Milwaukee Bucks mistakes help Denver Nuggets end road woes

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Carmelo Anthony

AP Photo/Jim Prisching

“We played hard, we just didn’t play well.”

Those words, said by Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles after the team’s 94-87 loss to the Denver Nuggets, are eerily similar to the phrase that Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott used to describe his team during its 26 game losing streak.

It makes sense coming from a team that is rebuilding, young, and just looking for any way to boost confidence. The Milwaukee Bucks are not extremely young, in transition as an organization, or lacking decent talent, which makes that statement all the more depressing heading into the 2011 NBA All-Star Break.

Read more about the Bucks’ best and worst moments of the Nuggets game.

By Jake McCormick
Still, Skiles certainly did have a point, given the team was without Keyon Dooling (knee), Ersan Ilyasova (eye), Chris Douglas-Roberts (illness), Drew Gooden (foot), and Michael Redd (eh, whatever), and the Bucks were fielding their 19th different starting lineup this season. They only had 15 lineup combinations in 2009-10.

Milwaukee did play hard, trailing early in the first and third quarters, before mounting runs on the backs of veterans like John Salmons, Earl Boykins, and Corey Maggette. But as essential as they were to the Bucks’ successes, they couldn’t mask the team’s pension for untimely turnovers and missed open shots.

Bucks-Nuggets In-Game Observations:

Carmelo Anthony leads the NBA with 30 points per game in February, and has shot at a 53% clip coming into Wednesday’s game as he auditions for his potential suitors. It should come as no surprise then that Anthony opened the game with 12 points in the first 12 minutes. If you wanted to see the best of Carmelo Anthony (spot up jumpers, inside spin moves, dunks over Andrew Bogut), the first quarter was the time.

The Bucks’ franchise cornerstones (Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings) went 0-9 in the first 21 ½ minutes of the game. Meanwhile, Larry Sanders scored six points in six minutes to lead the Bucks on a 15-8 run halfway through the second quarter. Sanders mostly showed off his athleticism on two fast break opportunities, dunking a backwards pass from Earl Boykins and laying another in a possession later.

After a 20 second timeout at the 3:30 mark in the third quarter, the Bucks quickly turned a 68-57 deficit into a 71-71 tie heading into the final frame. That 14-3 run was sparked almost solely by John Salmons, who had 8 points on a combination of high percentage jumpers, a three pointer, and the always welcomed three point play.

About a week ago, Brandon Jennings expressed frustration over his benching during fourth quarter crunch time. After sitting out for almost exactly 12 minutes, he entered with 3:21 left and the team up 86-85. The Bucks promptly missed their next six shots, not including a Jennings shot clock violation after he dribbled around and chucked up a prayer of a 20 foot jumper.

Notable Milwaukee Bucks players:

John Salmons (33 pts, 13-23 fg, 6-6 ft, 4 rbs, 2 blks) had his best scoring game of the 2010-11 season against the Nuggets. The Bucks treated Salmons the way the Nuggets treat Carmelo Anthony (get him the damn ball), and for the most part Salmons was gliding in and out of the lane and hitting jumpers from anywhere on the court.

Corey Maggette (16 pts, 4-12 fg, 7-9 ft, 5 rbs) had a typical Corey Maggette night, complete with a short three point shot, followed by an airballed three, followed by 33% of the Bucks’ total number of triples. Maggette’s jumper simply wasn’t working the way it has over the past few months, which could be a sign that his old self has returned.

Andrew Bogut (3 pts, 1-7 fg, 1-4 ft, 20 rbs, 5 blks) threw up the most Ben Wallace-like stat line of his career against the Denver Nuggets. Bogut was used sparingly, despite his 45 minutes of floor time, and spent most of his energy protecting the paint against Denver’s athletic wings. (Frank Madden at Brew Hoop deserves credit for the analogy.)

The All-Star Break couldn’t have come faster for the hobbled, underachieving Milwaukee Bucks. Given the lack of strength in the Eastern Conference, it’s still plausible the Bucks would make the playoffs and even make things interesting if they go on a run similar to last year.

Even a Las Vegas addict wouldn’t take that bet, but it’s still there given Milwaukee’s ability to hang with decent teams long enough to shoot themselves in the foot a couple times.

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