UPDATE: For the second time this season, Sam Dalembert will be unavailable due to team suspension:
The Bucks have suspended center Samuel Dalembert for one game without pay due to a violation of team policy.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) February 26, 2013
No word on what happened, though last time it was due to tardiness.
Mavs update. Though they remain 4.5 games adrift of the Rockets for the last playoff spot in the West, Dallas had won five of six games ahead of Saturday's loss to the Lakers in Dallas, and given the Bucks' inability to close out games (seven losses in their last eight) the Mavs should certainly be considered the favorites tonight. The Mavs are one of just two teams that the Bucks have yet to face this season.
Kobe Bryant responded to Mark Cuban's purely hypothetical discussion of whether the Lakers should amnesty him (and his $30 million salary) by dropping 38 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists on Saturday night in Dallas, offsetting a 30/13 night from Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas got just 21 points from their other four starters, while the reserve duo of Elton Brand and Vince Carter both hit 6/13 from the field and combined for 29 points.
Dirk. The Greatest Maverick Ever has been merely mortal for much of this season, missing the first two months of the season with a knee injury and only recently showing signs of the old Dirk. His 16.0 ppg, 18.2 PER and 6.2 rpg are his worst numbers since his second season in 99/00, while his 53.1% true shooting mark is his worst since he was a 19-year-old rookie. On the plus side, Nowtizki's double-double against the Lakers was his first of the season and he also had 25 in the prior game, and for the season he's actually shooting a career-best 42.1% from three and turning it over at the lowest rate of his career. Fun fact: Carter has as many 40%+ shooting seasons from three as Dirk (4). As for the long term, Nowitzki is owed $23 million next season and recently said he expects to re-sign with the Mavs for another two or three years beyond that.
Air Canada no more? The once high-flying Carter has successfully reinvented himself this season as something of a three-point specialist, stroking 41% from deep on 5.0 attempts per game off the bench, posting a career-high 57.0% true shooting number. That's a big reason why he's putting up the best PER (17.8) he's had in four years, though his rebound rate is also the highest it's been in five years and the Mavs are dramatically better offensively and defensively when he's on the court. He mostly operates as a backup to starting small forward Shawn Marion, so it's possible we could see more of J.J. Redick playing next to Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings when Carter is at the 3.
Considering he's owed just over $3 million next season, Carter has emerged as one of the better bargains in the game--a big reason why I would have been happy to see the Bucks make a play for him rather than J.J. Redick at the deadline. Instead, the Bucks appeared poised to ship Beno Udrih to Dallas for benchwarming swingman Dahntay Jones and injury-plagued point guard Roddy Beaubois, only to first ship Udrih to Orlando as part of the package for Redick. Dallas meanwhile ended up sending Jones to Atlanta for Anthony Morrow, another sharp-shooter I've always found an intriguing potential target.
Hold the Mayo. Speaking of bargains, how about O.J. Mayo? The former Grizzly signed a two-year deal (player option for next season) worth a modest $4 million per season last summer and has responded with the kind of big numbers (17.5 ppg, 4.4 apg, 57.3% true shooting) that many had hoped for after a promising rookie season back in 2008. Alas, Mayo basically is the same quality player he was when he entered the league, though that says as much about his maturity as a rookie as it does his lack of improvement since then. He's now getting the regular burn that he hadn't seen toward the end of his time in Memphis and is actually quite similar to Redick in many ways: both are excellent shooters and solid passers whose lack of top shelf athleticism/size make them ideal as complementary pieces but ill-equipped to be leading men. Both will also hit free agency looking for big pay raises this summer, and if the Bucks can't retain Redick you could certainly see them making a play for the 25-year-old Mayo.
Diagnosing the Bucks. So what's been wrong in Milwaukee over the past few weeks? At a team level, the Bucks are struggling on both ends, scoring just 97.6 pts/100 possessions while conceding 105.0 pts/100, compared to 99.9/101.3 for the season (via NBA.com/stats). They've actually been above their season averages in terms of cleaning up on the defensive boards in that span and virtually unchanged in both their own and opponent free throw and turnover rates. However, they are conceding a much higher eFG% (50.8% vs. 48.3%) and their own eFG% is down around 1% as well. That's a big deal since eFG% (ie making shots) is not surprisingly the most significant contributor to overall scoring efficiency. At least part of those numbers can be traced back to Larry Sanders' absence before the all-star break; for the season, the Bucks' eFG% conceded is an incredible 6.2% lower with Sanders on the court than off it.
On the other end, the Bucks hope the addition of Redick can help stabilize an offense that ranks just 21st in three point percentage and 22nd in total threes made.
"I feel like I was brought here to help this team win and secure a good playoff position," Redick said. "I'm a competitor and I didn't want to start off with a loss here coming from Orlando where the last 30 games we were 3-27. I expect this team to win."
Despite the tough loss, Redick saw positive signs that this can be turned around.
"For me, there were some groups that I felt comfortable with. There was some really good ball movement ... We did some good things tonight and I enjoyed playing with this group."
Integrating Redick into the Bucks' offense will be Jim Boylan's task, and Saturday's game against Atlanta suggests Ellis is now effectively the Bucks' backup point guard in addition to their starting shooting guard. Jennings' foul trouble and generally ineffectual play contributed to Ellis and Redick combining for nearly 80 minutes, though Boylan will no doubt hope to better balance the trio's minutes going forward. Jennings might be the most interesting to watch, as he didn't seem terribly enthusiastic about the early returns.
"It seems like things are going to change now that we've got the three-man rotation," Jennings said. "I guess the time that guys get, utilize it.
"I'm 23 years old. I can play 40 minutes and be fine. But if it's going to be like this, I guess we've just got to deal with it."
Word to the wise, Brandon: suck it up. And not in the "miss a bunch of shots and keep shooting anyway" sense.