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NOT MILWAUKEE, Jan. 3 -- Like a nervous dad handing over the keys to the great Green and Red bandwagon to a new 16-year-old driver, I asked for patience and pragmatism for the two weeks I would be out. Call me if anything bad happens, let me know if you need me to come pick you up and if you call to let me know where you are, you can stay out as long as you want.

And look what happens. Pedal to the metal.

Sigh. Kids these days.

All I can say is, "Wheeeeeeeeeeee!"

Just look at the numbers: seven wins in eight games, two Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors in as many weeks (nice goin' Mo, way to work Mike), one very impressive win over the Wizards last week and the e-mail box contains zero letters asking for Terry Stotts' head.

I'm like a dog with my head out the window, tongue flapping, eyes watering, nose flaring. The Bucks have climbed above .500 and look like a playoff team, which I expected before the season started. (Then again, it is the East ...) Anyway, if it's going to go like this when I'm gone, maybe I should let someone else drive the bandwagon a little more often.

From the 107.6 points per game to the stellar .489 field goal percentage in December to one national writer calling Michael Redd the East's best player through the first third of the season, the fortnight has been fun for the faithful frozen fans in Milwaukee.

And to what do we owe such heady times? Two words, Bucks fans, both starting with the letter "S": stability and Skinner.

After tinkering with various starting lineups throughout the season, either because of necessity (injuries to Bobby Simmons and Charlie Villanueva) or mad science (Ersan Ilyasova started four games), Stotts has settled on the following for the past eight games: Mo Williams at the point, Charlie Bell at the 2, Michael Redd at the 3, Brian Skinner doing the dirty work at power forward and Mr. No. 1 at 5.

With eight new faces on the roster, CI asked Stotts if it has been tough working all the new players into the mix.

"Every year is a challenge, even when you have the luxury of carrying over [the roster]," Stotts said. "This year, we probably have fewer new faces when it comes to starters.

"Last year, we had four new starters completely, so the challenge for us as coaches and players has been less daunting this year than last because there are holdovers from last year playing big minutes this year."

Key to this "surgence" (it hasn't exactly been a resurgence) has not only been on the offensive end but on the boards as well. The current starting lineup has brought the Bucks seven wins in those eight games to the tune of 112.6 points per game while grabbing 43.4 boards per game in their last seven contests. That's a vast improvement over the 37.1 rpg in the first 24 games. Bucks fans can thank Andrew Bogut's (9.7 boards per) and Mo Williams' (Mo? Yes, Mo, to the tune of 7.0 rpg) board work in that time. And from grinders like Bob Dandridge, Dave Meyers and then power forward and current assistant Larry Krystkowiak who did the windows for past Bucks teams, we can appreciate Skinners' effort.

(We interrupt this column to say: Mo Williams is very, very good. More on him next week.

By the way, Brian Skinner should never, ever leave Milwaukee. He had his best season of his career in 2003-04 when he averaged 10.5 points per game and 7.3 boards for the Bucks. I don't care if he hates the winter, the Violent Femmes or even if he's a Dallas Cowboys fan, but he needs to stay. Maybe a Realtor can find him a sweet, sweet place in Fox Point or River Hills. Skinner's journeyman career should end in Milwaukee.)

And then the Bucks get to bring Ruben Patterson, Charlie Villanueva and Steve Blake off the bench to spell the starters. That's a team that can compete for a playoff spot in the East and more than hold its own against the West.

Oh, yeah, about the West. The Bucks are an incredible 10-4 against Western Conference squads this season. They've take the season series from the Wolves for the first time since Moses Malone was the Bucks' starting center (1991-92), they've taken the season series from the Grizzlies for the first time since 2001-02 and have beaten the Spurs and the Lakers on the road.

Then again, everything is less than peachy keen for the Bucks when it comes to their own conference. They've lost twice by 13 to the 13-18 Nets, lost by 17 to the 13-18 Raptors, got drummed out of Madison Square Garden and haven't beaten a Central Division opponent since opening night.

They still give up more (103.7) than they score (103.6) and as Sam Kirchner of 5-Point Bucks notes, they're not very efficient at being outscored either.

These are issues that need to be addressed, especially their performance within the conference and division. You gotta beat the teams close to you.

But until then, I say keep the keys. Let the good times roll. For as long as they can.


A few random thoughts (and this couldn't possibly be a web column without a few random thoughts) ...

A big thanks to Joe Gabriele of for interrupting my regularly scheduled column to let everyone know how Cavs fans feel. It wasn't my intent to rub in the Jordan over Ehlo shot, but Joe and the Wine and Gold exacted a modest revenge against the Green and Red on Dec. 29.

Joe, we are brothers in arms, until the Bucks meet the Cavs for the, ahem, Eastern Conference finals.

And kudos to the Cavs for sweeping the big, bad Spurs this season. At 18-12, Cleveland now resides half-a-game south of the Pistons in the Central Division standings.

As hot as the Bucks have been, the Bulls have been just as hot, maybe even more so. A few weeks into the season, I began to regret my pick of the Bulls as Central Division champs. Right now, I'm feeling pretty good about it. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon have been lights out and Ben Wallace isn't approaching his Detroit digits, but he's been solid. Only a miracle three from Leandro Barbosa on Tuesday night prevented the Bulls from taking their ninth win in 11 games.

From the, "Well, Duh!" files: Detroit will miss Chauncey Billups' steady leadership the next two weeks.

(Psst, that's your cue, readers!)

Well, duh!

The division's best point guard strained a calf and will miss 10 days to two weeks. Luckily for the Pistons, two things will work in their favor; one, Detroit only has two games this week; and two, they have one of the best athletic trainers in the business, Arnie Kander. He's worked miracles with injured players before, so more than likely he should have Chauncey ready sooner rather than later.

And finally, since I've reverted back to the leather keyboard, my writing feels more natural, my one-line shots feel more true.

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