Posts Tagged ‘Scott Skiles’

Playoffs? Bucks Don’t Seem Interested


Whatever lack of enthusiasm or even dread the Milwaukee Bucks might be feeling about their rapidly approaching postseason public flogging is entirely understandable. Assuming the Bucks do eventually nail down the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference bracket, their reward will be worse than a lump of coal or a Miss Congeniality award.

They’ll get to face the Miami Heat in a best-of-seven series, requiring them to endure four spankings as the NBA’s defending champions rev up for their title defense.

So yeah, we get it. It’s not much to look forward to. But the way the Bucks have gone about their business lately, you’d think Milwaukee would rather not participate in the playoffs at all. There are several teams headed for the lottery, but playing smarter and harder than Milwaukee lately, that look as if they’d appreciate the opportunity more and give a better showing than the Bucks. Orlando, for one, bad as its record is. Minnesota, for another.

Losers in seven of their past 10 games heading into Saturday’s home clash with Toronto and just 4-10 since a moderately encouraging 2-1 West Coast trip a month ago, the Bucks have been busy fulfilling all the concerns about them when the year began. And squandering what was a legit chance to move up to No. 7 by catching Boston.

The dynamic backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis is undersized and defensively challenged. On too many nights, there’s a your-turn, my-turn pattern to their offensive probes, and a disjointed or absent playmaking that has Milwaukee’s frontcourt players all too happy to come off the bench if it spares them some standing around with that starting duo.

Short-timers abound, in contract terms, and the resultant lack of cohesiveness and long-term vision predictably has followed. Jennings is headed to restricted free agency and has handled it poorly, pouting in or after games, through actions or words, more like an immature rookie than a fourth-year floor leader. Ellis can opt out of his deal and, at times in the past month, has played as if on a salary drive.

Samuel Dalembert, acquired to stem some bleeding up front, was needed less once Larry Sanders finally got traction this season. So first coach Scott Skiles and then replacement Jim Boylan warehoused Dalembert – over there on the bench next to drydocked Drew Gooden.

Dalembert’s deal is up once the Bucks head into summer, as is Mike Dunleavy‘s, as is J.J. Redick‘s, who probably will test the free-agent market and revive criticism that Milwaukee maybe gave up too soon on the small forward shipped to Orlando in that deal, Tobias Harris.

Ersan Ilyasova only recently has played up to the deal he landed last summer in free agency. Sanders reverted to some bad tossed-from-games-habits in a recent stretch. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was hurt less and in better shape before he got paid a couple years ago. Whatever bump the Bucks got from parting ways with Skiles appears to have been temporary – they’re 20-23 under Boylan – and the defense (104.1 ppg over the past 14) hardly is Miami-ready

Meanwhile, the locker room has been light and largely unaffected by all of the sputtering. During postgame media time Wednesday, after the loss to the nowhere-bound Timberwolves, somebody kept humming the tune of “The Final Countdown,” loud enough to be picked up in audio reports. Their third-quarter collapse at New York on Friday kept their magic number for clinching the playoff spot at two.

They’ll get it soon enough. But it’s too bad the NBA has no surrogate system, in which the disinterested Bucks players could vote someone pluckier and more eager to take their place in the first round. The way they’re going, the playoffs will be an opportunity wasted on them.

Wall’s Return Puts Heat On Wittman


HANG TIME, Texas — The win over the defending champion Heat in the first week of December was an eye opener. Taking down the Thunder in the first week of January was no less impressive.

But if the goal of the Wizards is to provide more than a once-a-month shock to the NBA system, then the season begins tonight.

Point guard John Wall will make his season debut tonight against the Hawks after missing three months due to a stress injury in his left patella. While nobody is expecting to see the player that averaged 16.3 points. 8.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his first two seasons, just having the former No. 1 draft pick on the court is finally a lift for the club that is again foundering at the bottom with a 5-28 record, the worst in the league.

Wall is trying to keep a lid on expectations, as he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post:

“I figure the first couple games probably won’t be the best games,” Wall said after practicing for the third consecutive day without complications from his left knee.

“Just go out there and play my game,” he said. “Don’t do too much. I know that’s the main thing I’ve got to do for my first game back. Just let the game come to me and just try to help my team out.”

Wall also doesn’t expect to have a difficult adjustment to playing alongside several new teammates after sitting next to the Wizards coaching staff for nearly every game and observing their tendencies. His teammates have already marveled as his speed and decision-making, which has been sorely missed for a team has started five different point guards this season – A.J. Price, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple.

When asked if he felt any external or internal pressures with coming back, Wall quickly responded, “No pressure at all.”
The biggest challenge for him, Wall said, will be “getting my legs underneath me but just working the offense, being the point guard, finding my teammates and knowing guys’ sweet spots is pretty easy to me.”

Without Wall to run the show, the Wizards have been virtually clueless all season, unable to attack defenses and score. In one more season when Washington made significant changes to the lineup — Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, rookie Bradley Beal — they have clearly lacked a leader to pull it all together.

While the medical staff will have Wall operating under a limit on playing minutes as he works his way back into game shape, Wizards coach Randy Wittman says there will be no limits to what he asks of his franchise player in terms of leading his team.

“John is going to have the ball in his hands a lot,” Wittman said. “I don’t want to take any pressure off him. He hasn’t gotten any pressure yet this year. I want him to feel some pressure. John likes pressure.”

Of course, Wittman can only hope that Wall will relieve any pressure on his own situation, which has to be in the crosshairs of a season when Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Scott Skiles have already been relieved of their head coaching jobs.

If there has been a reason that Wittman has been spared the same fate, it’s because he’s been coaching with one hand tied behind his back without Wall. Now that the Wizards’ main man is back in the lineup, the heat is on and the clock is ticking.

Meet The New Bucks’ Boss … Different From The Old Bucks’ Boss


Scott Skiles gets fed up with or feels maxed out by a team. Skiles’ bosses agree with him that it’s time for him to go, even with games left on the schedule. Jim Boylan finishes Skiles’ business.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Five years and a few weeks ago, the Chicago Bulls went there and did that, establishing a pattern that the Milwaukee Bucks followed this week. This time, the Bucks were stagnant at 16-16, losers of four straight, when Skiles and the team’s management reached what both sides contend was a mutual decision to part ways. Boylan moved over 18 inches from lead assistant coach to the top job and, after a 2-0 start against Phoenix and Chicago, was hoping to stay unbeaten in the new role Friday with a home game against Detroit.

Back then, in December 2007, Boylan took over a 9-16 Chicago club right before Christmas and directed them to a 24-32 finish. The Bulls did just well enough … to miss the playoffs by four games and stay eligible for the 2008 lottery, in which their 1.7 percent longshot came in for the No. 1 pick. Unfortunately for Boylan, Vinny Del Negro, not he, got to coach Derrick Rose as a rookie the following season.

With this little baton-passing repeating itself, neither Boylan nor the Bucks is looking at the lottery. They were seventh in the Eastern Conference with Skiles and they’re seventh after four days under Boylan. Only this is a more-ready, less-anxious Boylan this time. Teams make midseason coaching chances in hopes that the new guy will be different from the old guy, but in this case, the new new guy is different from the old new guy.

“The last time, from a personal standpoint, I was too worried about trying to keep the job,” Boylan said of his Chicago trial. “It kind of restricted me as time went on. I made the determination when this happened [Monday] that I was going to enjoy this and do what I like to do. Get the guys to play hard and compete and let the chips fall where they may at the end.”

Heading into the game against the Pistons, Boylan –- the 12th head coach in Bucks history -– has a chance to match Chris Ford, George Karl and Terry Stotts with 3-0 starts. After that, he’ll have 47 games left to replicate a lot of Skiles’ results while differentiating himself and his methods to his bosses and the players. They’re great friends, but Boylan feels he can separate himself.

“We have a team that I believe in,” Boylan said. “We’re sitting around .500. We’re seventh in the East. … It’s pretty simple. I told them, this is their team. They will determine how far we go.” (more…)

Blogtable: It’s Tough Being A Coach

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

Week 11: Kevin Garnett is … | Encouraging signs for Lakers? | Next coach to go

Mike Brown, Avery Johnson, now Scott Skiles: Next? Please explain.

Steve Aschburner: Maybe we should note the specifics of those situations, with Mike Brown‘s firing a panic move, Johnson’s pink slip driven by unrealistic expectations of his bosses and Skiles’ departure a mutal thing set up by his lame-duck contract status. Then again, maybe those are distinctions without differences. Coaches topple every season and someone surely is next. Hate bandying about a fellow’s job security but I wonder how patient the Maloofs will be with Keith Smart in Sacramento (with DeMarcus Cousins as an X-factor in this dynamic). I also wonder how much improvement John Wall really will bring in Washington – without a big bump, Randy Wittman could be getting cross-eyed looks too. Guess I’m going with one of the former Hoosiers not named Mike Woodson.

Fran Blinebury: The obvious choice would seem to be Randy Wittman as the Wizards wallow at the bottom of the standings, but it’s happening without John Wall.  So here’s a wild thought.  If the Lakers continue going completely over the cliff, how long can they keep selling Mike D’Antoni as the answer?

Jeff Caplan: I’m not going with probably the most obvious name, Washington’s Randy Wittman, because of all the injuries. I think he’s used like 15 different starting point guards already. And, hey, he’s worked wins over Miami and Oklahoma City. Let him get John Wall in there and see if they can catch a spark. In the East, of the teams in the playoff mix, Milwaukee and Brooklyn have already done the deed. The teams out of the playoff mix have relatively new coaches. And then there’s Byron Scott in Cleveland, who in my estimation is running neck-and-neck with Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry in the West.

Scott Howard-Cooper: I guess we’re not saying Vinny Del Negro anymore. In that case, Randy Wittman. Once John Wall returns, possibly by the end of the week, the Wizards need to show considerable improvement. It’s one thing to be on 12-win pace with a beat-up roster, but quite another if this path continues for much longer.

Sekou Smith: Plenty of coaches should be worried now that guys whose teams are playing .500 or better are getting their walking papers. Judging a coach based solely on his team’s record, however, seems like a thing of the past. There’s so much more involved these days, what with all of the advanced metrics involved in the game today. It takes a very particular set of circumstances for a franchise to make a coaching change. We could pick on Alvin Gentry in Phoenix or even Randy Wittman in Washington, guys who have been in place for a while now and still haven’t been able to guide their teams out of the basement of their respective conferences. Skiles going was a bit of a surprise. But Brown and Johnson came into the season with more pressure on them than any other pair of coaches in the league. The expectations for both teams were enormous. So you knew if they struggled or failed to measure up to those expectations, there was a chance they could get popped. Beyond those obvious situations, however, there aren’t any glaring candidates for the coaching hot seat right now.

Skiles, Milwaukee Part By ‘Mutual’ Decision

Head coach Scott Skiles and the Milwaukee Bucks have parted ways, apparently in a mutual decision, according to various sources and NBA media outlets.

The move, reported first late Monday by USA Today, was confirmed to by a person close to the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. The Bucks are expected to make an official announcement Tuesday.

Skiles was working in the final year of his contract — as was his staff, as is GM John Hammond, as are several key Milwaukee players — and’s David Aldridge reported Monday that the coach informed the Bucks that he would not be returning next season. Team management or Skiles did not comment for the report, but there were obvious differences of opinion between the coach and the front office over the make-up of the roster and Skiles’ playing rotations.

For example, the Bucks’ lack of size last season sparked personnel moves that significantly beefed up the frontcourt: Hammond traded for center Samuel Dalembert, drafted power forward John Henson, retained free-agent forward Ersan Ilyasova and signed free-agent center Joel Przybilla. Yet with that logjam and the emergence of third-year big man Larry Sanders, Skiles used Dalembert and Henson sporadically and rarely activated Drew Gooden, who logged most of Milwaukee’s minutes at center last season.

Meanwhile, he grappled with a thin backcourt, with only Beno Udrih as a reliable backup to scorers/starters Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

In five seasons with Milwaukee, Skiles, 48, posted a 162-182 mark. The Bucks reached the playoffs once, extending Atlanta to seven games in the first round in 2010 despite playing without center Andrew Bogut. Bogut had suffered a gruesome wrist-and-arm injury late in the regular season, and his setbacks and inconsistency led to last season’s trade with Golden State and the resulting remodeling of the roster.

The business decision by Bucks owner Herb Kohl not to offer contract extensions beyond this season to Skiles or Hammond was not appreciated by the coach, a person with knowledge of the situation said. Skiles allegedly had talked with Kohl about a release after last season, when he might have been a candidate for one of several NBA coaching positions. One of those jobs was in Orlando, where he enjoyed his greatest success as a player and where, unlike the Bucks, the Magic were committed to a full overhaul.

Still, Milwaukee keeping the coaches and the GM in the final seasons of their deals at least was consistent with the Bucks’ decision not to extend Jennings’ contract. They opted to let the point guard test the market as a restricted free agent this summer. Ellis has an opt-out clause in his contract.

And now their head coach will be out there as well, unrestricted.

Jim Boylan, Skiles’ top assistant coach in his stints as head coach in Phoenix and Chicago, will step in immediately. Coincidentally, he’ll slide one seat over just in time to face the Suns Tuesday at BMO Harris Bradley Center and the Bulls Wednesday in Chicago.

Delfino Makes Milwaukee Return ‘Special’


MILWAUKEE – Fine, so it wasn’t as big or as triumphant as Jeremy Lin‘s return to Madison Square Garden. Emotions weren’t raw and racing just below the surface the way they were for James Harden and the Houston Rockets when he went back to Oklahoma City just a month after being traded.

But Carlos Delfino enjoyed his time with the Milwaukee Bucks, wasn’t eager to leave and wound up taking some real satisfaction from his first trip back Friday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“It’s always special going against your old team,” said Delfino, the eight-year NBA veteran who spent the past three seasons in Milwaukee. The 6-foot-6 swingman stuck the Bucks for 22 points – nine in the second quarter to whittle down an 18-point deficit, then 13 in the fourth to seal the comeback in a 115-101 victory.

Delfino averaged 10.6 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Bucks, starting 159 of his 178 appearances. He helped them reach the playoffs in his first season, then was badly missed in 2010-11 when he sat more than two months with concussion symptoms and neck strain.

Last summer, after a second straight lottery appearance, Milwaukee headed in a non-Delfino direction, counting on Mike Dunleavy and young Tobias Harris at small forward while committing to Monta Ellis alongside Brandon Jennings in the backcourt. Delfino was on the market until late August, his work for Argentina (15.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) in the London Olympics done.

It wasn’t Bucks GM John Hammond ringing his phone, it was the Rockets’ Daryl Morey instead.

“I was sad in the moment. I thought I was staying in Milwaukee,” Delfino said. “I had a good feeling with everybody in the city, after you’ve been defending the colors for three years. Then when I didn’t have any offer, I didn’t get sad about that or blame anyone. It’s a business. But I was feeling more about the personal stuff. Getting a call. … I was more sad about that.”

What the Bucks and Bradley Center fans saw Friday was classic Carlos: Not his rousing, somewhat unexpected, one-handed driving dunk but his 8-of-11 shooting, including 6-of-7 on 3-pointers (while the rest of the Rockets were going 7-of-26 from the arc). Houston is 9-2 this season when Delfino makes at least three 3-pointers in a game; the past two seasons, the Bucks were 20-10 on those nights.

“When Carlos makes a couple, he’s got a beautiful shot,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said afterward. “I watch him in practice sometimes just shoot. When he’s relaxed and guys are rebounding for him, he goes for long, long stretches without missing.”

Delfino, who is 29 but seems to have been on the NBA scene much longer, also is a helpful veteran on an extremely young roster. “Carlos has no agenda,” McHale said. “He’s a pro. … It’s the same thing I felt about Luis Scola last year – these guys have been playing pro ball since they’re, like, 14. They have such a relaxed feel, they’re fun to be around.”

The Bucks aren’t having much fun at the moment. They have dropped three in a row and four of six, heading into their game at Indiana Saturday. Coach Scott Skiles, his staff, Hammond and half the locker room are working in the final years of their contracts.

The roster is heavily tilted toward the frontcourt, with only Beno Udrih as a reliable backup at guard. The guy they acquired to plug Andrew Bogut‘s hole last season, Samuel Dalembert, doesn’t play these days. Neither does Drew Gooden, who did what he could to plug that spot last season.

As the Bucks threw the ball away 19 times and shot 38.9 percent in the second half, they could have used someone exactly like Delfino. But he was working from the other end, in road colors, making sure his trip back to town stayed special.

Gooden: Healthy, Ready … And Inactive Again For The Bucks

Just tell me my role, NBA players say. Heck, a lot of us in everyday life say the same thing in one way or another: Let me know my role. Then I’ll know what expectations I need to meet.

Here is a look at Drew Gooden’s roles for the Milwaukee Bucks the past two seasons:

  • 2011-12: Veteran power forward forced to play center after Andrew Bogut’s left ankle fracture. Rotation guy-turned-full-time starter over the Bucks’ final 41 games, averaging 12.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 29.0 minutes.
  • 2012-13: Inactive-list placeholder and street-clothed afterthought for all 12 Milwaukee games so far. Averaging 0.0 across the board, because he hasn’t played a second.

Gooden has, for all practical purposes, been rendered invisible by coach Scott Skiles’ decision to use him as the odd man out when submitting his active roster each game night. Milwaukee has 15 players but can only have 13 available for game use, and even with Luc Mbah a Moute recovering from knee surgery, the frontcourt still is too crowded.

Skiles called it “a difficult situation, a difficult decision.” “We’ve got Sam and Ersan and John and Ekpe and Larry and Joel and Drew,” the coach said, rattling off the first names of Dalembert, Ilyasova, Henson, Udoh, Sanders, Przybilla and Gooden. “We’ve got seven big guys, and we like ’em all. So it’s a tough spot to be in.”

It’s not as if Gooden has been outplayed in practice – obviously, there are no game performances to review this season – as a rationale for his banishment. Skiles said he talked with the team’s big men about the numbers crunch.

“What I told [them was] more than likely, I would have to put a guy or two out for no good reason,” Skiles said. ” I know it’s uncomfortable for him but he’s handling it very, very well.”

Even that’s a tricky thing though, isn’t it? If a player fusses and fumes over being drydocked, he’s selfish and distracting. But if he takes too readily to it, he must not care and be only interested in the paycheck.

So Gooden tries to split the difference, treating this stretch of inactivity like it’s a set of Juwan Howard Training Wheels. He practices hard, warms up before games longer than any of the Bucks, then retreats to shower and dress before tipoff rather than after the final horn. Gooden also finds ways to amuse himself; he  engaged in a Twitter war with pal Joakim Noah and gave his game tickets Monday at United Center to fan who tweeted a photo of a Bulls jersey in a toilet.

“It’s something new,” he said after the Bucks’ comeback victory Monday at Chicago. “It’s something that I feel like, later on, down the road, I’m getting ready for in my career. So why not get a taste of it right now and see how I handle it.”

Now in his 11th season, playing for his ninth team, the No. 4 pick in the 2002 draft has averaged 12.0 points and 7.7 rebounds. He has started (493 games), come off the bench (178) and been sidelined by various ailments, including plantar fasciitis for all but 35 games in 2010-11.

“This is my role right now. I’m gonna accept it and do my best job at it. Sometimes it’s a hard pill to swallow. But if you can do that and show people that you can do it, it’s almost like a leadership skill. I feel like I’m setting an example, more than anything.”

A team that had too little size last season suddenly has too much. So much that Skiles could bench Dalembert for what reportedly was a late arrival to the arena Saturday against Chicago, use rookie Henson for just 78 seconds one game after he grabbed 18 rebounds and keep Gooden inactive – then get clobbered inside, with the Bulls grabbing 20 offensive rebounds.

It almost looks like the coach is trying to send a message about roster composition to the front office.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on,” Dalembert said. “I mean, there’s so many big men. Drew did tremendous for this team last year. Y’know, Drew doesn’t deserve to be where he is right now. It’s hard, it’s hard. But you try to stay positive and we keep supporting each other. He’s being a good professional.”

Skiles acknowledged that deploying Gooden this way is a choice. If he wanted, he could rotate various Bucks big men through the inactive list rather than burdening just one guy.

Then again, the inactive rule itself could be tweaked. It came about as a way to shed the old “injured list,” in which teams often had to fabricate an injury to warehouse someone. That system forced a player to sit a minimum of five games before being eligible to return.

“Ultimately what I want to see is, be able to dress everybody and be able to only play 12,” Skiles said. “I’d like to see that and I think most of the coaches would.”

In the meantime, Drew Gooden sits.

Bucks’ Dream Comeback Is Bulls’ Nightmare Collapse

CHICAGO – Jon McGlocklin, Milwaukee Bucks guard-turned-broadcaster, got stopped courtside the last time his team played at Madison Square Garden. It was Spike Lee, the hardcore Knicks fan and occasional movie director, tugging on McGlocklin’s arm.

“He said ‘Jon, I want to talk to you about that game!’ ” McGlocklin recalled Monday night in the bowels of United Center. “I didn’t even know he knew who I was. I told him, ‘Aaargh, I don’t want to talk about that.’ ”

The game in question: New York’s comeback from an 86-68 deficit deep into the fourth quarter, convulsed into an 87-86 victory when the Knicks scored the final 19 points on the night of Nov. 18, 1972. Pulled off against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the rest, it generally is considered the most famous regular-season NBA game in Knicks history, ranking right behind the two championship clinchers for lifelong fans like Lee.

McGlocklin recalled it anew Monday, after the Bucks wound up on the other side of something equally improbable: A comeback from 27 points down deep in the third quarter, 78-51, engineered by an all-bench crew that outscored the Bulls 42-14 over the final 14:29. On the road. With McGlocklin there to flash back.

“You’re flailing around like in a dream,” he said of his Bucks way back when and the Bulls just moments — nightmarish moments — earlier. “You can’t quite reach the ball. You try to take a step, and it’s like an out-of-body experience.”

That was the Chicago side of things Monday, as the Bulls starters saw what had been a cushy lead cut to 17 points by the start of the third quarter. Then — whoosh! — to 10, 80-70, just 96 seconds into the fourth on Beno Udrih‘s 3-pointer. Another Bulls turnover, a run-out dunk by Ekpe Udoh and it was 80-74.

A jumper by little-used rookie Doron Lamb, whose defense on Rip Hamilton was equally important; A 3-pointer by Ersan Ilyasova, moved to the bench after 11 starts as coach Scott Skiles searched to spark him; And another one from the arc, this one by Mike Dunleavy, after Chicago let a defensive rebound bounce and wind up back in the Bucks’ hands.

That made it 82-82 with seven minutes left. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau already knew what was coming.

“In an NBA game, you can lose 10 points in a minute,” Thibodeau said, his sideline growling over for the night. “Everyone says that doesn’t happen, but I see it all the time. If you don’t play tough with the lead, this is what happens.”

Said Dunleavy: “When it was 27, it was like, ‘This is almost physically impossible.’ But when we got it to [17] at the end of the third, we felt, ‘This has happened before.’ ”

Chicago had gone through something like this three years ago, when Sacramento came from 35 points back to win at the UC. Even though Udrih was a part of that epic comeback, few of the Bucks could recall being involved in something similar — and so satisfying.

“I was in a game once with Phoenix where we came back from 27 down, I believe it was to start the fourth,” Skiles said. “It was at Miami and [Dan] Majerle hit a 3 for Miami with like 50 seconds left. We came all the way back but got beat. … You know, this doesn’t happen that much. It’s hard to do. You’ve got to play perfectly, and then you need some help from the other team. Kind of both things happened for us tonight.”

Several things, frankly, happened for the Bucks Monday. They put behind them the sour memories of their loss Saturday to Chicago, a game in which they got pounded on the boards while Skiles played bigs Samuel Dalembert, John Henson and Drew Gooden a total of 1:18.

They got a performance for the ages from the bench crew, outscoring their Chicago counterparts 56-10. They shook off the rust or whatever it was hindering Ilyasova’s game since his return from free agency. His fourth quarter — 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, four boards, an assist, a steal and a block — seemed better than his first 47 quarters this season combined.

“There’s a little bit better flow with that unit,” Dunleavy said. “That probably enabled him to relax a little bit — make his shots, make his plays. It didn’t feel like he was having to find his way as much.”

In other words — ahem — that dynamic offensive backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, which does tend to dominate the basketball, was nowhere to be found over the final 15:26 as Skiles swapped subs for starters. Ilyasova found some rhythm, while Lamb was more active than any of the other Milwaukee defenders against Hamilton, who had his best night as a Bulls player but missed a 10-footer in the lane as time expired.

“[Ilyasova] is new to it, but that group plays together every day in practice and we more than hold our own,” Dunleavy said. “We know how to play. We share the ball. Whoever’s open takes the shot. That’s how you beat a good defensive team like this.”

After four consecutive defeats that Milwaukee felt it could have, maybe even should have, won — tight ones to Boston and at Charlotte, an overtime loss at Miami and the first Bulls clash, a one-possession until the final half-minute — it tucked one away Monday that it had no business winning.

No business, but more than a little fun.

Bulls Have No Go-To Scorer? Better Go To Offensive Boards

MILWAUKEE – When a team doesn’t have its go-to scorer, it needs something to go to down the stretch. In the case of the Chicago Bulls, that means having guys go to the offensive glass.

When the Bulls beat Milwaukee Saturday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, they shot just 39 percent (32 of 82) compared to the Bucks’ 43.2. They had 16 turnovers worth 15 points to Milwaukee compared to 10 and 7 by the home team. Yet Chicago beat the Bucks with some Chinese water torture – they made 25 of their 26 free throws vs. Milwaukee’s 7 of 10 – and by dominating them inside for second opportunities. And third. And fourth.

Bulls’ offensive rebounding
Season OREB% Rank 2CPTS% Rank
2010-11 29.4% 4 15.2% 3
2011-12 32.6% 1 16.4% 1
2012-13 30.5% 6 16.2% 3

Through Saturday, 11/24
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive
rebounds obtained
2CPTS% = 2nd chance points / Total points

The Bulls outrebounded the Bucks 54-40, including a 20-10 edge on the offensive end. Seven of those came in the fourth quarter and most of those came in the final minutes, when Chicago broke an 81-81 tie with a 12-5 run over the final 5:22.

It was a statistical edge and a psychological bonanza, as the Bucks had to stay in and reset their defense for a half minute, sometimes a minute at a time. The Bulls shot a lousy 31.8 percent (7 of 22) in the quarter, same as the other guys, but got eight second-chance points. They dominated that category, 25-5, even more starkly than the boards.

“There’s a lot of things that can break you,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Sometimes you can block out great and the ball takes a funny bounce, you don’t get it. Or maybe it’s a result of, you get broken down off the dribble, you get help, rotation, now the ball’s up…

“So offensive rebounding. Defensive transition can break your spirit too. Those things reveal a lot. It tells a lot about the character of your team. People talk a lot about fast breaks, but the second shot is another part of easy baskets.”

By the second shot, a defense might already be broken down. By the third or fourth, a backup screen-setter can seem as dangerous as a missing MVP candidate named Derrick Rose.

For Milwaukee, it was starting center Samuel Dalembert who was missing. He was a late scratch prior to tipoff, with whispers that he might have arrived late to the arena, though coach Scott Skiles called it simply a “coaching decision.” Then there was rookie power forward John Henson, who had grabbed 18 rebounds off the bench in 27 minutes Wednesday at Miami. Henson logged only 1:18 vs. Chicago.

Mostly, though, it was the Bulls’ relentless work at chasing down their own misses that left Milwaukee in shambles late, as surely as if the guy in the No. 1 jersey had been doing the attacking. The Bulls rank fifth in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage (30.5). And this is despite the loss this season of backup center Omer Asik, whom’s John Schuhmann shared had an offensive rebounding percentage of 14.2 over the past two seasons, best on his team.

“[Getting beat on the offensive boards has] happened to us before,” said Chicago forward Carlos Boozer, who got eight of his 19 rebounds on the offensive glass. “It’s kind of demoralizing, especially when you’ve played good defense for 22, 20 seconds. The shot goes up – they get the ball back! That’s tough.

“The more you go, the more you get.”

Ilyasova Still Searching For His Game

In spite of can be a good thing, if the outcomes are happy even when the inputs are sad. And for a while, the Milwaukee Bucks were doing just fine in spite of Ersan Ilyasova.

But Milwaukee’s 6-2 start was turned into a 6-4 mark after road losses this week at Charlotte and at Miami. Now the Bucks face a home-and-home test against their Central Division rivals, the Chicago Bulls. And Ilyasova is running out of cover, it not quite time.

He was, after all, a big-expenditure guy for a team that doesn’t make big expenditures readily. Milwaukee re-signed Ilyasova when he hit free agency, committing to the 6-foot-9 forward in a five-year, $40 million deal. It was based as much on potential as performance, earned by what Ilyasova did last season (enough of a bump in scoring, rebounding and 3-point accuracy to finish second in Most Improved balloting) and by the promise that held with him in a bigger role.

Trouble is, Ilyasova’s role so far in 2012-13 is smaller, not bigger. His impact is too, according to Charles F. Gardner’s story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Ilyasova’s numbers are way down across the board through the first 10 games, all as a starter. He is shooting 31.3% overall and just 25% from three-point range and 42.9% on his free throws. He is playing 22.5 minutes per game and averaging 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds.

In 60 games last season he played 27.6 minutes per game and averaged 13 points and 8.8 rebounds while shooting 49.2% overall.

“The main thing is I can’t find my rhythm yet,” Ilyasova said. “We’ve got a lot of big guys. Coach has tried a lot of rotations. It’s not the same as it was last year.

“We had just three or four guys last year and we knew our minutes. It was kind of stable.”

The Bucks, particularly coach Scott Skiles, aren’t about to apologize for stiffer competition up front. They were seriously undermanned last season after center Andrew Bogut got hurt in January and traded in March, and with added size have boosted their rebounding and shot-blocking production. Larry Sanders, Samuel Dalembert, Ekpe Udoh and rookie John Henson have pushed Drew Gooden, the veteran thrown into duty at center in Bogut’s absence, completely to the bench. Meanwhile, Ilyasova shooting and bouts of tentativeness have him spending more time there, too.

It’s early still, and Ilyasova – never the most forceful at asserting himself – might grow his game with a few encouraging stats lines. For the moment, though, he is in that funky class of player such as Chicago’s Carlos Boozer and Indiana’s Roy Hibbert (to name only two) who gets paid more yet produces less. The season unspools too quickly to wait around for guys like that, and even when their coaches seem to forget about them, their team’s fans generally don’t.

And if the team falters, in spite of can become an ugly because of rather quickly.