Skiles, Bucks prepared to tackle unique challenges

Coach believes condensed schedule could create sense of urgency

By Truman Reed

Scott Skiles

“We know it’s going to be a difficult schedule,” Scott Skiles said. “The good thing is that, in theory, it could help the guys stay focused a little bit better because every game is more meaningful."

Scott Skiles experienced three of the four lockouts in National Basketball Association history – two as a player and one as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.

Skiles welcomed the opportunity to get back to work Dec. 8, 2011, when Lockout No. 4 came to an end after 160 days.

During the latest hiatus, some NBA players opted to play overseas while many others elected to stay in the United States.  Some of those who remained stateside sought out local pick-up games while others participated in organized exhibition tournaments such as the Drew League in Los Angeles, the Melo League in Baltimore and the Goodman League in Washington, D.C.

Some NBA coaches and management types have discouraged their players from venturing into the playground basketball culture because of the injury risks involved, but Skiles isn’t one of them. He was pleased to discover that a number of his players seized such opportunities and remembered those days when he pounded the pavement himself.

“After I played for Orlando, if we had a Sunday off after the season, I went to the playground and played pickup ball with people outdoors,” Skiles said. “I thought it was fine. If you hear guys are looking for places to play, you’re glad. You just hope nobody gets hurt.

“In our guys’ case, apparently nobody significantly did. If the guys want to go out and play ball, they should go out and play ball.”

Skiles, due to league restrictions, couldn’t monitor how much basketball the Bucks were playing during the lockout, but he was pleased with what he saw and heard once the players and owners settled their issues and his team reported to an abbreviated camp.

“When you can’t talk to anybody, you can’t call anybody on the telephone, you can’t have them in the gym, you like to think guys are putting in the time,” Skiles said. “You trust them. You might be thinking, ‘Well, I trust this guy, but I’m a little worried about him.’ But you’re never sure. 

“The guys who were here last season all left with a bitter taste in their mouths. We all did. We’ve clearly seen a noticeable response to that, which you like to see. I’m really pleased with the condition of everybody, and that’s good. We hope it turns into something really positive for us.”

Skiles was asked if he was able to gauge the effects of the last lockout, which spanned July 1, 1998 to Jan. 20, 1999 and forced the 1998–99 season to be shortened to 50 games per team.

“During the last lockout, it was hard to quantify if the defenses had an edge or if offensively, the teams coming out of the lockout the players were just so rusty,” Skiles said. “In theory, that could be a strength of ours early on. We know what we have to do. We have to play similar-type defense -- we have to be a top-five defensive team. And we’ve got to score more points.

“There’s a bit of a mystery on how teams are going to start. Is it going to look a little more rough than it normally would, or have the guys been playing enough that it almost looks like no time was missed, or will it fall somewhere in-between?”

Skiles and his staff have to mesh last season’s holdovers with five newcomers, but he didn’t go into the season worrying over how a shortened camp and preseason might affect the building of team chemistry.

“I don’t ever worry about it,” Skiles said. “I know everybody thinks every coach has a magic wand. The coach, in reality, can only sort of nudge that in the right direction. Normally it happens naturally with the guys. You try to gather unselfish people – and it isn’t just lipservice – who are genuinely interested in the team’s well-being rather than their own well-being. When you do that, every team in the league has a high level of talent; it’s just a matter of getting chemistry in order.

“Everything we’ve done and will do is with an eye toward that. It’s important for us as a franchise that we have good chemistry out there. It’s one way we can beat people that we have to take advantage of.”

Skiles wasn’t going to let his team’s early-season, five-game West Coast trip worry him, either.

“Our West Coast trip just happens to be in January,” he said. “I guarantee you other teams are saying, ‘My God, have you looked at March?’ or ‘Have you seen that April?’ Hopefully sometimes if you have the right group, you can go out on the road and find something. You get a couple of tough road wins and chemistry starts to develop.

“Hopefully when the season’s over, we’ll look back at it and say, ‘That was a good experience for us. It toughened us up a little bit. We got to know each other,’ and that we win enough games that we’ll still keep ourselves in good position.”

Skiles believes the challenges presented by the condensed schedule could benefit the Bucks.

“We know it’s going to be a difficult schedule,” he said. “The good thing is that, in theory, it could help the guys stay focused a little bit better because every game is more meaningful. I know it’s a coaching cliché, ‘Every game’s a big game,’ but literally, just with the amount of games we have, teams have to be ready to play.

“A three-game losing streak will be different than a three-game losing streak in a regular schedule. Hopefully that’ll cause the guys to have more focus.”

After wrapping up their early western swing, the Bucks got a respite with consecutive home games against San Antonio on Jan. 10 and Detroit Jan. 12, but the Pistons contest will be part of a challenging back-to-back, followed by a visit to Dallas on Jan. 13.

The balance of January will include back-to-backs at Philadelphia and at home against Denver on Jan. 16 and Jan. 17, followed by road games against New York on Jan. 20 and Miami on Jan. 22, then a quick trip home for a date with Atlanta on Jan. 23.

The Bucks will close out the first month of 2012 with visits to Houston on Jan. 25 and Chicago on Jan. 27, followed by home games versus the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 28 and Detroit on Jan. 30.

Peering further into the new year, February will bring back-to-backs Feb. 3 at Detroit and Feb. 4 at home against Chicago, a Feb. 7 home game with Phoenix and a Feb. 8 game at Toronto, a visit to Cleveland on Feb. 10 proceeded by a home game with Orlando on Feb. 11, a trip to New Jersey on Feb. 19 and a home tilt against Orlando on Feb. 20, and a Bradley Center battle with Washington on Feb. 28 followed by a road game at Boston on Feb. 29.

The March schedule will begin with three games in four days – visits to Atlanta on March 2 and Orlando on March 3, followed by a March 5 home game against Philadelphia. It will continue with a back-to-back on the road at Toronto on March 11 and at New Jersey on March 12. Then it will close with three consecutive back-to-backs: home against Boston on March 22 and at Charlotte on March 23, at New York and home vs. Atlanta on March 27 and at Cleveland and at home against Memphis on March 31.

The Bucks will open their April agenda at Washington on April 2, then play their longest homestand of the season, taking on Cleveland on April 4, Charlotte on April 6, Portland on April 7, Oklahoma City on April 9 and New York on April 11. That will be followed by the first back-to-back of the month featuring a visit to Detroit on April 13 and a home game with Indiana on April 14. They will play their final two regular-season back-to-backs April 18 at Washington and April 19 at Indiana and April 25 at home vs. Philadelphia and April 26 at Boston.