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Eastern Conference Insider: Big hit to Bucks' playoff hopes

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Feb 5 2009 11:54AM

The Bucks' Michael Redd tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in a Jan. 24 win over the Kings, ending his season. At the time, Milwaukee stood at 22-25, a half game ahead of New Jersey for the eighth spot in the East. Many believed Redd's injury would knock the Bucks out of the playoff chase.

A week and a half later, the Bucks still held the eighth spot and had beaten Toronto and Atlanta without their All-Star. Charlie Villanueva and Charlie Bell had picked up some of the offensive slack and their defense was still holding strong.

Before Tuesday's game in New Jersey, Milwaukee's Richard Jefferson sounded confident that his team still had enough to make the postseason for the first time since 2006.

"The key for us is if we can get [Andrew] Bogut healthy," Jefferson. "With him healthy, I think we have more than enough to make it."

Less than 24 hours later, the Bucks announced that Bogut would miss at least eight weeks with a stress fracture in his lower back, which pretty much put an end to any playoff hopes Milwaukee has.

In fact, Bogut may be more valuable to the Bucks than Redd. Redd is one of the 10 best scorers in the league when he's healthy, and the Bucks' offense was certainly stronger when he was in the lineup. But this season, Bogut's presence has meant more to Milwaukee's defense than Redd's has meant to its offense.

In the 36 games Bogut played, the Bucks were 19-17 with a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 105.1, which is at the level of one of the five best defensive teams in the league. In the 16 games Bogut has missed, they're 5-11 with a defensive rating of 114.4, which is at the level of one of the five worst.

Taking the 7-foot, 260-pound Bogut out of the Bucks' lineup was bound to be detrimental to Milwaukee's defense. A presence as big as Bogut is takes up space if nothing else. But Bogut's backups, Francisco Elson and Dan Gadzuric, aren't exactly undersized centers. They just don't bring what Bogut does.

"He sees everything that's going on out there," Bucks coach Scott Skiles says of Bogut. "He moves well side to side. He immediately identifies a problem if somebody's posting up a smaller guard. Its things that you prepare for, but a lot of guys don't see it when the action's happening. He sees all that."

A player with a high basketball IQ and skills to match is a coach's dream. But Bogut didn't necessarily have the full package when Skiles took over in Milwaukee this season. It has been under Skiles that Bogut has begun to realize his defensive potential.

"I felt like there was no reason he shouldn't be a good defender," Skiles says. "He's got the size. He moves well. He's got the mind for it. It's just a matter of him committing to it, putting him in our schemes and seeing what he can do. And he's done well with it."

"He cares," Jefferson says simply. "At the end of the day, he cares about winning games. I think he wants to be a good defender, and he's turning into one."

The Bucks may have been able to survive the loss of Redd, but losing Bogut is another story. So far this season, they're 0-5 when they don't have either in uniform.

Keeping Up With Kidd

LeBron James' epic 50-10-11 performance at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday was his 21st career triple-double. He did it at the age of 24, in the 439th game of his career.

Jason Kidd, third all-time with 101 triple-doubles, recorded his 21st triple-double a month short of his 26th birthday. But Kidd put up No. 21 in just the 305th game of his career. Kidd's 101 triple-doubles in 1074 career games is a pace of one every 10.6 games. James' pace is one every 20.9 games.

A Solid Point

In the Magic's first game since losing Jameer Nelson to a torn labrum, Nelson's replacement in the starting lineup filled in just fine. Anthony Johnson led Orlando with 25 points in 27 minutes Wednesday, as the Magic crushed the Clippers, 125-96. Johnson hit nine of his 11 shots from the field, including six of his eight attempts from three point range. Johnson had never before hit more than three threes in game in his 12-year career. The Magic are now 5-1 without Nelson, who had missed five games earlier in the season with a strained hip flexor.

Layups

Chris Bosh suffered a sprained right knee in Wednesday's loss to the Lakers... Al Horford returned from a 12-game absence to play 25 minutes in the Hawks' win in Minnesota on Wednesday... Elton Brand has felt pain in his right shoulder since returning to action on Jan. 24 and an MRI revealed that his injury is still healing. He's listed as day-to-day... The Bulls have had five or more players score in double-figures in eight straight games... The Pistons' streak of 259 straight sellouts ended Wednesday.

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