Good enough. In their first action since the all-star break, the Bucks nearly blew a 22-point first half lead against the Wizards on Tuesday night, needing an Ersan Ilyasova tip-in with 2.2 seconds remaining to salvage a 119-118 win over Washington. Mike Dunleavy's season-high 28 points led the way for the Bucks, but they hemorrhaged points in the second half (65 pts allowed) and let Washington come within a bucket of pulling off a ridiculous comeback. Drew Gooden played well (15 pts/10 rebs) in his first action after missing four games with a torn ligament in his right wrist, but he left in the third quarter after falling hard on his back. His availability remains up in the air for tonight.
Meanwhile, the Celtics blew a 16-point first half lead before rallying late for an 86-83 win in Cleveland, dropping the Cavs percentage points behind the Bucks for the 9th seed. The Cavs and Bucks are now both 2.5 games behind Boston for the final playoff spot in the East. The win snapped a five game skid for the Celtics, who have seen Jeremy Lin and the Knicks leapfrog them (by percentage points) in the playoff standings over the past couple weeks.
That's understandably ignited all sorts of discussion around the futures of productive-but-aging stars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, both of whom will be free agents this coming summer, while Rajon Rondo always seems to be rumored as available despite his reasonable contract and relative youth. Danny Ainge hasn't been afraid to make big moves in the past, but it's far from clear as to whether he'd be willing to blow up the core of the 2008 NBA champions before the March 15 deadline.
The Garden. The Celtics are a so-so 11-8 in Boston thus far this season, but they've won 11 of 14 overall and six of the last seven at home against the Bucks. Those wins came courtesy of better Celtics teams over the past few years, but don't mistake the Bucks for anything but underdogs (-6.5) tonight. Both teams could go with small lineups to start, as Doc Rivers has gone with Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett up front in Jermaine O'Neal's absence with a wrist injury, while the Bucks have been starting Gooden in place of the injured Andrew Bogut.
Jon Leuer started out of position at center in Gooden's absence recently, so he could get another shot at the starting spot if Gooden's back keeps him out tonight. Larry Sanders could also return to the court after DNPing last night; he had played 22 and 28 minutes in the two games leading into the all-star break, including arguably the best game of his career against Dwight Howard and the Magic on February 20.
The D in the C's. Tom Thibodeau may be long gone and the Celtics' core may be getting long in the tooth, but Boston's defense isn't slowing down just yet. Doc Rivers' club once again ranks in the NBA's top five in defensive efficiency, primarily because they lead the league in eFG% allowed. Specifically, the Celtics also lead the league in defending the three point line (30.2%) and are also among the league's best around the rim (58.7%). Interestingly, the Bucks rank just behind them in that category (58.9%), but overall Milwaukee is below average in both eFG% allowed (20th) and defensive efficiency.
Forcing a high percentage of missed shots has helped the Celtics overcome their struggles on the glass, where they rank just 23rd in defensive rebound rate (72.5%) and dead last in offensive rebound rate (21.6%).
The Skiles Way? We all know the recipe for Scott Skiles' success as an NBA head coach: defend like hell and hope you scrounge up just enough points to win. Over the past decade that's meant Skiles' teams regularly ranking among the league's leaders in defensive efficiency but struggling on the other end. To wit: Skiles has only coached one full season where his team ranked worse than 7th in defensive efficiency (the Bucks were 15th his first season in Milwaukee), while he's never coached an offense that ranked better than 21st in efficiency.
As a result, the Bucks' current efficiency rankings would make them both his best offensive group (16th) and his worst defensive group (by a longshot). Missing Andrew Bogut is a big part of that, but the Bucks have missed Bogut for parts of the last three seasons and previously found ways to vaguely hold things together on the defensive end without him. In contrast, they weren't an airtight unit before Bogut was injured this season, and they're anything but right now.