 8.6 apg and 5.6 rpg on 52.3% shooting.
Sixth man/designated gunner Jordan Crawford has also hit his stride of late, averaging 21.2 ppg on 54% shooting over the past five. Crawford started ahead of Nick Young in the Wizards' first two games, but came off the bench against the Bucks on December 30 and scored 24 points on 20 shots. But while he's largely known as a shooter/scorer, Crawford is hitting just 39.1% from the field and 28.4% from three--a rather low figure for a guy who attempts 3.5 threes per game.