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23 March 2010

Bucks have a mile-high stag party at Nugget’s expense


Gepost in: Uncategorized — Aaron Hotchner @ 3:16 pm

Denver, 3/20/10 – The (mostly justified) knock on the NBA’s Eastern Conference for years has been the generally lower level of competition. Hoop-heads bemoan the fact that “Leastern” Conference teams playing barely .500 ball at season’s end earn playoff spots while “Bestern” Conference teams with 45 or 50 wins to their credit end up aced out. Unfair, many say. Makes for boring playoffs, others carp. Further variations on just can’t hack it, don’t stack up, can’t stand the heat, etc. are then trotted out ad-nauseum.

Maybe the Bucks need to listen up better. Maybe their famously intense coach Mr. Scott Skiles has yelled so much at such high volume their hearing has permanently suffered. On the heels of a double OT road victory Friday night against Sacramento though, Milwaukee downed the Nuggets in Denver 102-97. Perhaps – in lieu of verbal response to Eastern Conference critics – they let their game do the talking.

Milwaukee has surprised this season, overcoming the loss of Michael Redd, a several-times All-Star selection, to boast a 37-30 record. Behind the strong play of rookie point guard Brandon Jennings & Andrew Bogut, the Bucks are now eyeing a playoff spot. Jennings, first NBA player drafted after playing professionally in Europe (after his senior year in high school that is) turned heads when he blew up for 55 points (in just three quarters) back in November. Bogut has endured growing pains since drafted number one overall in ’05 to reach his current puissance in the center’s position, averaging about 16 points, ten boards, & two assists.

Crucial as Bogut & Jennings have been for Milwaukee, their teammates carried the day against Denver. Perhaps wearied by the marathon in Sacramento, (Jennings scored 35 points, Bogut chipped in 21 points & 11 boards) they combined for only 11 points. Acquired mid-season from Chicago, guard John Salmons put in 26 points, including 9-9 from the free-throw line.

On playing 39 minutes the night after clocking 53, Salmons said ‘‘we knew we were under a lot of adversity, but you try to forget about that and play hard.”

Swingman Carlos Delfino also helped pick up the slack, for 21 points & seven rebounds. Three other Bucks scored in double figures, the team as whole going 46% from the field.

For their part, Denver got solid contributions, especially from scoring machine Carmelo Anthony & point guard Chauncey Billups, with both notching 29 points. Impressive no? Peel back the onion a layer on those numbers though, & you will see why Milwaukee walked out winners. The usually efficient Anthony (46%) shot a chilly 34% from the field & Billups (43% so far this season) was even colder at 29%. Both made up the bulk of their scoring on the free throw line, where Billups was 17-17 & Anthony went 9-12. As only two other Nuggets – J.R. Smith & Joey Graham – scored in double figures, for 11 & 10 points respectively, you’re left with an impression of two players dominating the ball but doing little to justify it.

Locked in a duel with the Mavericks for second place in the West, (they lead Dallas by only half a game & trail the Lakers by 4.5 games) Denver hoped this home game against a travel-tired team would work out for them. Considering their 30-5 home record this season, that wasn’t an outlandish assumption. Wise in defeat, Billups may have put his finger on Milwaukee’s edge – they reflect the character of a coach renowned for his hard-nosed style:

”I mean, that’s one of the worst teams you can play in the regular season because he has them playing hard, diving on loose balls, it doesn’t matter if they played (the night) before or not. In my times playing against his teams, I just respect him a lot because he just gets his teams playing hard every single night.”

12 March 2010

Jazz-men’s virtuoso performance leaves the Bulls cowed


Gepost in: Uncategorized — Aaron Hotchner @ 3:40 pm

Chicago, 3/9/10 – To the untrained ear, jazz music can seem a complicated endeavor. Highly skilled players improvising melodies, harmonies or time signatures at will. If they’re doing it right, you’ll never hear the same piece played the same way twice. Careful listening reveals a simple truth though – respect for the rhythm, as the elemental foundation underpinning each unique performance.

To the untrained eye, Jazz basketball can seem a boring affair. Head coach Jerry Sloan has presided for almost 21 years now, an eon compared to the eye-blink tenures most NBA head coaches experience. The players have changed, the uniforms have changed, but what the Jazz bring to the game – pick & roll offense and tough defensive – has remained the same. That framework however, provides for unlimited variation.

Discovered at the heart of the matter is the same basic principle – unite the players & you unlock their talent. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, the results are extraordinary. Just ask Chicago, who found themselves on the receiving end of a 132-108 Utah victory Tuesday night.

For several seasons now, Utah’s Deron Williams has been discussed as a top point guard currently playing. Williams showed exactly why he’s in that conversation, putting forth 28 points on frankly ridiculous 11 of 15 shooting. Further proving his case with 17 assists to one measly turnover, D-Will quarterbacked the Jazz to a win that boasted highs in points, assists, & three-point percentage by any Bulls opponent this season. Swingman C.J. Miles was the primary beneficiary of William’s generosity, considering he came in averaging 8.9 points & went out with 26 points. Like a good teammate, he gave credit where it was due:

”A couple of times, I was just standing,” Miles said. ”But most of the time, I was sliding up and down. They have to pay attention to Deron when he’s penetrating. It’s Deron Williams.”

To Miles’s credit though, he shot the lights out. Six of seven from beyond the arc, nine of twelve overall – and all done in just 19 short minutes. Efficiency like that is why the Jazz have chalked up nine road wins in their last eleven games and are a single win behind Denver to lead the Northwestern Division.

Since his rookie season (last year actually) Chicago’s Derrick Rose has been tipped as the next top point guard in the NBA. Rose showed why in the Bull’s first round playoff series against the Celtics last year, but has struggled this season. Perhaps carrying more of the scoring load after Ben Gordon’s departure or increased defensive attention by opponents has limited his effectiveness, but against the Jazz, he earned Williams’s respect.

”I always have fun competing against the best,” Williams said. ”That’s my job and I enjoy it.”

Finishing the contest with 25 points and tying his career high of 13 assists, Rose also managed four rebounds. Expressing mutual respect for Williams, Rose made certain future match-ups between the two will be worth watching:

”He’s always someone I looked up to and I thought he played real well tonight,” Rose said.

Despite 20 points from Bulls center Brad Miller to complement Rose’s scoring though, Chicago dropped their fifth straight for the second time this season. Small forward Luol Deng added 14 points, but missed the entire fourth quarter after straining his right calf muscle.

Their recent surge in the Western Conference rankings in mind, the Jazz picked the right time to being peaking. As the champion Lakers falter & the revamped Maverick’s double-digits win streak draws attention, Utah could emerge as the team nobody wants to face for five or seven games. Long, strong, defensively tough, & “in tune”, the Jazz could be making their beautiful music deep into the playoffs.

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