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Bucks’ brutal schedule eases in February

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McClatchy Tribune
February 2, 2009

On to February.


Those three words are music to the ears of the Milwaukee Bucks, who have just completed three of the more challenging months of scheduling in team history and, despite an array of obstacles and injuries, still find themselves in the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.


When the schedule first came out last summer, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to think that the Bucks would be buried deep in the standings by now. Although their 24-27 record isn’t exactly awe-inspiring, it is good enough to keep them in the thick of the Eastern playoff race with a favorable schedule ahead.


“We have a good stretch in front of us,” forward Richard Jefferson said. “The way I look at it is we’re in a pretty good spot, the eighth spot right now, and looking to move up.”


One reason the Bucks are feeling a surge of optimism these days, despite the injury to Michael Redd, is that they already have a league-high 29 road games in the books. That’s six more than Philadelphia, which holds the No. 7 position, and is at least three more than any of the teams below them in the standings. Charlotte has played only 21 road games and New York, which is right behind the Bucks in the standings, has played 23 road games.


The Bucks are done traveling to the two western time zones and will play only four road games this month, including one Tuesday at New Jersey. After playing 18 games in January the most in franchise history for that month the Bucks will play 11 games this month. They will play Detroit on Saturday at the Bradley Center in the only other game this week.


“We’ve been on the road constantly, playing a lot of games, and a lot of back-to-backs,” guard Charlie Bell said. “Now, this week is going to be like heaven. One game this week (at New Jersey) but then we don’t play again until Saturday. Then we’ve got home games before the all-star break so we have to take advantage of it.


”We can’t just look at this part of the schedule and think it’s going to be easy. We have to continue to go out there and work hard, get in the gym extra and continue to do what we’ve been doing the last two games: play defense and move the ball.“


The Bucks started the season by playing 20 of their first 33 games on the road. They played on consecutive nights eight times in the first month of the season alone, something coach Scott Skiles has said he had never seen before over the course of his long NBA career.


Their 18 games in January were the most in the league and they were the only team not to have two days between games at any point in the month. Of the 13 days in which they did not play a game, only four did not involve travel.


But that was the hand that was dealt to the Bucks, and they played it pretty well.


”We’re hanging in there,“ Skiles said. ”Like a lot of teams, we’re not the only team that’s had injuries and things going against us. We’re not trying to cry about it. It’s just the way that it is.“


After playing at New Jersey, the Bucks will then play six of their next seven games at home. They will play only two games next week, also, and will then go into the all-star break, so there will be time to rest, practice and to even get away from basketball and recharge the batteries a bit.


Jefferson offered a word of warning, though.


”There is always pressure on that,“ he said. ”In the sense that it eases up but now it’s, like, hey, we worked so hard to kind of stay where we need to be in these first three months of the season. But now all of a sudden, if you start playing not the way you’re supposed to, those things can catch up to you.“



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