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Archive for August, 2010

Contributing to BrewHoop

I’m excited to announce that my first post as a contributor to the excellent SBNation Bucks blog – Brewhoop.com – is up on the front page! Big thanks to Frank Madden for inviting me to write for them.

Check it out here.

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Ummm…awesome.

Got this from Twitter via @dimemag. I don’t think a backcourt featuring these two guys would be particularly great, but who cares? This is sweet.

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After I put together my original post in this series, focusing on the March 20th game in Denver, it was suggested that the previous night may have been an even better game – a 114-108 win over the Sacramento Kings in double-overtime. I’m hesitant to agree for two reasons: First, Denver was a much better team than Sacramento last year. Tyreke Evans was fantastic last season, but he was the Kings’ best player, while Denver has a top-15 player overall and a top-10 point guard. Second, like I mentioned, there were just so many superficial things working against Milwaukee in Denver.

Still, this one was pretty sweet. From the mouth of Jennings: “Right now, it’s not about me, it’s about my teammates.” Fine sentiment from a rookie PG, but let’s be honest: getting revenge on Evans probably felt really good. Back on December 19th, ‘Reke hit a game-winner against the Bucks that was still stinging in Bucks fans. This time, instead of finishing the game with a twisting layup to steal a road win, Evans was putting his teeth back in place.

Okay, I already feel bad for writing that. Truth is, Tyreke was fun enough to watch last season that if I could, I might go back in time to warn him of the Deadly Flying Turkish Elbow Assassin. Maybe. On that note, I would definitely…

  1. Place a bean-bag chair underneath Bogut as he crashes to the floor during the Phoenix game. Hell, I think there are a decent number of Atlanta fans who would do the same if they saw his fall.
  2. Do something to get Jennings one more rebound and assist in his debut, because, come on, a triple-double in his debut!? Totally worth obliterating the space-time continuum.
  3. Move Bogut 3 centimeters to his left on that ridiculous Kobe Bryant blocking call. It should have been a charge anyway, but I’ll just go ahead and make sure he’s in position down to the micron. I might also punch the ref who made the call in the face.

But back to the Sacramento game. Jennings was the undisputed star of this one, and maybe we should have seen it coming. After some serious struggles in February and early March, Jennings entered this game averaging 18/3.6/5.8 in his previous 5 games. His shooting was better, especially from range, having made 13 3s in those games. Couple that with a below-average defensive Kings team and the table was set for a big night from Mr. 55.

However, this contest played out very differently than did the Denver game. Holding a one-point lead at the half, the Bucks were seriously outplayed in the 3rd quarter, when they let Sacramento shoot 57%. The Kings went on runs of 7-2 and 11-1, the latter closing out the period after Jennings, Delfino, and Mbah a Moute were yanked.

The fourth quarter was just devastating for the Kings, though, while the Bucks executed their game beautifully. Of the Bucks’ 12 made shots in the quarter, 8 were assisted, including 4 of the 5 made 3s. Milwaukee combined this excellent ball movement with solid defensive rebounding, allowing Sacramento a 23.1 ORR in the 4th, well below their 27.8 season ORR; an impressive feat, considering Sacramento was the 6th best offensive rebounding team in the league last year. These two factors allowed the Bucks to fight back and tie the game on Ersan’s just-plain-jump-out-of-your-seat-awesome three-pointer.

The first overtime was really uneventful. Bogut did steal the ball from Beno Udrih once, which was funny.

I could take a closer look at the second overtime, but there just isn’t that much to say. Spencer Hawes was completely overpowered by Bogut and Udrih mustered the Kings only 4 points. In reality, this game should have been over in the first overtime but the Bucks’ shots weren’t falling.

So went the final result, a 6-point victory over a then-23-win team. Of course there were still problems, most notably in the free-throw department. Again. Evans earned 10 free throws himself, while the Bucks shot 23 and converted only 14 (Bogut went 1-6. Unfortunately, I think we need to accept that he’s just never going to be a very good foul shooter).

What do we take away from this one? Well, it always helps when November Jennings stuffs February Jennings in the luggage compartment of the plane on the way to the game and lights up the arena. It helps when 3 players have 20+ points and two have 10+ rebounds. As far as the more analytical factors go, Milwaukee managed to hold down Sacramento’s ORR, shoot well from 3-point range, and…score more points. Sometimes it’s just as easy as having your hot-shot rookie go nuts.

Note: I usually have a Google Chrome window open with about 17 tabs while writing these things. I should note that I make frequent use of Popcorn Machine’s Game Flows and Hoopdata’s Advanced Box Scores, along with other reference sites.

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Okay, that title might be misleading. It’s not really a “swap” but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that the Bucks are nearing a one-year deal with Earl Boykins to return to Milwaukee as the 3rd string point guard. With the Buck’s roster already assumed to be filled at 15, it’s likely this means the end for someone else. That someone is probably going to be second-round pick Tiny Gallon.

Gallon didn’t exactly wow the organization in Summer League, but I’ve been stressing the value of his skillset from the moment the Bucks drafted him with the 47th pick. A big, strong guy who can shoot fairly well is nothing to overlook. Conditioning was the biggest question coming into the draft, and after Vegas wrapped up, the doubt remained.

I think Tiny’s got D-League written all over him. The SBNation blog for the NBA Development League is called Ridiculous Upside, which is the best thing Tiny has going for him aside from this (Can we quickly remark on how much Willie Warren screwed up that entry pass? You never leave your feet to pass DUDE). Tiny needs to get used to the pace and style of NBA games. A little work to get into better game shape could go a long way for him. According to his agent, Tiny could be looking at a gig in Europe too. Not a bad idea, and this would work out well for the Bucks since they retain his rights while he improves his play.

As far as Boykins goes, he’s not getting a deal so he can play. He’s getting a deal because Hammond has nightmares if his team doesn’t have 3 point guards on the roster. The Bucks’ management team has apparently decided the best way to ensure improvement in Jennings’ play is to surround him with a posse of small veteran point guards. They’re this close to using the colonial child matchmaking method of binding them together with bedsheets and making them sleep together. Of course, in this case the objective is to improve Jennings’ jumpshot, not make him fall in love.

Boykins is primarily an outside shooter, and while it would be nice to have somebody show Jennings how to attack the rim to greater effect, Boykins was a popular guy in his last Milwaukee stint and should serve as a good influence on Brandon. He’s also pretty, umm…short (I’m four inches taller than him), but has a repuation as a pretty strong guy for his size. With Jennings being a scrawney dude too, there are probably a few pointers to be had as far as physicality is concerned.

Anyway, a transaction involving a free agent signing to a veteran-minimum contract and a second-round pick is pretty much the least-important news capable of eliciting a discussion. If this move were a trade, and you stuck it into ESPN’s Trade Machine, Robo-Hollinger would likely reply, “You have not affected either team’s projected win total.”

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Good News Tar Heels!

Word has it Favre is coming back. Bad News first: the Packers are probably no longer the NFC North favorites. Good News (for North Carolina, anyway): The North Carolina Men’s Basketball Team is currently 2-0 on days when Brett Favre retires. If I know anything about the predictive power of 2-game streaks, the Tar Heels can look forward to another Favre-blessed victory!

But seriously, screw Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. Can’t wait for his next season-crushing interception.

More on basketball later.

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Season Opener: Oct. 27 @ New Orleans

The Bucks split the series with New Orleans 1-1 last season, winning big at home and losing in OT in the Big Easy. They were lucky enough to not face Chris Paul in either game, although Darren Collison showed his mettle in Paul’s place. The OT loss was a nasty one, with the Bucks taking a lead into the final minute but letting it slip away. Assuming the team is healthy, I think Milwaukee has a good shot at opening the year with a victory, especially given the turmoil in New Orleans over the past few months.

Home Opener: Oct. 30 vs. Charlotte

Another series split (2-2) last year, and another OT loss. Both teams won their home games, but the Bucks came this close to grabbing a game in Charlotte before Stephen Jackson hit a 3-pointer in the final minute of overtime April 2nd. The loss on December 28th was a particular disaster. Mired in a horrible stretch, Bogut and Redd (yes, he did play a couple games last year) were benched for the second half after miserable performances. Charlotte is probably a better team than New Orleans, but they won’t have the talent on their roster next year like Milwaukee will (holy crap, did I just say that?). They certainly won’t be as deep, and if they walk into the Bradley Center with a mind to start D.J. Augustine at PG, I will laugh maliciously as Mr. 55 demolishes him.

Incidentally, a computerized D.J. Augustine once lit up my roommate and I in a game of NBA Live, an occurrence that defied all logic and natural laws in the universe. In retaliation, we nerfed all of his in-game ratings to about 15. Sweet Justice.

Nastiest 5-game stretch: Dec. 28 @Chicago, Jan. 1 vs. Dallas, Jan. 4 @Miami, Jan. 5 @Orlando, Jan. 7 vs. Miami

Dear NBA-God, What has our fair city done to offend thee so?

This is absolute murder. Start in Chicago against a retooled Bulls team that should probably be the favorites in the Central and might be the 3rd best team in the East on the second night of a back-to-back. Then it’s just a home game against a top-3 Western Conference team stacked with veterans. And then it really gets tough. A road/road back-to-back against the South Beasts and the 2nd best team in the East is probably the most difficult feasible pairing of games you could find (actually, that’s kind of an interesting question in itself – most difficult-yet-realistically-schedule-able pair of games possible?). To wrap it up, Milwaukee will play host to the Heat two days later, just in case they weren’t sore enough from their previous run-ins with the Floridians. I really think a 1-4 record would be nice in this stretch, 2-3 would be great, 3-2 amazing, 4-1 miraculous, and 5-0 would almost certainly warrant a segment on PTI in which Michael Wilbon would talk about how the Bucks’ deep and talented roster makes such a run unremarkable and Tony Kornheiser would explode. If such a feat were completed, I would skip class for a week to organize Carlos Delfino’s congressional campaign.

Easiest, Breeziest 10-game stretch: Jan. 29 – Feb. 14: New Jersey, @LA Clippers, @Phoenix, @Golden State, Detroit, Toronto, @Washington, @Memphis, Indiana, LA Clippers

Aside from Phoenix, none of these teams were in the playoffs last season, and they bring a meager .354 winning percentage in from last year (again, not counting Phoenix). There are three back-to-back pairs, but only one is road/road. Any NBA game is easy to lose, and teams like the Clippers and Nets should be significantly better this year than last, but this is a span of games that could very well see the Bucks go 9-1 if they play to potential. Assuming, of course, they have recovered from getting mauled by that 5-headed hellhound in early January.

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And now a foray into the other professional sport with a home in Milwaukee. If you have no interest in baseball at all, consider yourself warned, but the story I’m elucidating here goes way beyond America’s pastime.

This past Saturday I went to a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Houston Astros. Not the most compelling series in the MLB, but I’d never turn down live baseball in Miller Park. I expected to have a good time, sure, but I never expected it to be (and I’m not exaggerating here) one of the best sporting events I’ve ever attended.

Couldn’t ask for a better start. Rickie Weeks leads off with an inside-the-park home run. I will never, NEVER see another one of those in-person as long as I live, barring some unprecedented level of success that sees me acquiring season tickets for the Brewers, a development that would only occur after I first acquired Bucks season tickets (please oh please oh please oh please). End up leaving the first inning with a 2-0 lead.

The game continues. Hits here and there, nothing big. Wolf pitches pretty well. 4-0. 4-2. KOTTARAS! 5-2.

Then – for lack of a better phrase – the magic happened.

The crowd started to realize what was unfolding in the 8th inning, when a peek into the Brewers’ bullpen revealed a familiar face in an unfamiliar setting. Trevor Hoffman was loosening up for a 9th inning appearance. With a three-run lead. The career leader in saves was preparing to go for number 597 for the first time in three months.

When the top of the 9th rolled around, a really amazing sight took shape. With the ringing of a bell booming across the outfield, Trevor Hoffman jogged the 360-some feet from the Brewers bullpen to the pitchers mound – alone. The rest of the Brewers’ defense waited and watched from the top of the dugout stairs while he took his old post on the dirt. The roaring of AC/DC was nothing compared to the cheers from the Milwaukee faithful as their old friend crossed the grass, simultaneously alone and part of a family 39,000 strong. It was, in every sense, a spectacle. When Hoffman’s last pitch made its way into Prince Fielder’s glove, there was a celebration of much more than Milwaukee’s 52nd win.

So it went that night, at least. Because as much as it looked like the closer of old had returned, there is just as strong a chance that it was little more than luck. The margin for error is thin, but it can be split one night and come back to haunt you the next.

As I listened to the radio on the way home, I heard a little talk about Trevor’s future, even in what’s left of this season. Could he break 600 in a Milwaukee uniform? Is it worth giving him the opportunity to do so, even if he may not be the right person for the job each night? Should he be traded for whatever we can get? If the ultimate goal for the Brewers organization is the building of a competitive team with future potential, such a trade might be worthwhile at almost any return. But I had to admit that the moment Trevor Hoffman emerged from behind the left-center field wall at Miller Park was undoubtedly a moment worth something. It was the kind of moment that transcended the game being played; it was independent of the score, each team’s record, or the money they had spent to get there. It was a moment to celebrate triumph and redemption without fear of the consequences. For a minute, every fan was thankful to be there because they knew it was special.

Trevor Hoffman might fall apart again the rest of the year. Even if he does, I have him to thank for one of the coolest experiences I had ever been part of as a professional sports fan.

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