Bucks face late-season challenge
In a quartered off section of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee Bucks coach Jim Boylan meets with the assorted media for his postgame press conference. He stands behind a microphone, with a team backdrop behind him.
It's not a stage, but it can be a pulpit, and on Sunday afternoon Boylan preached.
His team had just completed a rousing comeback to beat a bad Orlando Magic 115-109 but the coach wasn't too thrilled. He told reporters that the effort on Sunday, and of late, has not been good enough.
He noted how the Bucks may have the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference all but wrapped up – the team holds a eight game lead over Philadelphia in the loss column with 16 to play – but that it isn't the postseason yet and there needs to be improvement.
Boylan saw some Tuesday night, as the Bucks beat Portland 102-95 in a game that wasn't that close.
The Bucks remain just two games behind Atlanta for the fifth overall seed in the East, and have three games remaining with the Hawks beginning with tonight's contest in Atlanta.
The team isn't going to win the division, but they could get out of a potential first round series against not only the defending champion Miami Heat.
"If you look at where we are right now, we're in the eighth spot and we've got to play against the Miami Heat – world champions, 22-game winning streak - you would think you'd might want to try to avoid those guys as best you can," he said with a laugh.
"We have opportunities to. We've blown some opportunities where we could've made up a little bit of ground but we still have a chance. There are (16) games left to go. We play the Hawks three more times, Pacers one time. We've got some tough games but we have opportunities to do something.
"I think for a lot of the players, I don't know if they're dialed into that completely."
These final four weeks of the regular season should have a playoff vibe for the Bucks, as they face not only the Hawks, but the Pacers, Heat and Knicks one more time each and then Western Conference contenders Oklahoma City (twice), Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Yet there's a chance many of the Bucks key players don't know, or remember, what it's like to play in such pressurized situations.
The Bucks regular starting lineup of Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders and Luc Mbah a Moute have a combined 32 games of playoff experience.
When the Bucks made the playoffs in 2010, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute were coming off the bench, Sanders has never played in a playoff series and Ellis last saw postseason play in 2007.
Sixth man J.J. Redick has 44 playoff games under his belt, having reached the postseason in all six of years in Orlando. Mike Dunleavy, another key reserve, has appeared in just five games (for Indiana in 2011) in his 10 years.
Guard Marquis Daniels has played 62 career playoff games, the most on the team by far. He won a ring with the 2010 Boston Celtics, playing 11 games in those playoffs. He appeared in 20 playoff games the year before when Dallas lost in the Finals to the Heat.
Drew Gooden has 44 playoff games and an NBA Finals loss in 2007 under his belt, but he last reached the postseason in 2009 in Sacramento. Samuel Dalembert (Philadelphia) and Joel Przybilla (Portland) also last appeared in playoff games that year.
It's nice to have veteran leadership and experience, but let's face it – Daniels, Dalembert, Gooden and Przybilla aren't going to be leading the Bucks to any sort of series victory. The Bucks best players, aside from Redick, just aren't that experienced with this type of basketball.
Does it matter?
Boylan doesn't think so. To him, it's about peaking and maximizing the effort and talent as the playoffs begin.
"Just talking to some of the guys, they realize more importantly than moving up is to be playing well," Boylan said.
"Right now we're not playing well. You want to go into these final whatever, 15, 17 games, and if you are a playoff team you want to be building some momentum. You don't want to be kind of backing your way into the playoffs. You want o be running into the playoffs. That's what we need to do. we need to change our mindset a little bit and be expending energy rather than less energy and getting ourselves in a position where as we're getting into the first two weeks of April we're playing some really good basketball."
Dalembert agreed, saying even that little bit of playoff experience two or three years ago stays with a player.
"I see the point coach tried to make," said the center, who has appeared in 17 total playoff games in his 10-year career. "It's almost like reverse psychology, if you play well the outcome is going to be a win most of the time. We have experience. We have guys who have been there, who can play, who can compete. We just have to continue and stay ready and utilize the pieces (we have)."
The challenge for the Bucks over these final 16 games has been presented: Come together, play better, and go into the playoffs hot. They've done it before, with two separate four game winning streaks and a stretch in January where they went 8-3.
Perhaps the victory over the Trailblazers was the start of another hot streak, one in which point guard Damian Lillard was held to just eight points and LaMarcus Aldridge had only 10 points near the end of the third. The Bucks also had 29 assists on 42 field goals as nine different players scored.
"We show up in the game and boom, we look like a different team," Dalembert said. "We move the ball well. We play solid 'D'. We shoot the ball well too. Most importantly the turnovers are low. Every time have 11, 12 for the game and share the ball we look like a different team out there. Some guys, because the rotation throughout the year being unstable, guys try to get used to each other out there.
"We still have a lot to work on, but we have a good team. We have the pieces that we need on a team on this team, and we just have to utilize these pieces."
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