The final two stops on the Milwaukee Bucks’ longest road trip of the season certainly haven’t lacked for story lines.
First was the 24-game losing streak in Phoenix that was snapped Thursday night. Now, the Bucks are preparing to face an old friend Saturday.
Former Bucks coach Terry Stotts is in charge of the Portland Trail Blazers these days, and his team was one of the NBA’s biggest surprises early on. Portland ran out to a 20-15 start but has since lost four straight games to fall from the sixth seed in the Western Conference to its current position of a half-game out of the eighth seed.
Hired by the Bucks in the summer of 2005 to replace the fired Terry Porter, Stotts didn’t last two full seasons in Milwaukee. In his only full year with the team, he led the Bucks to a 40-42 record. Despite being under .500, Milwaukee made the playoffs as the eighth seed and lost its first-round series in five games to Detroit.
Michael Redd led the Bucks in scoring at 25.4 points per game, but no other player scored more than 13.5 points per game. The 2005-06 season also marked center Andrew Bogut’s rookie season after the Bucks selected him No. 1 overall in the 2005 NBA draft.
The Bucks were ravaged by injuries the following year and Stotts didn’t make it through the season. With Milwaukee sitting in last place with a 23-41 record, he was fired on March 15, 2007 and replaced by assistant coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Bucks players missed 234 games due to injury or illness that season, third-most in the NBA. The five players in Milwaukee’s opening night starting lineup all missed at least 13 games due to injury.
Prior to his hiring as coach, Stotts spent four seasons as an assistant in Milwaukee under George Karl before his hiring as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks in 2002.
After being fired by the Bucks, Stotts joined Rick Carlisle’s staff in Dallas in 2008 and won a title with the Mavericks before the Trail Blazers hired him before this season.
Portland is led in scoring by forward LaMarcus Aldridge at 20.6 points per game, but rookie point guard Damian Lillard is the real reason the Trail Blazers are in the playoff mix.
Lillard, drafted sixth overall out of Weber State, is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. He has been the only Western Conference Rookie of the Month this season and could become the first rookie guard to make the All-Star team since Michael Jordan in 1985.
The 22-year-old is averaging 18.1 points and 6.5 assists per game while shooting 42.0 percent from the field.
Regardless of whether Portland is regressing to the mean a bit during its four-game slide, Milwaukee will have its hands full Saturday night. The Blazers present a much bigger challenge than Phoenix did Thursday, and the Bucks will have to avoid the extended stretches of struggles that have haunted them in recent games.
Coach killers? By pure coincidence, the Bucks have ended the coaching tenures of two NBA coaches this season.
First, Brooklyn fired Avery Johnson the day after a 108-93 loss in Milwaukee.
Less than 24 hours after the Bucks snapped their 24-game losing streak in Phoenix, the Suns fired Alvin Gentry.
It’s coincidence only because Milwaukee isn’t a team you fire your coach after losing to. Both teams had other reasons for making the move, and the Bucks just happened to break the final straw. The Nets were underachieving and losers of five of six at the time of the move, and Phoenix is suffering through one of its worst seasons in franchise history.
Lamb update: Bucks rookie guard Doron Lamb’s first game in the D-League had its ups and downs.
Lamb scored 12 points in 27 minutes of Fort Wayne’s 104-102 victory over Los Angeles on Wednesday, but he shot just 4 for 14 from the field and missed all three of his three-point attempts.
Milwaukee’s second-round pick in this past summer’s draft will spend at least one more game with the Mad Ants. Fort Wayne plays in Bakersfield on Friday night.