by Troy Sparks
Usually in April, there are two things to pay attention to as sports fans until the end of the month: the beginning of the major league baseball season and the end of the NBA regular season.
The Milwaukee Brewers began their quest for another division title and the Milwaukee Bucks are in the hunt for the final spot of the playoffs. The Brewers lost on Opening Day, April 6, but the fans didn’t care. They just wanted to soak in the excitement. The Crew won the second of the three-game series, April 7, against the St. Louis Cardinals and lost the season-opening series on Easter Sunday.
An amazing thing happened to the Bucks that same weekend in their back-to-back home games, April 6-7. They beat the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trailblazers to reach the .500 mark at 28-28.
“We had a chance to get to .500 in Detroit (Feb. 3) and stumbled badly,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said before the Portland game. “It has nothing to do with the record. It has to do with the playoff hunt and they’re not out of it. So it’s a big game for both teams.”
The Blazers have to catch the Houston Rockets, who didn’t play last Saturday. Their 116-94 loss to the Bucks at the Bradley Center left them with a 27-30 record. They took a step backwards on the Rockets, who were 29-25, to end the week of April 1.
We’re not worried about the Blazers. We want to catch the New York Knicks, who also didn’t play last Saturday. They were 28-27, so the Bucks gained half a game on them. The pivotal game with the Knicks will take place at the BC on April 11 in the middle of a crucial week of home games thrown in with a road game at Detroit, April 13.
The Bucks won all four of their games the first week of April, which also included wins at Washington and at home against Cleveland. The Oklahoma City game, April 9, at the beginning of the week and the Indiana game at home on April 14 to end the six-game homestand should give the club an outlook of the odds of making the postseason when it’s said and done.
“When you’re on the outside looking in, which is where we are right now, we’re dependent on our own performance, obviously, to win games,” Skiles said. “But if we win every game, New York wins every game and Philly wins every game, we’re not getting in. That’s the nature of it, which couldn’t happen because we play those teams. We’ve got to win the games.”
It was important for the Bucks to get a good start in the game against Portland to establish some control. To sum it all up, they led 33-31 after a quarter. At halftime, they trailed 63-54. Reserve forward Larry Sanders had a monster second half with his high energy and 14 points off the bench and guard Beno Udrih’s 21 points, which tied for the game-high with Brandon Jennings and Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, helped the Bucks run away with the 22-point win.
“We outrebounded them and we moved the ball well in the second half,” Udrih said. “With better defense comes some easy layups on the fast break. That’s what helped us get a win.” The Bucks had an 18-10 advantage in fast break points.
With 10 games remaining in the regular season, four are against teams with losing records (Detroit, Washington, New Jersey and Toronto). The other six (Oklahoma City, New York, Indiana (home and away), Philadelphia and Boston will determine if they make it into the month of May and the playoffs or stay home. The sense of urgency for the Bucks to get into playoff mode where every game counts from here on out is now.
As for the Brewers, they had sellouts in each of their two home games so far, totaling 88,170, but where were the fans on Easter Sunday? Maybe they had better things to do on that day. There were plenty of empty seats in the upper deck and only 33,211 people at Miller Park, bringing the total attendance for the three games to 121,381.
With the payroll reaching $100 million plus, the Brewers should have enough talent to win the NL Central again. Some media experts put the Crew behind the Reds and Cards. Adding an extra wild card team in each league in a one game format should motivate them to keep playing into October and possibility November.
Yovani Gallardo got the ball on Opening Day. St. Louis chased him out of the game on their way to an 11-5 win. Starting pitcher Zack Grienke, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks helped the Crew beat the Cards 6-0 in the second game of the series. The Redbirds sent pitcher Randy Wolf to an early shower in the series finale. He gave up nine hits and three runs with seven strikeouts in the 9-3 loss.
“You look to have a 1-2-3 inning and it just didn’t happen,” Wolf said. “Every inning was a battle. (The Cardinals) put a lot of really good at-bats together. Right now, they’re swinging the bat really well.”
By the ninth inning, you could hear a pin drop. It was that quiet during that stretch when the Cardinals slapped the ball all over the park with 14 hits to take two out of three and outscore the Crew, 20-14. The Brewers will have to work out their problems on the road at Chicago and Atlanta. And when they come back, they will have the crowd behind them and lots of chances in their nine-game homestand, the longest of the year, to establish a team identity by the Memorial Day weekend.