Poor Milwaukee. Things were starting to look up. Michael Redd was leading the league in scoring at one point, Andrew Bogut was justifying the first overall pick, Charlie Villanueva was playing well, and Mo Williams was playing great, making the trade of T.J. Ford look like the right move. They were 11-6 in the month of December, and looking like a solid playoff team in the diluted East. Then the wheels came off.
Villanueva has missed half of their 40 games with a series of injuries, including the last 9 with shoulder tendonitis. Mo Williams sprained his shoulder in January and has missed the last 6 games. And former Clipper Bobby Simmons was lost before the season even began.
But the big loss is Redd. When he strained his knee on January 5 and was lost for up to 6 weeks, it was more than this team could overcome. They've lost 6 of the 7 games since his injury, and 8 of 9 overall.
Williams and Villanueva could be back at any time (though they are doubtful against the Clippers) but it won't matter: Redd is the heart and soul of the team. He was averaging 27.7 points before he was hurt, including games of 57 and 45, and a handful of 30+ nights.
Without him, the Bucks will find it difficult scoring. Bogut has tried to step it up with the other starters all missing. He put together 3 straight double doubles last week, including a 20 point, 24 rebound game against the Sixers. But he just doesn't have a lot of help.
The Bucks starting lineup in their last game was Earl Boykins (recently acquired from Denver), Charlie Bell, Ruben Patterson, Ersan Ilyasova and Bogut. Boykins, the former Clipper, is a lot of fun to watch at a mere 5'5" but really shouldn't be starting in the NBA. Bell had a couple good games last year, and Patterson is Patterson - a nice enough player who never really seemed to have a position - is he a 6'5" power forward? Is he a wing with no jump shot? Ilyasova is a 19 year old from Turkey who likes to shoot threes, though he's made fewer than 30% of his attempts this season. I can't decide whether to call him a `Young Buck' or a `Young Turk.' They're both equally correct. Anyway, you get the idea. These aren't the 72 Lakers.
By the way, the `storylines' abound in this game. Cassell and Thomas both played for the Bucks the last time they were good. MDSr played for the Bucks in the 80s and coached them in the 90s. Boykins, Simmons and Brian Skinner are all former Clippers. Skinner was part of the trade that brought Elton Brand to LA.
As for the Clippers, MDSr has settled on a starting lineup... for the fifth time... unless I've lost count. And it's the one he used at the end of last season, and throughout the playoffs. What are the odds? Obviously injuries had something to do with going away from this lineup, but it is a little strange that it took so long to get back to it. Especially when you consider the success the Clippers have had with it, and not just last season. This starting lineup of Cassell, Mobley, Ross, Brand and Kaman is 7-3 this season. Throw in the Suns win where Thomas started in place of a healthy Kaman for matchup reasons, and the Clippers are 8-3 with Cassell starting at the point and Kaman healthy. That's plus 5 for a team that is minus 2 overall. Seems like the lineup they should be playing.
Of course, I'm on record as saying that Livingston should be the starter and Cassell should be the closer. I think there's great validity in that approach, and it will certainly be dangerous to allow 37 year old Cassell's minutes to increase too much - it's just more important to have him at the end of games than the beginning. But it's hard to argue with success. Of course, if MDSr would just replace Mobley with Maggette, he'd have the starting lineup that I would use. But although he's tried 13 different combinations this season, that doesn't happen to be one of them. Speaking of Livingston, he was hoping to play in this game, but is now listed as doubtful due to the ankle sprain he suffered against Golden State.
As long as the Clippers show up, they should win this game. Who is going to guard Elton Brand? The Young Turk? The 6'5" Patterson? They'll probably have to go to Brian Skinner or Dan Gadzuric, but it won't matter. EB should have a field day. The Clippers need to protect the ball, work it inside and play solid defense. If they do all that, the rest will take care of itself.
Minnesota has lost 4 straight and is back at .500 after a Monday night loss to the Jazz. With a win over the Bucks, the Clippers can climb to within 1 game of .500 at the midway point of the season. It's not what we were hoping for in the first half, but as poorly as the team has played, I'm happy to be in the running for the playoffs at all.