Sometimes the Bucks themselves hardly know. Year after year, Milwaukee is near the top of the league in player-games lost to injury, and this season even the misfortune has a new look. Moncrief has missed five games because of assorted leg and foot bruises, and Nelson, Grevey, forward Charles Davis and guard Mike Dunleavy were left with neck and back injuries when the Bucks' plane stopped suddenly to avoid hitting a fuel truck at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Dec. 1. Davis missed three games, while Dunleavy hasn't played since and may not be back at all this season. The whiplash even forced sweet Nellie from the bench for two games.
This year's coach isn't exactly a half Nelson, but he is on the lean side after a summer of dieting. And the changes are not merely physical. "I pushed myself so hard the last five years [in which the Bucks won five division titles], as long as I thought we had a legitimate chance to win it all," says Nelson, who had an exhaustive physical last July and dropped 25 pounds by going on an apple-supplemented regimen of one meal a day. "I want to feel good about myself again. Roll with the punches a little better, and maybe not take losses so hard."
Nelson, who won his 400th NBA game with Sunday's defeat of the Nuggets, very nearly didn't coach at all this season. He had cast his lot with the Bucks' veterans, and, because he knew that Bob Lanier and Brian Winters wouldn't be back, he took last spring's playoff elimination particularly hard. Only the lobbying of friends like Al McGuire. Wayne Embry and Pete Newell kept him from retiring. "They made me realize I have a talent and I should use it," Nelson says. "And I started to feel kind of guilty about making all the changes—and possibly having a bad team—and having a new guy come in."
Now with the fourth-best record in the league, the Bucks are hardly a bad team. And that may put a quick end to Nelson's serenity. "Come March or April, he could be right back where he was last year," frets Bucks vice-president John Steinmiller. "He's a living, walking embodiment of that coach's credo, 'You're only as good as your last game.' "
But that, considering what the Bucks have already accomplished, wouldn't be logical.