UPDATE: Ersan Ilyasova will start and Larry Sanders will come off the bench.
Ilyasova is back at power forward spot after missing last three games with a sore right ankle.— cfgardner (@cf_gardner) December 27, 2013
Bucks Big Back, Brooklyn Big Broke. The Bucks (and the rest of us) finally got the news they've been waiting for: Larry's back! Larry Sanders finally returned to practice this week and will play in tonight's game, though his minutes are expected to be limited.
Milwaukee has improved a bit on defense in recent weeks, pushing their defensive rating into top-20 range. But their ceiling on that end is capped without Sanders, one of the NBA's best interior defenders and the linchpin of Milwaukee's "system" in recent years. While John Henson's shot-blocking has made a considerable leap (2.9 blks/36min this season vs. 1.8/36 last year), he isn't on Sanders' level when it comes to defending the rim or the pick and roll (though he's getting closer).
Sanders is sure to be rusty at first and has very little real court time in Larry Drew's system, but there's no reason he can't provide a boost on defense in the near future. Any such improvement, even a marginal one, might irk those fans waving the biggest tanking flags, but the importance of getting Sanders back on the court to see how he fits into Drew's plans shouldn't be overlooked. Perhaps even more important is seeing how Sanders plays alongside Henson, the team's most productive big man this season.
The Nets meanwhile are trying to figure out how to proceed in the wake of a season-ending foot injury to center Brook Lopez, which he suffered during an overtime loss to Philadelphia last Friday. They haven't done it yet, coming into tonight with a four-game losing streak in tow. The Nets have tried to make do by boosting the minutes of Mizra Teletovic and rookie Mason Plumlee, and GM Billy King has said the team won't actively look to make a deal for a replacement.
The Nets are thanking their lucky stars that point guard Deron Williams has returned with a vengeance from an injury-plagued start to his season. Over his last 8 games, Williams is averaging 16.8 points and 9 assists per game while shooting 50% from the field and 43% from three.
L4GK! Remember that short stretch of games where Brandon Jennings was, like, the greatest point guard ever? Well, Brandon Knight is doing his best impression. Over the last four games, Knight is averaging 25 points, 7.8 assists, and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting 42% from three-point range. Plus, he's only committed 10 turnovers total in those games, and 8 of them came in his 36-point outing against the Knicks.
Knight has been effectively leveraging his own scoring ability to create points for teammates, while continuing to use his speed and athleticism in transition to create easy buckets. His stretch of strong play has coincided with a "relatively" decent stretch for the Bucks: they have just a 1-3 record to show for it, but a double-digit win against Philadelphia and a trio of overtime losses actually represent an "improvement" for Milwaukee. Of course, those losses came against some of the worst teams in the NBA, so, you know, baby steps.
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