by Troy A. Sparks
When the Milwaukee Bucks were treated like any other NBA road team and served the equivalent of chopped liver in their first two games away from home, the fans welcomed them back for some home cooking.
In one game they could’ve had won and another in which a former Buck stuck it to them, the home opener at the Bradley Center last Saturday was perfect timing.
We didn’t know what to expect from the Bucks in the first two games. They are the talk of the town, and some media have them winning the Central Division.
It’s too bad that the games aren’t played on paper. The Bucks had a chance to win their opening game at New Orleans against the Hornets, Oct. 27, but came up short on a 95-91 loss. Two days later, at Minnesota, ex-Buck Luke Ridnour helped the Timberwolves defeat the Bucks, 96-85, Oct. 29.
So with the team down 0-2 and playing against another 0-2 team in the Charlotte Bobcats, I knew that either team would walk out of the BC with their first victory.
What I noticed about the Bucks’ home opener was the playoff-type atmosphere in the building. The place was loud. We’ll see how many pro-Buck fans are there are when the heavyweights like Miami, Orlando, the L.A. Lakers and Boston come to town.
I liked that the team kept the “Work Hard, Play Hard” slogan. It represents the blue-collar work ethic we have in this city that suggests nothing is handed to you. If you want something, you have to earn it.
During the game, I kept looking at two things: the new scoreboard, which looked like a high definition screen, and Bobcats coach Larry Brown. By the way, there was no sign of Michael Jordan, who’s the majority owner of the team, in the building.
Brown has been coaching forever, since before I was born. He might coach until he’s 80 years old. Maybe he ignored the doctor’s orders to slow down, but why would he? He would get bored. His players know where he stands, and if they don’t like it, he’ll help them get out of dodge. MJ will back Brown up, because, you know, they’re part of the “Carolina” family, which include those who played or coached under legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith.
Bucks head coach Scott Skiles started four of his players from last year (Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, Carlos Delfino) and forward Drew Gooden. After playing almost the first four minutes of the first quarter, Gooden was substituted for forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He sat until the 10 minute 16 second mark of the second quarter.
Milwaukee needed more defense on the court, and we got tired of seeing Charlotte running up and down the court. For a moment, I couldn’t believe that the Bobcats, whose starters averaged 28.6 years of age, outran the younger Bucks. Their starting five averaged 26.5 years.
It’s one thing for the Bucks to have a deep roster and another for all the players that were acquired over the summer to learn the system. Even though Mbah a Moute didn’t start, he got more minutes at the power forward position (35) than Gooden (13). It’s about which players on the court that Skiles is comfortable with at that time.
“(Mbah a Moute) comes in with his defensive presence,” Skiles said. “He knows everything we’re trying to do. Obviously, we still have some kinks to work out because we have half a new team, but he knows everything we’re trying to do.”
Many of the fans wore costumes to the game, which seemed to disguise the Bucks and their 46-36 record from last season. If the expectations are higher this season, this team will have to take off the mask and show who they really are.
Jennings isn’t showing the sophomore jinx yet. He has more weapons on the team, so taking over a game isn’t always necessary. But just in case the need arises, he’ll do it.
What stood out in Jennings’ game against the Bobcats were his ball distribution, rebounding and scoring, which all added up to his first career triple-double. He had 20 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. Delfino led the team with 23 points.
“Keyon (Dooling) had told me when I came out in the fourth quarter that I was one (assist) shy away,” Jennings said. “I was still trying to win the game. I said, ‘Hey, if it happens, it happens.’
“I remember last year (in Philadelphia) when I had 17 (points), nine (rebounds) and nine (assists). Man, I forgot is name already, Dan Gadzuric. He took the rebound from me and then he missed the layup on the other end. That’s why I came up short a little bit last year.”
If Jennings forgot who some of his teammates were from last year, it’ll take him a while to get used to all the new faces on the team this year.
One player from last year that was missing in action was forward Ersan Ilyasova. He played some good ball over the summer in helping his country of Turkey win a medal in the FIBA World Championships. Over in the States, however, he played the last 58 seconds of the home opener. It’s really not a punishment for Ilyasova, according to Skiles, and he’s not in the doghouse. The 6-foot-10 player is going through a shooting slump right now. The Bucks got their first win with a 98-88 final, Jennings got his trifecta and the fans left the BC happy.