by Troy Sparks
If you’re looking for some improvement from the Milwaukee Bucks, don’t hold your breath. It’s one thing to have talent on your team, but getting that talent to play together is another thing.
One look at how the team is performing through the preseason and you can see why it’s hard to think they will make the playoffs in 2013.
Since none of the Bucks’ preseason games are on TV, you had to see firsthand as I did last weekend why some basketball experts think the playoffs aren’t on the horizon.
Starting guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis don’t want to hear that kind of negative talk. The two recently held a powwow at a location inside the apartment building where they live. Jennings spoke up during a team dinner to declare that he’s the man to lead the deer to the postseason.
Based on the offseason acquisitions, draft picks and free-agent signings, it looks like the Bucks can back it up on paper. Add that to the sense of urgency of sending head coach Scott Skiles either riding off in the sunset if they’re winning or packing by midseason if their progress as a team goes south.
Skiles is in the last year of his contract. Team owner Herb Kohl will retire as U.S. senator at the end of the year, so he will have lots of spare time to track the return on his investments, all 12-15 of his players, during the upcoming regular season.
When the Bucks played the visiting Washington Wizards, Oct. 20, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, I expected a blowout win by the home team. The lineups and team chemistry is still a work in progress, but based on the results in that game, Jennings and Ellis took most of the shots.
When Jennings threw up two off-balance air balls, I was mumbling to myself that he shouldn’t shoot any more the rest of the night. I don’t think making five of 15 shots in 36 minutes will win many games.
Maybe he should have passed more to the three frontcourt starters. They had a combined 25 shot attempts, but they also bricked too many of them. If you’re counting on center Samuel Dalembert and forwards Tobias Harris and Ersan Ilyasova to pick up the slack when Jennings and/or Ellis have off shooting nights, then you’re in trouble.
And to think that watching the Washington Wizards play good preseason basketball was refreshing. For once, they didn’t play like the Washington Generals. If you don’t know who the Generals are, they are usually the opponent that loses to the Harlem Globetrotters all the time.
The Wizards had a 1-4 record entering the exhibition game against the Bucks.
You can say that it was only a preseason game, but if Milwaukee shoots 36.7 percent in the first half and 39.5 percent in the game, then there will be plenty of times that fans will exit the building when the opposing team steals a road win. That’s what Washington did in their 102-94 victory.
Skiles is challenging his team to put forth more of a defensive effort, especially when they let the Wizards score 54 points in the second half. “Overall, it has been our third game in a row where our defense hasn’t been very good,” he said after the game.
With the regular season beginning on the road at Boston, Nov. 2, and the first home game, Nov. 3, at the BMOHBC, the Bucks must get it together or they will be left in the dust. “We still have multiple guys that aren’t real sure what we’re executing out there (on offense),” Skiles said. “It’s stuff that we got to clean up.”
And who says that going through the motions in the preseason campaign carries over into the regular season? It will be time for the Bucks to shape up or ship out when the season starts.
“We need to tighten things up before the real stuff counts,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “Hopefully we don’t wait until then. We get some momentum and play well (the final stretch of preseason).”
So are you sold on the Bucks making the playoffs or not? With no real superstars on the team that will draw fans to the arena, it could be hard to sell the concept of “Work Hard, Play Hard,” which was their slogan two years ago or the “Be Milwaukee” slogan from last season. I didn’t hear of any new team slogan yet. Maybe it should be, “Oh well, we’ll put anybody out there and see what happens.”
The Packers and Brewers didn’t play last Saturday night and the Badgers football team played earlier in the day. I brought this up because the BMOHBC needed just 33 more people to come into the building to make it an even 10,000.
When you’re 33 people short of 10K for a practice game, I’m sorry, that doesn’t get it done for the bottom line. Without giving away the answer, subtract 33 from 10,000 and that’s how many people were interested in watching the Milwaukee Bucks because they played the Wizards. If Miami, Boston or the L.A. Lakers were in town, almost the whole arena would have been packed because those teams have all-stars and superstars.
Both Jennings and Ellis shot a combined 12 for 33 from the field. If you’re counting on those two to take up the scoring load and try to win the game, then you need to wake up. Maybe Ilyasova may get some shots every once in a while. Dalembert and Harris – if that starting lineup stays the same for a while – might not get many touches on offense.
So when it’s a close game in the fourth quarter, who will be the closer? That was one problem the Bucks had in some games last season when the game was down to the last four minutes and they let the other team come back to win. I know anything can happen in the last minutes of the game, but this team has to close out games in order to win. We will see very soon if this squad has what it takes to hit the ground running for 82 games.
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