Bogut, Bucks are pointing toward the playoffs
Bucks center Andrew Bogut didn't grab his first rebound of the night until there were fewer than 5 minutes remaining in the game against Washington Wednesday night at the Bradley Center.
The rest of his statistical line was fine: 15 points, four assists, five blocked shots and a steal. But, that rebound total -- eight below Bogut's season average -- was startling. More than likely, it will earn him a talking-to from coach Scott Skiles.
Although Bogut wasn't hitting on all cylinders, the Bucks still beat the Wizards, 100-87.
Milwaukee (31-29) has won 13 of 17 games and is tied for with Chicago for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Bogut's play has been a big reason for the team's resurgence.
"We've got a long way to go," Bogut said. "When you look back at our schedule, there are a lot of games we could have won. We've got to keep plugging away and get some wins.
"We've been playing some teams that are around us in the standings. We've got some tough teams (Cleveland, Boston, Utah) coming in. That's when we'll really prove ourselves."
When the Bucks held their annual media day before the first official practice of the season back in October, Bogut, 25, said he wanted to prove that he could contribute consistently at a high level. Though he had some lapses earlier in the year -- in games against Detroit, Washington and Cleveland -- he has been outstanding for the past several weeks.
"He's turning into the kind of player that everybody thought he would be when he was drafted (first overall) by the Bucks in 2005," an NBA scout said. "He's rebounding. He's running the floor. He's blocking shots. He's playing with a lot of energy. He's really acting like a leader out there."
Rookie point guard Brandon Jennings said the formula is simple.
"When he's doing well, the team does well," Jennings said, referring to Bogut. "He's the guy we look to go to early in the game. Once he gets his scoring going, it's easy for everybody else."
There are plenty of theories surrounding Bogut's ascension to the ranks of the top centers in the Eastern Conference:
Big men develop more slowly than guards. Bogut is at a point where he should be hitting his stride.
Jennings looks to feed the post more than his predecessors, Mo Williams and Ramon Sessions.
Michael Redd has been injured for most of the season and hasn't been around to hog all the shots.
And, the ever popular and easy answer: Bogut is healthy. The back woes that hampered in the past seem to be behind him (pun not intended).
While he's been able to avoid major injury this season, Bogut said the process has been anything but easy.
"I still have a lot of work to do behind the scenes," he said after a recent game. "Just to keep my back strong is a constant battle. It's daily battle. When I get home from practice during the day, I'm pretty much lying on my back doing stretches for an hour and a half, two hours. Not straight, but I'll do a half an hour, then I'll go do something else, then I'll do another half an hour.
"A lot of people may think that it's just practice, shoot-around and games but for me, with this injury, I have to work at it. I always did before, but now I'm doing it tenfold. I'm trying to make sure it doesn't tighten up."
In addition to doing stretching and core work while watching reruns of "Seinfeld" and other shows, Bogut uses "all kinds of contraptions" to help with his routine. "I use lacrosse balls to do self massage ... I've got all kinds of stuff," he said. "I started doing pilates this last off-season and that helped me immensely in terms of flexibility and strength."
While it's easy to assume that the routine has paid dividends, Bogut admitted that things haven't always been easy.
"I've almost missed some games," he said. "Obviously, you guys (reporters) don't know about it, but there have been some games I've come to the dressing room at 5:30 (p.m.) for a 7:30 (p.m.) game and told the training staff 'I'm 50-50. I'm totally locked up.'
"Our trainers are very good here. They've gotten me loosened up and I was able to go. But, there has been a handful of times where I've come in and said ... 'I don't really don't feel good.'
"That's why I can't take it for granted. I can't. If I forget about my core for a week or two, all of a sudden it comes back like wildfire. Bam! I have to stay with it. It's something that will be with me the rest of my career."
Another thing that stays with players through their careers is being labeled an all-star. Bogut didn't make the Eastern Conference squad this year, but many felt he was deserving and could make it next year. Bogut took the setback in stride and went to Las Vegas to relax during the break.
"It's tough," he said. "There's a couple hundred players in the NBA but only 24 spots. I definitely don't take it personally. I know I'll get there one day. Putting my numbers up against some of the guys who made it, I definitely have a case, but maybe next year."
The phrase "maybe next year" has been heard all too often for the Bucks in recent years. A playoff berth -- which would be the club's first since Bogut was a 20-year-old rookie learning the ropes -- could erase that stigma.
"It's a good atmosphere in the locker room," he said. "Guys are much more relaxed. The flights are much easier. Hopefully, we'll keep rolling."
It is so refreshing to watch meaningful Bucks games at this point in the season. I've usually switched my alliance by now to my 2nd favorite team the Celtics. Here's hoping we can see a playoff series in Milwaukee against the Celtics, that would be phenomenal.
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