Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
After their end to last years campaigna first-round playoff loss to Atlanta in seven games, despite star center Andrew Bogut out with a season-ending injurymany observers assumed the Bucks, along with the Bulls would be competing to be the class of the Central Division. After a productive, if not flashy, offseason, expectations were even more optimistic.
However, things havent gone as planned in Milwaukee, as Chicagos closest regional rival has struggled out of the gates, although their play has picked up as of late. Chief among the Bucks issues have been injuries, as Bogut still isnt completely healed from his gruesome fall last spring, young floor general Brandon Jennings is currently sidelined and swingmen John Salmons, Corey Maggette and Carlos Delfino have all battled a litany of ailments.
One Bulls player with insight into the Bucksregardless of the fact that he claims not to have watched them much this seasonis well-traveled veteran Kurt Thomas, who spent last season in Milwaukee. In fact, Thomas filled in for Bogut late in the year and did an admirable job, including a late-season road win over the Bulls at the United Center in the first game of Boguts absence.
The year before, we got off to a hot start in Milwaukee and there were a lot of new faces there and this year, again, there were a lot of new faces, but they got off to a slow start. It could be a lot of new faces or it could be the strength of the schedule, so you just never know and then sometimes it just takes guys the first 10 or 20 games before they really get into a rhythm. But I think theyve been playing a lot better lately. Theyve kind of been hit with the injury bug, but every team has to face that, Thomas said after the Bulls shootaround Tuesday morning. Theyre definitely going to play hard, theyre going to compete. Scott Skiles is a great coach and he doesnt accept anything less than them being very competitive.
Thomas spoke fondly of his time in Milwaukee.
Oh, it was great. A lot of fun. Fans in Milwaukee were insaneFear the Deer. It was just a great time. It was a great group of guys I was playing with last yearunfortunately, seeing that Bogut had a major injury thereyou never knowwe probably could have went deeper in the playoffs, said Thomas.
Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffinwho played under Skiles in Chicagowas also with the Bucks last year, serving as an assistant coach. Like Thomas, he believes Milwaukee will overcome their so-so start to the season.
Right now, I would say they miss Brandon. Hes a big piece of what theyre doing. I wouldnt worry about Milwaukee too much. Typically, Scotts teams start a little slow in the beginning of the year and mid-season, and toward the end, they start picking it up a lot. It just takes them a minute to play the type of style that Scott wants and thats hard-nosed defense, committing to the defensive end, playing hard and executing on offense. It looks like theyre moving in the right direction, Griffin told CSNChicago.com.
Griffin, who was still with the Bucks through the majority of the offseason, likes the moves Milwaukee made over the summer, though he highlighted some players one wouldnt immediately expect.
One particular player they got in Keyon DoolingI was there this summer when they brought him in for workoutsand he looked great. He plays hard, a professional and I think he plays the type of style that Scott likes. Obviously Earl Boykins, youve got to respect him. People see his size, but hes a threat out there on the floor. They got some nice piecesLarry Sanders, Maggettewhen they get all those guys healthy and if they can get Delfino back, theyll be a force in the East, Griffin told CSNChicago.com.
Of course, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, known for his preparedness, doesnt underestimate the Central Division foe.
Theyre a great defensive team, so you can start there. Theyve had a ton of injuries this year, said Thibodeau. Bogut inside, hes getting healthier. He poses a lot of problems with the post-up and of course, their backcourt.
Doolings playing really well for them and Boykins has played terrificat times, theyre playing them togetherand of course, Salmons, so you have three guys who can do damage off the dribble. Maggette, hes coming off a concussion and hes back. Hes a guy who can attack the basket and Ersan Ilyasovas a range-shooting four. Theyre a quality team. I think theyre playing very well right now.
Just how well Milwaukee is playing will be measured Tuesday night, as the Bullswho last faced their primary competitor in the division in the preseason opener at Milwaukeehost the Bucks at the United Center.