Five-game West Coast trip presents new demands

By Truman Reed

Scott Skiles

As they set out on their first extended trip, the Bucks face the additional challenge of incorporating five new players into their system, so chemistry will be a vital course for them.

Marvin Lee Aday aspired to be a football hero when he was a youngster growing up in Texas. Most of his sports connections, though, have been to the diamond.

He has thrown a no-hitter as a softball pitcher.

He has displayed a mighty swing while playing in four celebrity-legend softball games during Major League Baseball's All-Star week.

And he and New York Yankees legend Phil Rizzuto once recorded a hit song about baseball.

Aday does, however, consider "Hoosiers" his favorite sports movie. And he recorded another song that not only became a major hit in the 1970s, but could aptly summarize the first week of the Milwaukee Bucks' 2011-12 National Basketball Association season: "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad."

Even Bucks Head Coach Scott Skiles would probably agree with that assessment made over three decades ago by the man best known as Meat Loaf.

Skiles' team dropped a 96-95 heartbreaker its season opener at Charlotte on Dec. 26, but rebounded with home victories of 98-95 over Minnesota on Dec. 27 and 102-81 over Washington on Dec. 30.

Hoping to build upon their two-out-of-three, the Bucks will experience just how grueling the NBA's condensed, 66-game schedule will be. They have embarked upon a five-game West Coast trip that will feature five games in seven days, pitting them against Denver, Utah, Sacramento, the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix.

Milwaukee players were questioned at length about the challenges they anticipate from the schedule, which will go to extremes teams have never seen during a customary 82-game slate.

Bucks newcomer Mike Dunleavy Jr. is a veteran of nine NBA seasons, but he has never faced a road trip quite like this one.

"It's definitely going to be a challenge that the guys aren't familiar with," Dunleavy said. "We just have to try to figure it out as we go. Obviously there are going to be some nights where we don't have a lot in the tank. I think that's where depth comes into play. Hopefully we'll manage it as well as we can. The good thing is it's an even playing field. Everyone's going through the same situation.

"It's not so much the number 66; it's looking at the block schedule month-by-month. Normally you have two to three days in-between games, but that won't always be the case now. Everyone has to deal with it, though."

That fact won't make the situation easy, though, in the estimation of Bucks center Andrew Bogut.

"It's still a pretty crazy schedule," Bogut said. "We only have one tripleheader (three games in three nights), but at the same time, we have 21 back-to-backs. It's the traveling in-between that kills you.   Sitting in an airplane for three hours with the cabin pressure gets tough.

"We can't make excuses and say, 'Well, we've had three games in three nights.' Every team has to go through it. It goes from 3.8 games a week to 4.4, which doesn't sound like much, but it's more than usual."

As they set out on their first extended trip, the Bucks face the additional challenge of incorporating five new players into their system, so chemistry will be a vital course for them.

"There's no question that early on, the teams that are more established will get going faster," Dunleavy said. "We have some new guys here, but we also have some holdovers. Hopefully we'll be able to mesh quickly and get this season off to a good start."

Second-year forward Larry Sanders, one of those holdovers, believes the Bucks can benefit greatly if they continue to play the brand of defense that earned them a No. 3 league ranking last season, particularly when fatigue begins to set in.

"We're going to have some back-to-backs," Sanders said. "Your body has to hold up and be strong enough to last.

"We won'' be the only team having back-to-backs, though. If we can keep up our defensive intensity, we'll be able to pull more of those games out."

Bogut agrees that defensive-minded teams may have an advantage when it comes to dealing with the demands of the schedule, particularly early on.

"I think so," Bogut said. "I think it may be late January or February before a team's offense really gets in-sync. Our offense has a lot of work to do, but we've got some really aggressive offensive guys who are adept at shooting the ball. We should be better, but it's still a work in progress."

Stephen Jackson, a 12-year NBA veteran and another one of Milwaukee's newcomers, realizes how vital it is for the Bucks to be ready for the early challenge.

"Twelve of our first 18 games are on the road," Jackson said. "We've got to focus on the first six and see what happens."

Jackson was asked how he expected to handle the grind.

"By waking up on the first and the 15th and seeing that check," he said with a smile. "That's how you get ready. You love this game. You have to understand that it's a blessing to play this game and that there are hundreds of people who want your job. That's how you get up and do it every day."

Brandon Jennings, now in his third season as Milwaukee's point guard, welcomes the idea of a high frequency of games.

"I know one thing: there will be less practice," Jennings said. "But with 66 games, I think the season'' up for grabs. I think whoever starts out hot and whoever wants it more in the first 10 games will have a big advantage. We have to try to stay off our feet and get as much rest as we can between games.

"I like the idea of less practice, though, because it means playing more basketball games."

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