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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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In Sports

Ben Udrih, left, and Ersan Ilyasova are two players who have played well for the Bucks the last 10 games. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Bucks brimming with confidence


ST. FRANCIS – A word has been tossed around by members of the Milwaukee Bucks quite a bit over the last 10 games, which no doubt has contributed to the 7-3 record they have posted in that time.

Confidence.

"Confidence is pretty evident," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "You see when guys are playing with confidence you can just look out there and see a guy believes in what he's doing."

The man most associated with that word since Jim Boylan took over Scott Skiles is forward Ersan Ilyasova, who is averaging 6.4 more points and 2.8 more rebounds in just under six more minutes per game in that time.

His shooting percentage has increased from 41.1 percent to 47.6, including a remarkable jump to 45.7 percent from 39.7 percent beyond the 3-point line.

Ilyasova's uptick has been more noticeable largely because one of Boylan's first moves was to put the newly re-signed forward into the starting rotation.

"He's having that belief growing back into himself," Sanders said of Ilyasova. "His habits, the things he does, his ability, is showing on the floor.

The surge can be seen by several of the other key Bucks players as well.

Brandon Jennings is averaging 21.5 points and 6.5 assists under Boylan, up from 17.8/5.6 under Skiles. Sanders is averaging 10.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks the last 10 games. For as good as Sanders has played overall this year, that output is an improvement over the start of the year where he averaged 8.0/8.4/3.1.

"I do (feel) more confidence," Sanders said. "That comes from the coaches and my teammates believing in me in certain situations, giving me the ball and believing in my ability, made me believe in myself."

There has been some fluctuation however, as Monta Ellis and Luc Mbah a Moute have seen their scoring diminish the last 10 games, dropping about two points per game apiece. Beno Udrih and Mike Dunleavy have produced at about the same rate.

In its current state, the team may be confident in taking shots – but you can't will them in. The team is 13-5 when it shoots 45 percent or better as a team, but more often than not the team field goal percentage is well below that magic number.

"It's a long season and you go through peaks and valleys physically and mentally," Dunleavy said. "We're an up-and-down team. We're a jump shooting team. We're an energy team and we're sometimes up and sometimes down. The last 10, 11 games we've been up and it's been good. We're doing well right now and hopefully we can keep it going."

The Bucks have played well since Boylan took over on Jan. 8, but the key going forward is to see if this current surge can translate into consistent, long-term success. Through the first 42 games, the team has had three winning streaks of three or more games while also having two losing streaks of three or more.

This three week stretch before the All-Star break should bear some of that out. The Bucks enter tonight's game in Detroit just two games behind Central-leading Chicago in the loss column and play five games against losing teams in the next nine. In the other four games the team plays first place Chicago and New York and playoff-caliber opponents in Orlando, Denver and Utah.

"Basically what I tell our guys to do is play to your strengths," Boylan said. "Don't put yourself fin a bad spot. Don't play in a crowd. Shot your shots when you're open. If you're a shooter, shoot. If you're not, don't. If you're a rebounder, rebound. If you're a shot blocker, block shots. If you run the floor, run the floor.

"If you're a great defensive player, be a great defensive player. When you do that and play to your strengths, you're going to have success. And when you have success, you get confidence. So that's what we've been trying to get the guys to believe in and they're responding. So, we're just trying to keep building on that."


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