Skiles, Bucks unfazed by injuries
The Bucks are hanging tough without Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut
Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions have helped pick up the slack
More topics: Nate Robinson's hot streak; Lamar Odom's classy gesture
Logic dictates that the Bucks should have faded away by now.
After all, when leading scorer Michael Redd suffered torn knee ligaments in late January, who didn't think Milwaukee's season was on life support? And when starting center Andrew Bogut joined him on the inactive list two weeks later with a stress fracture in his back, shouldn't that have spelled the end? (For good measure, starting point guard Luke Ridnour broke his right thumb Feb. 5 and missed five games.)
But with the season headed into the final quarter, the Bucks are still hanging around under coach Scott Skiles. They entered the week with a one-game lead over the Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee (29-33) is 7-8 since Redd went down for the rest of the season and 5-6 since the departure of Bogut, who might not return this season, either.
"The easiest thing to do would have been to mail in the season," forward Charlie Villanueva said. "We've been dealt a bad hand as far as the injuries to Andrew and Mike, but the fact that we've kept this team together and believed in one another shows a maturity on our part.
"It starts with Coach Skiles, though. He believes that whoever is out there on the floor can win the game, and that has become contagious."
Villanueva has raised his play to compensate for the injuries, averaging 21.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in 11 games last month. Combined with emergence of second-year point guard Ramon Sessions (18.5 points, 7.4 assists in February) and the versatility of proven scorer Richard Jefferson, Milwaukee has rung up big offensive numbers despite missing a combined 33 points from Redd and Bogut.
"The actors have changed, but the script is the same," Skiles said of his approach following the injuries. "We've picked up our pace a little bit, but overall, we've made pretty good offensive decisions. We're hitting the open man, we're hitting our share of shots and our turnovers are down. And like all teams, we're going to try to keep the ball in the hands of our best offensive players and live and die with the decisions they make. Good teams generally can weather injuries, at least for a while, because they have a good system."
According to an NBA scout, Skiles' system in Milwaukee is essentially the same one he used while coaching the Bulls to three playoff appearances in five years.
"The playbook he used in Chicago five years ago compared with what he uses now varies by maybe two plays," the scout said. "It's all about defense and sharing the ball."
Ah, yes, defense, a major weakness for Milwaukee in 2007-08 and Skiles' biggest emphasis since being hired last April. Though the coach bemoaned the team's defensive slippage lately, the Bucks have made big strides overall. After ranking 23rd in points allowed and 30th in field-goal defense last season, they have improved to 16th and 14th, respectively, this season.
"I think you have to get up and get into people," Skiles said of his defensive philosophy. "You can't allow people to penetrate in the paint and you have to guard -- the post-ups, the pick-and-rolls and the pin-downs. We do it a certain way. There are only a handful of schemes most teams are using anyway. It just depends on the personnel on a given night."
It also depends on Milwaukee's effort, according to the scout.
"Everybody says he's such a hard guy to deal with, but if you listen to him during games, he's an encouraging guy," the scout said. "He knows you're going to miss shots, so he doesn't get wrapped up in that. As long as you're playing hard, he's out there with you, or you're not going to play, no matter who it is. And they play hard all the time."
After a road-heavy schedule early in the season, the Bucks play 12 of their last 20 games at home as they pursue a playoff berth -- a welcome change for a team that went 28-54 in 2006-07 and 26-56 last season.
"The No. 1 goal was to become a competitive team. We've done that," Skiles said. "Now we're in pretty good position to be a heck of a story."