Bucks Monday: Caron Butler, Ersan Ilyasova eyeing return

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — With the training staff watching his
return to practice like a hawk, Caron Butler kept nodding in their direction to
ensure them he was doing just fine.

Butler and fellow forward Ersan Ilyasova were back on the
practice court Monday, as the Milwaukee Bucks appear to be getting closer to
having both ready to play.

But as two key pieces returned, two sat out. Point guard
Brandon Knight was out again with a sore right hamstring, while guard Gary Neal
missed Monday’s practice after the plantar fasciitis in his left foot flared up
again.

With another practice Tuesday, Bucks coach Larry Drew will
wait to make a determination on the availability of all four players for
Wednesday’s game against Portland at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“It’s a good stretch and we’ll try to use it wisely, just
juggling the guys who are banged up,” Drew said “We have to somehow not do too
much to where they are banged up even more. Then the guys coming back, we need
to give them some time to learn what we are doing. We’re trying to balance both
things.”

When he went down late in last Wednesday’s 94-91 loss in
Orlando, Butler didn’t anticipate returning to practice this soon. Clutching
his left shoulder and in a lot of pain, the veteran small forward feared the
worst when he heard a pop.

“I was very concerned,” Butler said. “I thought it was much
worse than it ended up being. After hearing the pop, I was just like ‘Oh, man.’
I was just hoping it wasn’t anything broken or fractured. From the feel and
look of it initially (I thought) it was worst case scenario.”

But an MRI and two different opinions on the injury all came
back with encouraging results, and Butler feels he has a chance to play either
against the Trail Blazers or Friday in Philadelphia.

Athletic trainer Scott Barthlama and his staff have designed
a special sleeve for Butler to wear around his shoulder for protection. The
sleeve includes some padding to prevent aggravation if someone would hit Butler
on the left shoulder.

Butler feels it was important for him to go through the full
practice, contact included, so he knows he’s ready to play instead of realizing
he can’t go during the middle of a game.

“If I decide to play this game or the following game, I’m
not going to want to come out of the game,” Butler said. “So this is the test
right now, not during the game. You push yourself and you let the coaching
staff and your teammates know to have confidence in knowing you can be out
there.”

Ilyasova has missed Milwaukee’s last six games after missing
the majority of the preseason with a sprained right ankle suffered in the first
exhibition game of the year. The ankle began to bother Ilyasova again after
playing in the first two games of the regular season and he’s been held out
since.

The Bucks don’t plan to rush Ilyasova back, making him
questionable for Wednesday even if he practices again Tuesday.

“He was a little rusty,” Drew said. “He hasn’t been out
there in a while going up and down the floor. He’ll get his rhythm and timing
back and it’s good to have him back.

“He’s been out since the first exhibition game, and we’ve
put a lot of things in since then. He’s been here watching us, but it’s totally
different from being out there.”

Neal has been battling plantar fasciitis in his left foot since
last season when he played for San Antonio. The painful injury has caused him
to miss time in the preseason and one regular season game and is something that
is hard to kick without a long period of rest.

Though Neal has battled through the pain quite a bit, Drew
hopes the injury doesn’t nag him to the point where he has to sit from time to
time all year long. 

“I sure hope not,” Drew said. “I’ve never had that type of
injury. I’ve heard a lot about that type injury and it can be a nagging injury.
I hope that’s not the case.”

Monday also marked Luke Ridnour’s first practice in over
three weeks. The veteran point guard returned from a back injury to play Friday
and Saturday, but was clearly still shaking off the rust of an extended
absence.

“I’m getting better,” Ridnour said. “It was good to get a
practice in finally and hopefully I can get a couple of practices in here to
get my rhythm back a little bit.”

Ridnour played in all 82 games for Minnesota last year and
didn’t miss a game for the Bucks in the 2009-10 season. For a player not used
to sitting on the sidelines, Ridnour is certainly happy to be back.

“It was tough,” Ridnour said. “Man, I hate sitting out. It’s
hard to sit out. That’s why I jumped back into it. I was willing to at least
give it a chance.”

Back spasms for a 32-year-old can be a worrisome injury, but
Ridnour is confident he won’t have to battle the pain all year long. 

“I feel pretty good now,” Ridnour said. “I think I got it
under control. Once I have it under control I’ll be good to go.”

Sanders update: Bucks center Larry Sanders was back with the
team Monday for the first time after undergoing thumb surgery caused by an
injury suffered in a Nov. 3 altercation at a Milwaukee nightclub.

Sanders, who underwent the surgery last Monday to repair a
torn ligament in his right thumb, is in a hard cast and is expected to be out
for five to six weeks.

“I’m going to play it on how I feel and how the thumb
heals,” Sanders said of his personal timetable. “How I’m able to catch and grip
a ball, things like that (make a difference). 
I’ll be in shape, so as soon as the thumb is ready, I’ll be ready.”

Despite having his injury occur in an off-court incident,
Sanders says his teammates have been very supportive of him through the entire
process.

“It’s basketball, injuries are going to happen,” Sanders
said. “Although mine was an off the court injury, you deal with it. We have
players who have fallen. We’re working through it and guys have responded well.

“The whole team has been encouraging. That’s very positive
to come to work knowing guys are on my side and fighting for me.”

Sanders recently met face-to-face with NBA veteran Keyon
Dooling when the former Bucks guard was in town. Dooling spent one year in
Milwaukee but developed a strong relationship with Sanders, a rookie at the
time.

“He’s always in my ear,” Sanders said. “He’s a very positive
guy and has stayed close to me throughout the years. He just said the same
things he’s always said to me: Just be me, stay positive, fight through
adversity and good things are going to come. This isn’t a perfect world, there
aren’t any perfect people. Mistakes are going to happen to everybody, just
fight through it, learn from it and be better.”

As for the extended time he’ll spend on the bench unable to
play, Sanders plans to get closer to the coaching staff and help in any way he
can.

“Just stay active, stay engaged in whatever the team has
going on,” Sanders said. “I’m going to stay in young guys’ ears. If I see
anything, try to communicate it and say little positive things here and there
that I know is going to carry over to winning.”

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