Bucks Friday: Gary Neal returns to practice

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — The Milwaukee Bucks welcomed Gary Neal back to practice Friday, but were without center Larry Sanders due to an illness.

Neal had been out since aggravating the plantar fasciitis in his left foot in Milwaukee’s exhibition game against Minnesota on Oct. 10. The injury popped up last season while he was playing for San Antonio, and Neal said it’s been something he’s been battling for six or seven months.

After trying to tough it out for the first two weeks of practice, Neal stepped on the left foot wrong against the Timberwolves and experienced a shooting pain, deciding then to shut it down.

“Coming into a new situation, you don’t want to sit out anything,” Neal said. “You don’t want to miss any practices; you want to learn as much as you can.

“The best thing to do was just rest a little bit. Today I felt good. I came out and played. The test will be tomorrow to see how I feel when I wake up, if it’s going to be inflamed. Hopefully it will be behind me.”

Plantar fasciitis is a tricky injury to deal with and one that’s hard to get over. The planter fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs along the sole from the heel bone to the toes and becomes very painful when inflamed. A shooting pain runs through the foot every time a player makes any kind of a move, making the injury hard to play through.

Rest is usually the only option for recovery, but athletes usually return only to aggravate the injury again. The Bucks are hoping that’s not the case with Neal. Drew Gooden missed nearly a month of action due to plantar fasciitis back in the 2010-11 season only to have to sit out for two more months after returning for five games.

“You don’t want to be on an elliptical,” Neal said. “You want to be out there bumping and grinding and playing. Hopefully I’ll be able to put ice on it and get treatment and tomorrow I’ll feel as good as I did today.

“When you Google it, they say rest. But there’s a lot that goes into rest. If you rest three to four weeks then you are out of shape so it actually takes you six to seven weeks. That’s a lot of time to be sitting out.”

Bucks center Zaza Pachulia participated in the full practice for a second day in a row and seems on track to play in Monday’s exhibition game against Chicago. News was also encouraging on Ersan Ilyasova, who sprained his right ankle in the preseason opener.

Milwaukee’s starting power forward was walking around the practice facility without much of a limp. He’s hoping to be cleared to run next week which would put Ilyasova on track to have a chance to play in the regular season opener.

Sanders woke up Friday feeling under the weather and was held out of practice as a precaution and was set to see the doctor sometime during the afternoon. At the center of Thursday’s issues at practice, Sanders wasn’t around for what Bucks coach Larry Drew called an encouraging response to his comments about controlling emotions and reactions to officials.

Friday’s scrimmage was competitive and ran a lot smoother than Thursday, when Drew had to stop practice to express his dismay with the team’s composure.

“They were pretty energized and the focus was there,” Drew said. “As we move forward, chances are I’m going to have to have another one of those type outbursts, but we’re just trying to develop good habits and understand who we are as a team.

“It’s tough enough going night in and night out playing against some of the top athletes in the world. You can’t put yourselves behind the 8-ball because you can’t control your emotions or your temper. There were a few chatters to the officials but nothing to the extent of where it was yesterday, where it becomes a distraction. I think they got the message loud and clear.”

Playing small ball: Because Ilyasova might not be ready to play major minutes or at all when the regular season begins in less than two weeks, Drew is preparing the Bucks to be ready to go small at times.

John Henson would start at power forward if Ilyasova can’t go, and Milwaukee is experimenting with 6-foot-8 small forward Khris Middleton as the backup at power forward. Middleton has earned more playing time with two very good preseason games and an impressive training camp.

He’s open to playing any position if it means getting on the floor, but realizes he’d be giving up quite a bit of weight on the defensive end.

“I was shocked,” Middleton said of his reaction when Drew approached him about playing power forward. “But I’m ready and I am trying to get prepared for it during practice. It’s different from when I played it in college. It’s just something that I have to work on.

“With four guys on the court that can spread it and shoot the ball and put it on the floor, it can help us a lot offensively. It would space the floor and make it easier for driving lanes and kick outs. It’s just going to be an adjustment on the defensive side. There will be mismatches but if we play the right way and talk, we’ll be fine.”

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