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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Doron Lamb and the Milwaukee Bucks are off and running this year. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Bucks are setting a quick pace early in season


Six games do not a season make, but it has proven to be enough of a sample size to get the city of Milwaukee talking about the Bucks.

Head coach Scott Skiles will reserve his initial judgments on players or the team until about a quarter of the season is played – 20 games – but these first six are nearly uncharted territory for the franchise, at least of late.

Since the 2002-03 campaign – 11 seasons - this is just the third time the Bucks have begun 4-2. The first occurred under Terry Stotts in 2005-06 and then under Skiles in 2009-10. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, each of those teams reached the playoffs.

Six games are not many in the context of an 82-game season, but it is 30 percent of Skiles' stated 20-game mark for evaluation, and thus far the team is responding.

The Bucks hope to continue to do so by taking advantage of an Indiana Pacers team tonight that is without star forward Danny Granger and a New Orleans squad on Saturday that is without Eric Gordon.

"We're OK with the position we're in right now," Skiles said. "We've got two home games we'd like to win and the more you can create distance from yourself and .500 and get yourself a cushion, obviously the better off you are and we'd like to do that now early in the season."

The Bucks have made the playoffs just four times since 2002-03 and in each case the team was 3-3 or 4-2 after six games.

Interestingly, in the last 10 seasons only the 2005-06 team was over .500 after the 20-game mark but that squad finished with a losing record. The playoff teams of 2002-03, 03-04 and 09-10 all finished .500 or better.

What does it all mean?

Well, if Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis get seriously injured, nothing. But barring that, these six games have given Bucks fans enough reason to start believing – team history dictates that.

"It's real important because once the season gets going teams get on a roll and they get in their groove they're going to be tough to stop," Jennings said. "It's just the fact that we wanted to start early, now. We don't want to try to ease into it and then play catch up and probably end up how we were last year trying to make the playoffs."

One of the primary reasons for the 4-2 start has been the offense, but it goes beyond just the 98.7 points per game the team is averaging so far – which is good for just 11th in the league.

That total is down slightly from the 99.0 that finished fifth in the NBA last year, but the team is well ahead of its Pace Factor from a year ago: Last season, the Bucks averaged 93.7 possessions per 48 minutes. This year it leads the NBA at 96.4.

At this juncture, it would be easy to say those numbers will change, and rapidly, because so few games have been played. But in the Bucks case, such high offensive output is now the team's identity and chances are that if the Bucks continue to score around 99 points per game, they will once again be near the top of the league in that category.

"It's working," Jennings said. "I think a full training camp and some preseason games helped us out a whole lot just to get our chemistry going. Right now we're more effective when we're playing a fast-paced game, more fast breaks and just getting out."

It was developed last season and has only continued and improved due to a full training camp for everyone, including the duo Jennings and Ellis and the development of players like Larry Sanders and Tobias Harris.

"It feels good to get up and down," Harris said. "We've got a quick back court with Brandon and Monta so as soon as we get the ball on a rebound we like to get out and run. That's how I like to play. If we have to slow it down and run a set, we can do that too, but it is definitely fun though.

"I mean, it still is early but it's nice to see. It shows what we've tried to do as a team and what we've implemented for us to do in training camp. It really shows it's working and it's paid off."


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