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NBA BOOTLEG: Bucks are in disarray

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The Buck done stopped
(Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
The Milwaukee Bucks are past the excuses stage. They're past the point where you pull up a slide of Ray Allen's knee, Glenn Robinson's ankle, and Tim Thomas' everything. This team is beyond chalking up a loss or two to ennui, to waiting until the playoffs to turn it on, and to gelling with a new cog ( Anthony Mason) in the frontcourt.

The Bucks are defining underachievement this year, in a style that eclipses the way your Toronto Raptors have pissed away the season. The team is currently in the midst of a road swing that was supposed prove, once and for all, that a fitful crew of shooters and high hoop IQs could overcome the peaks and valleys of the professional basketball regular season.

On Friday, the crew was dropped by the Washington Wizards. Michael Jordan had looked like a facsimile of a whisper of a rumor of his former bad self in the games immediately following his return from knee surgery, and someone the Bucks allowed him to go for 34 points in 26 minutes off the Washington bench.

Sunday was worse, much worse. Given a noonish EST stage on NBC, the Bucks were humiliated by the Boston Celtics in a startling 30-point loss. Sans Ray Allen, point well taken, but this is absurd. Milwaukee is now 38 and 34, eight games in back of the New Jersey Nets in the "race" for the East's best record, and five and a half games in back of the Central-leading Detroit Pistons.

Michael Hunt's column was written before the Celtics loss, and considering the fact that he termed the Wizards loss the nadir of the Bucks' season, Lord only knows what the debacle in Boston means.

George Karl, he of the cut of the team and a seven-million per salary, gets paid like a lord, and he seems to be taking his coaching lessons from Isiah Lord Thomas so far in 2001-02.

(The biggest issue we're looking at is the fact that we're past the "so far" stage, with just over two weeks to go in the season, the BS appears to be walking)

Either way...

"Last year (Karl) was great, like a 10," Tim Thomas told the Sentinel, in ranking George's motivational ability. "This year, it's more like a seven or eight."

Popeye Jones Jr. disagrees:

"I think he's been great," Darvin Ham said. "Last year he turned on the heat. This year he's kind of turned on the AC, so to speak. He's trying to cool everything down and keep everybody at ease and not worry so much about where we are in the standings and whether we're accomplishing all our goals."

Realizing goals and growing as a team -- that stuff be aiight, even if the W's aren't there. But the Bucks still aren't locking anyone up, they aren't even feigning defensive interest, and they still have 1300 offensive issues to work out.

And, taking in Karl's career in Milwaukee as a whole, is something missing? They made the playoffs as an seventh seed in 1999, though some picked the squad to jump even higher. To take a crew of underachievers that far, playing without point guards Terrell Brandon and Sam Cassell for most of the season, that was an accomplishment, but these things fade.

Milwaukee wasted nearly all of 1999-00 before engaging in a war of words with Orlando, who held claim to the East's eighth spot until March of that season, before making a late run. This was a squad that was picked to, at the very least, take in some sweet home-court advantage. Last year the team was a few points away from hitting the NBA Finals, but let's face it, these things should be expected. This is a championship-caliber team, slap them Bucks on they back for a long run, but grow from there.

And just as you can tell a coach's influence by the way a team executes out of a timeout, the slow start has long been a Karl trademark. The Bucks started by losing nine of 12 games this season, and they've been limping out of the gate at under .500 for each of his four seasons at the helm in Milwaukee. This is a sharp contrast to the Bucks teams of the four seasons prior to Karl's arrival, teams that consistently started the year by winning four of five before nose-diving into the Lottery yet again.

And so the season from hell chugs along, seemingly outwardly overcoming incidents like Jason Caffey's anxiety attacks and Karl's spoutings on the travails of the anointed, but things aren't going to get any easier. Of Milwaukee's ten remaining games, they have five clashes against teams already in the playoffs, and three contests against teams that would run over Vince Carter's mother just to get in.

If Karl and his Bucks turn this thing around, we'll be looking at quite a flip being switched. The Knicks had it easy in 1999, the current East is parity-driven but the teams are quite dangerous. This isn't going to be an easy turnaround.

THE DISTILLERY

Steve Aschburner is quite good ... Lamar Odom's 2001-02 season began with a "W" and ended with a "A-S-H" ... One of my favorite ironies of the late 1990s: Clyde Drexler gets to coach Moses Malone Jr. in Houston, and the kid isn't even six feet tall ... Travis Best has been flirting with the Heat nearly as long as he'd been flirting with the Bulls ... The whole NBA is in pain, and other good stuff ... Yao Ming is quite tall ... Take it from a Bulls fan, the Lottery is for suckers ... Location, location, location ... Steve Kelley urinates all over Vin Baker ... In the eight years since I last read him, Tim Sullivan has learned how to entertain me ... Dunno if you've heard, but the Heat won't make the playoffs ... Around the NBA with Marc Stein, a white man if I ever saw one ... Rich Evans' always-entertaining 24-second clock ... We will all have warm memories of Michael Jordan, Marc Stein tells us ... Stephen A. Smith on Byron Scott ... Wally Szczerbiak will rue the day he trashed the Warriors, if he hasn't already rued already ... John Stockton gives love to the good Doctor ... Rev. Lacy's Sunday best ... T.J. Simers urinates all over -- well, actually, I never know where he's going with his stuff ... It looks like a Staples store.

Tagged: Celtics, Bulls, Heat, Bucks, Nets, Knicks, Wizards, Raptors

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