What the Bucks should do when the lockout ends

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This is the final installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Our final team is the Milwaukee Bucks. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last season: I, and the other eighteen to twenty bloggers who recommended the Bucks as a league-pass must last season would like to apologize for subjecting any readers who followed that advice and were subsequently forced to watch the Bucks’ offense.

The Bucks plummeted in 2010-2011. Not so much in record, they only lost eleven more games. But there was a phenomenal drop in performance. Andrew Bogut never really recovered from “the injury which shall not be mentioned,” Brandon Jennings fought injuries and regressed, all of the free agents the Bucks brought in that people were worried they overpaid for somehow managed to underperform low expectations. It was bad, all over. The “has Skiles lost this team?” meme is already taking shape, ready for an explosion if the Bucks don’t get things right next year.

The defense held, though. The Bucks were fourth in defensive rating in 2010, they were fourth in defensive rating in 2011. But nothing else developed for them, they didn’t get the contributions they needed, they didn’t make the playoffs.

Since we last saw the Bucks: The biggest change for the Bucks was their draft day trade. They moved down to pick up Tobias Harris, traded their higher pick in the three-way deal with Sacramento and Charlotte, and moved Corey Maggette for Stephen Jackson. Jackson for Maggette isn’t much of a switch outside of Jackson’s superior defense and leadership. They also added Beno Udrih. Still, it might have been nice to see the Bucks make a more substantial move forward. Michael Redd’s finally off the books so they may have cap room under the new system, except for owing Drew Gooden a ton more money over nearly a half decade. Ersan Ilyasoava returned to Turkey with no opt-out, which is just depressing. (Update: Frank Madden of BrewHoop informed me he has an NBA opt-out but is hoping the Bucks won’t make him return. Which is almost more depressing.)

When the lockout ends, the Bucks need to: Stay aggressive in improving. The Bucks have questions to answer and elements to improve.

Brandon Jennings holds the key to their future. Jennings has illustrated a significant commitment to improvement this summer, both in his personal branding and on the floor. The former may seem immaterial, but if it translates to confidence and maturity, that will help Jennings. Of course, what would be more helpful would be lower turnover rates and a higher field goal percentage. Jennings has to become more than a highlight reel; he has to learn the value of efficiency.

From there, the Bucks have to hope Bogut gets his health back. Bogut’s immovable if not, and he’s their guy. When right, Bogut is a defensive player of the year candidate with some great offensive skills. The Bucks can’t do much if he never recovers from the elbow thing we’re not going to talk about because I get queasy just thinking about it.

Moving Gooden and Jackson would be in their best interest, but given Skiles’ need for veterans and the size of the money left on their contracts, it’s unlikely (though one will probably be used on the amnesty). There doesn’t seem to be a plan in Milwaukee given the step backwards last season. Perhaps the team simply feels that if injuries had been different, they would have made the playoffs. But if the Bucks want to really build towards a championship, they need to get a core of players that can stick and not fill-in veterans.

The Bucks could move substantially forward in free agency and through trades. Or they could simply stay in the middle of the pack and hope for lightning in a bottle. So many ifs for Milwaukee at this point.

Knicks shut out Carmelo Anthony in 2nd half, beat Thunder 111-96

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden was much like the 6 1/2 years he spent playing for the Knicks.

A video played on the overhead scoreboard as part of a huge welcome from the fans and franchise, followed by a fast start that gave Anthony hope he could have everything he wanted.

Then things fell flat until the finish.

The Knicks shut out their former All-Star in the second half and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-96 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me, coming back here knowing the goal that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” Anthony said.

Michael Beasley tied his season high with 30 points in place of injured Kristaps Porzingis, and Doug McDermott, acquired with Enes Kanter for Anthony, added 11 of his 13 after halftime to help the Knicks break open the game.

“This game was kind (of) about him and I thought we did a really good job of not letting that distract us and just focus on winning the game,” McDermott said. “And it felt great, especially being a part of the trade (with) Enes.

Anthony scored 12 points in the first half but was 0 for 5 after, perhaps low on energy after the Thunder’s three-overtime victory at Philadelphia a night earlier.

He made a 3-pointer for the Thunder’s first basket of the game after refocusing following a video tribute that caught him off guard, but finished 5 of 18 from the field as the Knicks played with passion and precision they lacked in Anthony’s final years in New York.

“You got to beat the best to be the best,” Beasley said. “He’s one of the best of our era.”

Russell Westbrook had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who were trying to sweep a three-game trip that began with Paul George‘s winning return to Indiana on Wednesday.

But they couldn’t deliver a victory for Anthony back at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks playing without leading scorer Porzingis because of a knee injury.

“I think the guys just, they were ready for tonight’s game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And we caught them after a triple-overtime game so that probably helped us too, but our guys played hard all night which probably wore them down.”

Anthony received a pair of loud cheers during pregame introductions, before and at the end of a video tribute showing his highlights on the court and his charitable efforts off it that was played after the first four Thunder starters were announced. But the boos became more noticeable once play got underway, and soon they were coming every time he touched the ball.

“That was expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me, I’m on another team.”

Later, the cheers were all for the Knicks, who after trading their leading scorer on the eve of training camp are a surprising 16-13 – better than Anthony’s new team (14-15). Anthony was booed one last time as he was removed with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Beasley had a hand in 12 of the Knicks’ final 15 points of the third quarter, scoring nine himself and assisting on Ron Baker‘s 3-pointer. That turned a two-point lead into an 80-73 advantage over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the period.

The Knicks pushed it into double digits in the fourth behind five straight points from McDermott – originally it was six by a 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after review – and he later made it 100-87 with a 3-pointer with 6:02 remaining.

The Thunder played without starting center Steven Adams because of a concussion.

 

Manu Ginobili game-winner caps 13-0 closing run to rally Spurs past Mavericks

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — At 40 years old, Manu Ginobili‘s refusal to slow down in his 16th season with the Spurs has been a source of inspiration to the team’s young core.

The man and the mantra helped propel San Antonio to an improbable victory over Dallas on Saturday night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Spurs scored the final 13 points of the game, rallying for a 98-96 victory over the Mavericks.

Aldridge’s fall-away, 11-foot jumper tied the game at 96 with 23.4 seconds remaining and Ginobili’s driving layup with 3.1 seconds was the game-winning shot.

“He’s our grandpa,” 21-year-old Dejounte Murray said, chuckling afterwards. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”

Ginobili’s layup off the left side of the glass gave the Spurs their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 16 points.

“We did a lot of good things, but the ending is unforgiveable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Maxi Kleber had 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for Dallas in the final regular season matchup between the Southwest Division rivals.

Kleber’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 96-85 lead with 4:11 remaining, but the Spurs held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

The Mavericks drought included a turnover when Wes Matthews was unable to inbound the ball with 23.4 seconds remaining. Mathews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a 5-second violation, but the Spurs gained possession when the ball ricocheted off Matthews just as he stepped inbounds.

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki said. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds. Letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Aldridge had his 12th double-double of the season to help offset the absences of starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Coming off a 15-point blowout in Houston on Friday night, San Antonio was able to avoid its third straight loss.

“We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now and I don’t think we got anything out of it,” Ginobili said. “So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would’ve been a tough one. We are proud of this win.”

The Spurs missed their first five shots, all short jumpers from Aldridge and Pau Gasol, on their way to shooting 30 percent in the opening quarter. The Mavericks took advantage, charging to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter.

San Antonio’s reserves reversed the team’s fortunes in the third quarter.

Davis Bertans finished with 13 points and Ginobili added 12 off the bench.

 

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.

Carmelo Anthony standing ovation in return to Madison Square Garden

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Knicks fans may have had their frustrations with Carmelo Anthony, but they know how much he has meant to the franchise over the years. He pushed to be a Knick and chose to stay, he carried the franchise for years.

Saturday night he returned to Madison Square Garden in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform after a trade this summer, and he was welcomed with a retrospective video followed by a standing ovation from the crowd (you can see all of it above).

Well done Knicks fans. Well done.