Proper Perspective

Skiles maintains focus amid week of highs, lows

By Truman Reed

Skiles keeps the Bucks focused
Stackhouse has also seen Skiles go with the flow, both during a series of games and within single games. Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE

Anyone who is monitoring the National Basketball Association's Eastern Conference landscape knows that the March 22 game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks may very well have been a prelude to a first-round playoff series.

If the two teams maintain their current conference standings - the Hawks in the fourth spot and the Bucks in the fifth - they will indeed meet each other in a best-of-seven opening-round playoff series beginning April 17.

So after the Bucks defeated the Hawks 98-95 at the Bradley Center, their fans were abuzz.

Bucks head coach Scott Skiles, though, wasn't part of the rambunctious parade. And Milwaukee fans ought to be as grateful for that as they were for the victory.

Any Bucks backers who didn't share Skiles' concerns following the Bucks' third straight victory and their ninth in 10 games had to share them two nights later, when the 24-47 Philadelphia 76ers brought Milwaukee's winning streak to a screeching halt with a 101-86 victory at the Bradley Center.

And two nights after that, the Bucks were not only smarting from their first back-to-back losses since mid-January, but were facing their most serious adversity since then as well.

Center Andrew Bogut was rendered unable to play March 26 against the Miami Heat due to a mid-back sprain.

Forward Ersan Ilyasova missed the game due to the flu.

And then forward Carlos Delfino was carried off the court on a stretcher and transported to the hospital by ambulance after falling to the court and having his head and neck inadvertently stepped on during the second quarter of the Bucks 87-74 defeat.

X-rays on Delfino's injury were negative and his status was listed as day-to-day with neck and jaw soreness.

Damage control for the losing streak arrived March 28 in the form of a 108-103 overtime victory over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies.

Through all of the above, Skiles remained the picture of stability, realizing the value of the victories, yet not allowing the end to justify the means; making no excuses after the losses, but not panicking over them. And beyond all of that, directing his focus and that of his players on the next game rather than the last one.

Going back to the victory over Atlanta, here was Skiles' postgame perspective:

"It's a good win. It's a team we may play in the first round. We would like to play better, though. That's generally what we're focused on. It's a good win, but we need to play better than that.

"They switch everything defensively. We have to take better advantage of that. We were holding the ball too much, instead of having our good, crisp, ball movement type of game. Now we got to that in the fourth quarter, but we spent a large part of the game backing up Al Horford, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. And that's not our game. Nothing against our guards, but it isn't that easy for them to drive by bigger people on the other team. We need to move the ball and catch them off-balance and then play strong side to weak side. We just didn't do that enough."

Skiles' report card on the Atlanta game went into further detail, and he addressed his team's improvisational skills.

"Luke (Ridnour) had 18 (points) and 8 (assists). Jerry (Stackhouse) gave us quality minutes. It wouldn't have been that long ago that if Brandon goes 1-for-8 and Ersan goes 1-for-6 and `Bogues' 4-for-11 we wouldn't have won a game, or even been in a game. So we've got more depth now, and we can play some different ways. Tonight we went small and the guys did a great job of it.

"We're doing it. We're finding a way. This wasn't the way we wanted to start our homestand, to be walking in mud a little bit and falling behind. But when the chips were down, we finally started driving the ball ... We started getting to the basket and that took the lid off for us."

By now, Skiles' players should have been prepared for what awaited them in practice the next day. One of the reasons for the team's 16-4 run since mid-February is that coaches and players are understanding each other.

"We are a pretty serious group," Skiles said after the Atlanta game. "It's a group where I'm not going to be able to go in there tomorrow and trick them and say, `Hey, that was a great game last night.'

"They know what happened out there, that we struggled for three quarters and then we won the game. Three of the four quarters tonight, we were in trouble. But we made big plays and we were able to win, so that's good."

Stackhouse had only been with Milwaukee for 32 games through March 28, but he has quickly come to appreciate how Skiles keeps everything in its proper perspective. That approach has won the confidence of his players.

"You get used to listening to a guy, and the tone that he has," Stackhouse said. "Sometimes as a player, you might expect him to jump on you a little bit, but he comes in with the same demeanor, and I think guys find confidence in that. They know that if Coach isn't panicking, there's no reason for us to panic.

"We've done a good job of that in these games down the stretch."

Stackhouse has also seen Skiles go with the flow, both during a series of games and within single games.

"I think defensively and offensively, he knows the players on the floor," Stackhouse said. "We have a system, a way that we want to play defense, and we have things we want to do offensively. But against certain teams and the guys on the court, if there are adjustments to make, we want to just get stops. If it works, it works. It's not going to be perfect every time.

"As a player, you understand that if you're in situations where you have a scheme against a team and they happen to be playing it well on a certain night, you have to adjust. I think it's great to have someone who can adjust on the fly. Scott has been doing a good job of that. He can draw a play at the end of a game that can give the other team a different look."

When the stabilizer stepped to the microphone to address the media following his Bucks overtime win over Memphis on Sunday, he maintained his usual even keel, reviewing both pluses and minuses and reaching the bottom line.

"I felt like the turning point of the game was when we were down seven with five or six minutes to go," Skiles said. "We talked about this being a big moment in our season. We looked a little bit tired. We had to fight our way through it. And we did. We were able to come out and get some big baskets, make some big plays. We probably should have won in regulation and didn't.

"We didn't get demoralized by that, and we kept battling. It was another game that wasn't a pretty game from our standpoint. We had some balls we threw right to them and some things were going on out there that we don't normally do, but the guys hung tough and kept battling and got a huge win."

That win was indeed a potent remedy for several days of ills, but Skiles neither overestimated nor underestimated its value.

"It's a better feeling, obviously, but my staff and I always have to be mindful of getting in the postseason," he said. "We're not in the postseason yet. I'm not trying to say we're automatically in. There are things we're doing out there that we still need improvement in.

"But to have guys down - the players weren't sure Andrew was going to play until he came over here today - it's a big win for us. We needed to stop any slide that we're having, and we were able to do that tonight."