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Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012

Prescription: A 2010 Dose of Teamwork

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The Bucks are back to life without Andrew Bogut now that the hard-luck center has added a broken ankle to his medical résumé. Can the season be salvaged?

Artie
: What a surprise, huh? It's just ridiculous.

Frank
: Even worse, Bogut was hurt while the team was starting to click. That game in Houston was their third straight road win. And in their first two games without him, they battled pretty well in Chicago and then knocked off the Lakers at home.

Artie
: I don't know what snakes live in Australia, but Andrew's sure been bitten.

Frank
: This injury really was a fluke from landing on another guy's foot. Same with the right-arm disaster he suffered in April 2010 when he was bumped during a dunk.

Artie
: Fluky, but so what? For all the good it does them, Bogut might as well be in a full body cast.

Frank
: Over the six seasons prior to this one, Bogut played in just over 80% of the Bucks' total games. But this will be four straight seasons with major time lost.

Artie
: He's only 27, but the damage ain't gonna help in the future. And remember, he does seem to have one chronic condition, a lower-back thing that flares up every so often.

Frank
: Well, did the nice win over the Lakers make you feel more optimistic?

Artie
: Nice indeed, but they were fortunate they had a 50% shooting night against a bigger team that out-rebounded them. Their downfall the night before was all the second-chance points by the Bulls.

Frank
: The Lakers had 16 offensive rebounds and the Bulls had 20. That's a problem likely to persist while Bogut's gone. But the way the Bucks topped the Lakers—defensive intensity, great ball movement on offense—reminded me of two years ago when they surged into the playoffs.

Artie
: That's the way it had to be, especially with two guys missing, thanks to Stephen Jackson's suspension for jawing at a ref in Chicago.

Frank
: Everybody stepped up, and they'll have to keep doing it.

Artie
: Shaun Livingston has been a terrific acquisition, so much energy and an excellent passer. Beno Udrih is a great backup for Brandon Jennings at the point. And Jennings is much improved; he's shooting 44% this season after being under 40% his first two years.

Frank
: Mike Dunleavy is another team-oriented, unselfish player. And another good passer.

Artie
: Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova played great against the Bulls and Lakers. Gooden seems to have found a fountain of youth; he's regained some quickness. Ilyasova had 19 rebounds in Houston; he's always active, one of those 110% effort guys.

Frank
: Same with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who was nose-to-nose with Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter.

Artie
: And I can't say enough about the rookie from UW, Jon Leuer. He had 19 points in Chicago on 9-for-11 shooting, and they were all wisely chosen shots.

Frank
: It'll be a real grind with this condensed NBA schedule. The only way they'll succeed is the 2010 way, “one for all.”

Artie
: For me the jury's still out as to what Jackson's pluses and minuses will be.

Frank
: They've won two games now without his help. He was a spectator when they beat the Knicks because he missed a shoot-around.

Artie
: It's not clear if he'll hurt team chemistry the way Corey Maggette apparently did last season. But if they can get consistent production from the bench like they did against the Lakers, they'll be fun to watch.

Frank
: Even at 8-11 the Bucks began the week No. 8 in the Eastern Conference. Making the playoffs is better than not making 'em, and if Bogut recovers on the quick end of the eight- to 12-week timetable, he might be rarin' to go by then.

Artie
: Then Scott Skiles might ease off on that Junior G-Man face of his. He's always got that scowl, like he's thinking, “Who on this team just swiped that old lady's purse?”

Frank
: Speaking of mad-faces, ever since we poked a little fun at “Count Bo-cula,” Mr. Ryan's Badgers have been on a roll.

Artie
: Marquette, too. UW entered this week with a five-game winning streak and MU made it six straight with the comeback at Villanova. They're in the thick of their conference races, MU at 7-2 in the Big East and the Badgers at 6-3 in the Big Ten.

Frank
: UW won at Illinois and beat Indiana when the Hoosiers were ranked higher. The Badgers still have two games against Ohio State, the first this Saturday at home, and they have to play at Michigan State on the 16th.

Artie
: They beat Indiana even though they still weren't shooting well—23% on three-pointers. But at least their free-throw percentage was 79%; they'd been struggling with that—very odd for a Ryan team.

Frank
: Marquette, meanwhile, stayed hot-and-cold even in the wins over Pitt, Louisville and Villanova. They were down 18-2 to Louisville and 30-12 to 'Nova. When they're bad, they're really bad, but they sure know how to roar back.

Artie
: You watch the way MU plays, like it's a fire drill all the time, and you think, how can their record be so good? But they never back off!

Frank
: MU has tough games at Notre Dame on Saturday and at UConn on the 18th—but the Golden Eagles can play with anybody.

Artie
: And let's not forget UWM, near the top of the Horizon League at 7-4. The Panthers are having a nice year, too.

Prince's Plus-Sized Deal


Frank
: The Tigers came out of nowhere to grab Prince Fielder for a mere $214 million over nine years. Your reaction?

Artie
: First, I can't tell you how much I'll miss all those monstrous home runs with nobody on base.

Frank
: Come on, he must have been driving in somebody besides himself all those years.

Artie
: Well, I'm glad he didn't go to the Cubs or Cardinals, or anywhere in the National League. And it makes sense for the Tigers.

Frank
: Maybe not nine years' worth of sense, though.

Artie
: Apparently, the Tigers only got involved a couple of weeks ago, when their DH, Victor Martinez, tore up a knee.

Frank
: The Journal Sentinel story said they made a one-year offer and when agent Scott Boras spurned it—no doubt with a big laugh—“talks accelerated” to the nine-year deal.

Artie
: From one to nine ain't acceleration; it's warp speed!

Frank
: The owner, Mike Ilitch, wasn't really thinking long-term. He decided, in effect, “I want to win now and I don't much care if Prince breaks down eventually."

Artie
: Well, he's 82. His future is definitely now!

Frank
: But so many other owners leap into long-term deals, especially with pitchers, that are almost sure to go sour. And they knock the entire salary structure out of whack. Philly just signed Hunter Pence for this year for $10 million-plus. He had a nice 2011, but $10 million for Hunter Pence?

Artie
: Prince won't be as comfy in April and September as he was under the Miller Park roof. And Comerica Park is no hitter's haven, ain'a?

Frank
: That reputation has been fading. It was true when it opened in 2000, and in 2003 they moved the fences in—but only in left field and left-center. Right field wasn't the concern, and the distances there are shorter than at Miller Park—330 in right (345 here) and 365 in right-center (374 here).

Artie
: Prince and Miguel Cabrera should produce a lot of runs, but they'll give some back with their defense, assuming Cabrera shifts from first to third. Even in the rosiest of views, they're barely average in the field.

Frank
: At least the infield won't tilt if the big fellas are in opposite corners.

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