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Charlie Villanueva is averaging 22.4 points and 7.9 rebounds in his last 18 games.

Villanueva's improvement keying Bucks' playoff run

If Scott Skiles' first Milwaukee Bucks team manages to hold on and qualify for the NBA Playoffs, Charlie Villanueva will be a big, big reason why.

Often overlooked during his first two seasons in Milwaukee, Villanueva has come into his own this year. Even before the devastating injuries to Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, Villanueva was emerging as a big-time player for Skiles.

As his confidence grew, so did his production. And, in turn, so did his minutes. Now, with the big names watching from the bench, Villanueva has shined in the spotlight.

"Coach told me that I've got an opportunity," he said. "It's a challenge as well and I'm just trying to make the most out of it."

Currently, the 6-foot-11 forward is second on the team -- not including Redd -- with 16.1 points per game and leads the Bucks -- not including Bogut -- with 367 rebounds, an average of 6.7 per game.

Over the last 18 games (all of them starts), Villanueva has been red-hot. He has seven double-doubles during that stretch and is averaging 22.4 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 49.2 percent from the field.

Villanueva again played a leading role Sunday afternoon, scoring season-best 34 with five rebounds in the Bucks' 120-117 victory over Denver at the Bradley Center. He opened hot, connecting on six of eight shots, four of them for three-pointers, in the first quarter - including an effortless, half-court shot at the buzzer - to finish with 16 points in the first 12 minutes.

"I was just seeing what the defense gave me," Villanueva said. "I got a lot of early good looks. Once I hit the half court shot, I knew it was going to be a good game."

For the game, Villanueva shot 60.8 percent from the field (14-for-23) and hit 7 of 11 three-point attempts.

"Charlie's shooting, especially early on, really carried us," Skiles said.

That performance followed a solid, but brief, outing against Cleveland on Friday night. He had 26 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists before being ejected for getting into a scuffle with the Cavaliers' Zydrunas Ilgauskas after the two went up for a rebound with just less 7 minutes to play.

His absence, Skiles said, was a major factor in the game's outcome, a 111-103 loss.

"That play hurt us," Skiles said. "We needed that rebound and didn't get it, that's No. 1. But then we lost Charlie on the same play. That hurt."

Villanueva's success comes as something as a surprise to some. It was widely speculated that, when Skiles was hired as head coach, he wouldn't fit into the system and would be dealt prior to the season opener.

He had lost his starting job early last season in favor of first round draft pick Yi Jianlian, but in another surprising move, it was Jianlian, not Villanueva, that was dealt to New Jersey in a draft-day swap. Since then, Villanueva has not only earned his starting job back, but is making a strong case for a long term deal this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Leading up to last week's trade deadline, Villanueva was the subject of a number of rumored deals, but in the end, no potential swap seemed to make sense for general manager John Hammond, who now faces the difficult task of keeping Villanueva for the next few seasons while keeping the Bucks away from the luxury tax.

The Bucks will pay a combined $41 million next season to Redd, Bogut and Richard Jefferson, making it difficult to work on a long-term deal. As a restricted free agent, the Bucks reserve the right to match any offer Villanueva receives.

For his part, Villanueva has expressed a desire to remain in Milwaukee, but that's a topic that will be discussed later in the summer. For now, Villanueva wants to focus on getting Milwaukee into the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

"I want to be here," Villanueva said. "I'm glad the deadline is behind us now. We can concentrate on the rest of the season. We've still got the eighth spot and we have to take it one game at a time."


LegallyBlonde | Feb. 23, 2009 at 12:29 p.m. (report)

Dude is 6'11" and has a better 3-pt shot than redd. that is sick. sign him now. Anyone have any thoughts on simply "releasing" Michael Redd?

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Fan | Feb. 23, 2009 at 9:17 a.m. (report)

Charlie V is on quite a streak. He's got that look and desire. And, remember he's still young. This team has a chance to be very special.

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