Posted Feb 1 2012 12:01PM
It is a supposed truism that no one feels sorry for a team beset with injuries. In reality, though, plenty of players, coaches and front-office types will feel sorry for a rival when it hits an especially rough patch of health, as the Milwaukee Bucks have for the better part of two calendar years now.
No opponent is going to spot the Bucks eight or 10 points. No one is going to play away from a team's sudden weakness, the result of absent personnel. And any "there but for the grace of God ..." feelings another team might have for a crippled foe -- especially in this most injury-riddled of seasons -- do not extend to the bottom line in this business.
Fear the deer? Nope. Slay the deer is more like it. Pat 'em on the back or send 'em a card later.
That's why Bucks coach Scott Skiles pulled sardonic out of his toolbox for a pregame chat in Chicago the other night. The topic was luck, which he and his team know about in the same way the 99 percenters know about wealth.
"We're all pretty foolish if we don't realize the effects of luck in life," Skiles said. "Pretty lucky the Bulls got Derrick Rose when you look at the percentages [in the 2008 Draft lottery]. That's very, very lucky. Very lucky that David Robinson went down that year ... that allowed the Spurs to get Tim Duncan [in 1997]. So there's always things out of people's control.
"We've been on the wrong end of that and it's obviously hurt us. We're the type of team, we need all of our guys healthy and able and playing well to win our share of games. It is a little tiresome to always have to overcome guys being out. But it is what it is -- that's exactly what we have to do, try to overcome it."
Three hours later, Milwaukee general manager John Hammond was all stiff upper lip on the same subject. No matter how many ways a fellow tried to get him to grouse about his club's misfortunes, Hammond held back.
"Standing here, that's kind of what I'm thinking about," Hammond said. "I can talk about injuries, I can maybe come up with excuses, I can maybe come up with reasons. But at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. No one's going to care. And to be honest with you, it's the world we live in. It's a results-driven business. Even with injuries, people want you to win."
As if the Bucks' week wasn't bad enough once Forbes magazine released its estimates of NBA franchise values -- they ranked last of the league's 30 at $268 million, on the wrong side of the tracks from the Lakers ($900M) and the Knicks ($780M) -- they suffered a basketball blow when center Andrew Bogut fractured his left ankle at Houston. He had landed on Rockets guard Kyle Lowry's foot, typically the thing of sprained ankles rather than a fracture that will sideline the 7-foot Aussie for eight to 12 weeks.
Big difference that: Eight, and Bogut might be able to salvage a month of his season. Twelve, and it's see you next season.
This one effectively bookends the horrific spill Bogut took in April 2010 in a game against Phoenix, when his right arm folded and shredded under him for injuries that never truly healed last season. Milwaukee won that night, made it to the playoffs at 45-37 and held a 3-2 lead over Atlanta in the first round before losing in seven games. But what followed was a mess: A fall to 35-47, the worst offense in the NBA and a dinged-up season in which the Bucks led the league in games lost to injury.
In all, 14 players missed a total of 273 games last season, an average of 3.4 per night. The maladies ranged from Drew Gooden's plantar fasciitis and the dueling concussions of Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova to Brandon Jennings' broken fifth metatarsal and Bogut's buffet of boo-boos (migraine, back, virus, knee bruise, rib-cage pain, elbow).
The humorless joke of the Bucks' season, with Skiles again working sardonic, was the fact that at no point from November through April did he have even one practice with all his guys healthy.
This season is headed that way, too, for at least as long as Bogut is out. Through their first 20 games, six Bucks have missed a combined 39 games due to injuries or personal absences. That's a better average, maybe, but it still stinks when they are rotation guys such as Luc Mbah Moute (10 games), Mike Dunleavy (10), Beno Udrih (six) and Bogut (eight).
And yet, just when you think the Bucks might have built their practice facility on someone's ancient, sacred burial ground ...
An unexpected thing has been happening for Milwaukee. It might not last. It could, in fact, fizzle at any moment. But the Bucks have come together to win three of their last four, beginning with the game in Houston. After a loss to the Bulls on Friday, they went home and beat the Lakers on Saturday, which might not mean what it used to but was still feel-good for Milwaukee and its fans. Then they toyed with Detroit on Monday at Bradley Center.
The Bucks have scored 105, 100, 100 and 103 points in their last four and have reached triple digits nine times in 20 games, compared to 21 times in 82 last season. Their offensive rating has jumped 13 spots, though their defensive rating has dropped from fourth in 2010-11 to 16th.
Still, more players are returning than exiting. Dunleavy, Mbah a Moute and Udrih are back and contributing. Bogut's absence has asked and gotten more out of big men Drew Gooden, Ilyasova and rookie Jon Leuer. As for Stephen Jackson -- who already had been suspended once for oversleeping a shootaround and again for verbally abusing a referee after the Chicago game -- the less of him, it seems, the better. Skiles left the self-absorbed swingman on the bench Monday.
That left the Bucks with a bunch of players who are gelling and turning embattled into emboldened. Jennings is even making a little All-Star push among East point guards.
"In Vegas, I'm a blackjack guy," Dunleavy said after the Pistons game. "Numbers, they always come back. You can start off and be getting crushed by the house and losing all your money. But if you stick around the tables long enough, you'll make it back."
Dunleavy cited the quickie training camp and, one week into the season, a five-game trip out West (with Bogut missing the final four on a personal leave) as holes from which the Bucks had to dig. Now they're firming up their identity, along with the stark realization that Bogut won't be limping through that door to help anytime soon.
Now they just need to continue, while facing Miami twice, Chicago and Orlando all in the first two weeks of February. The bench has been big of late -- no small feat when a roster is thinned by injuries. But the Bucks' margin of error is slight.
At least they have inspiration. Former Clippers guard Shaun Livingston has been healthy and starting at shooting guard, a near-miracle considering his left knee's implosion back in 2007 and long road to recovery. Now 26, the 6-foot-7 Livingston is giving Skiles helpful length at both ends, 53.4 percent shooting and 7.6 points and 2.4 assists in 23.5 minutes a night.
He's giving Hammonds something to believe in ("You couldn't be happier, not just for the player but the person," the GM said). And he's giving the Milwaukee trainers a rare breather, their gauze-and-bandages budget a break.
Wait, did someone say break?
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