ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Larry Sanders was relieved Wednesday when he received the X-rays on his back.
It was only natural for him to fear the worst after suffering a scary fall while trying to draw a charge on Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried. The X-rays showed the injury was nothing serious, but Sanders still was in a good deal of pain from the bruise on the right side of his lower back.
The NBA’s leader in blocked shots returned to practice Friday after missing Wednesday’s game but was limited to non-contact drills. The Bucks officially list Sanders as questionable for Saturday’s game against Detroit.
“It went good,” Sanders said. “I moved around a little bit and got some of the stiffness out. It’s still sore and sensitive to the touch.”
The Bucks are going to play Sanders’ availability by ear and see how he feels and moves during Saturday morning’s shootaround. Because Milwaukee is about to enter a crucial three-game stretch before the All-Star Break, Sanders wants badly to return against the Pistons.
“I might get a little ahead of myself, but I’m not going to rush it,” Sanders said. “Lower back is one of those injuries you can’t really rush because you don’t want it to linger.”
Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute also missed Wednesday’s loss to Utah because of an injury.
Mbah a Moute – who missed the start of the season after offseason knee surgery – had the knee flare up after Tuesday’s loss to Denver. It’s happened to him a few times this season, but he said this was the worst one of all.
Though he’ll also be a gametime decision Saturday, Mbah a Moute is confident he will be able to play barring any setbacks.
Focusing in: When Bucks coach Jim Boylan was asked Friday about what he was looking for in these three games before the All-Star Break, he responded “W, W, W.”
Seems like a simple answer, but he’s spot on. Mired in a stretch of four losses in five games, Milwaukee has dropped into the eighth seed behind the red-hot Boston Celtics. The stretch right before the break is often a time for lesser teams to steal games and for top teams to drop games they shouldn’t simply because of focus.
Veteran center Samuel Dalembert said he’s seen teams go either way right before having time off. Because of where the Bucks stand, they can’t afford to lack focus and slip up.
“It’s a crucial point,” Dalembert said. “It’s time to seize some games. A lot of teams slip because they are dreaming about the break. It’s time to go out there and win the games we are capable of winning.
“It’s important because after the All-Star break teams come with a hunger because they want to make the playoffs and the pressure on the players and coaches and organization (is high). We need to make sure we get this cushion.”
One of the areas the Bucks must improve on in order to move up from the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference is defensive rebounding. Bigger, more physical teams have taken advantage of Milwaukee’s thin and athletic front line. The Bucks haven’t outrebounded a team since Jan. 26 against Golden State.
Boylan has said his team lacks the bruising post player to battle with bigger teams like Utah, Detroit, Indiana and Chicago, but he also feels the Bucks can be better on the glass with what they have.
“There’s a physical part to it, there’s no doubt about that,” Boylan said. “The size, weight and girth of some of the players we go up against is more than what we have. We have to have the will and the desire to rebound the basketball and do whatever we have to do. And we can. I’m sure our guys are going to rise up.”
Improving defensive rebounding not only will prevent the second-chance points opponents have been crushing the Bucks with of late, but Milwaukee will be able to get out on the fast break and become a dangerous offensive team again with more rebounds.
That was a theme of Milwaukee’s practice Friday, one Boylan called focused and productive despite two starters sitting out for the contact portions.
“If we manage to really transition the team from the practice court to the game court, people would start becoming believers again,” Dalembert said.