All Hands on Deck
The Milwaukee Bucks have morphed into one of the league’s top-scoring teams under interim coach Jim Boylan, who took over earlier this month for Scott Skiles, averaging 102.9 points in Boylan’s 10 games and 109.3 over the last four. The Pistons handed the Bucks one of only three losses incurred on Boylan’s watch when they played what was likely their strongest road game of the season to win 103-87 on Jan. 11.
The Monta Ellis-Brandon Jennings backcourt makes the Bucks go, so Lawrence Frank’s decision to reactive Rodney Stuckey – who sat out Sunday’s 104-102 win at Orlando in what Frank would describe only as a “coach’s decision – helps the cause in a game that could have playoff ramifications.
The Pistons are 17-27, yet only tailspinning Philadelphia (18-26), 3-9 in its last 12 games, and Boston (21-23), which snapped a six-game losing streak on the day it lost Rajon Rondo for the season, stand between them and a playoff berth.
“It would mean a lot,” Tayshaun Prince said of the chance to end a three-year playoff drought. “One thing it would mean, from a mental standpoint, is that we’ve really, really gotten better. The last couple of years, when things went south, they just continued to go that way. This year, when things went bad, we’ve been able to rally around each other, pick each other up and get some wins when we needed them. The most important thing is when we do lose games is to bounce right back and get a win as opposed to letting it slide. As of late, we’ve been doing a good job of that.”
Frank brushes off playoff talk, sticking to his mantra of focusing only on the next game. But he’s aware that a game against a division rival could have tiebreaker implications down the road.
“You just really focus on the game and what you need to win tonight, but any time there’s a division matchup you never know what those implications can be in April,” he said. “You may sprinkle a little bit of what the light looks like down the road, but just focus on if you take care of business and get enough wins, you get what you deserve.”
The Pistons have taken care of business twice against Milwaukee this season and get the Bucks twice more over the next 12 days to wrap up the season series. Boylan has the Bucks playing at a faster pace and has shuffled the rotation a little even since the game at Milwaukee, with rookie John Henson on the outside and veteran center Samuel Dalembert back in the the mix.
“They’re playing at a very, very fast pace, especially pushing off makes,” Frank said. “The two guards – Ellis, as we know, is a tough cover, but Jennings is the huge X factor, Jennings and (Mike) Dunleavy. Those are the two guys that in their wins play at a high level and in their losses, you’ve got to try to keep them down.”