ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Ekpe Udoh wasn’t planning on practicing Monday, but he suddenly changed his mind after realizing how many of his teammates weren’t going to be able to go.
Instead of limiting himself, Udoh made it through a full practice for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 11.
“I just had to will it, honestly,” Udoh said. “I didn’t even have my ankles taped because I wasn’t planning on doing it … I’m tired right now. I’m tired and I’m hurting.”
The Bucks were without starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova on Monday due to a flare up of his sprained right ankle, while center Larry Sanders was away from the team because his wife went into labor.
Point guards Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour went through about 20 percent of the practice, according to head coach Larry Drew. Both are considered questionable for Wednesday’s game against Cleveland, as is Udoh.
“Now it is since I actually practiced,” Udoh said when asked if playing Wednesday was on his radar. “I was shooting for Saturday, but with the players we didn’t have today, I just decided to do it.”
Conditioning is what’s holding Udoh back from fully committing to playing in a game, as he said the team worked mostly in the halfcourt Monday, and he’ll have to see how he reacts to going up and down the floor Tuesday.
Udoh’s return will give the Bucks another body in an already crowded frontcourt. There has been a fight for minutes between Ilyasova, Sanders, John Henson and Zaza Pachulia during the first three games, but Drew said he likes to have the problem of too many bodies.
Drew had praised Udoh’s performance in the first couple weeks of training camp and didn’t back down from that sentiment Monday.
“He really was (having a good first two weeks),” Drew said. “From a teaching standpoint, all the things I’m implementing, he has a great, great feel for. He picks things up. He has really good basketball instincts and is always talking on the floor. We’ve missed that. It was good to have him back today.”
Outside of Pachulia, the Bucks have lacked a physical presence inside early on. Milwaukee has been outrebounded each of its first three games, including taking a 60-38 beating on the boards in Saturday’s loss to Toronto.
Udoh is hoping he can provide some of the physicality the team has been lacking and has learned what he needs to bring from watching the first three games from the bench. The 26-year-old averaged 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game for the Bucks last season.
“I just have to bring energy to the basketball team, just muck it up a bit and make it nasty,” Udoh said. “When I come in, just throw my body. I’m healthy, I’ll be tired, but I just have to go out there and give my teammates all I have.
“I just have to go for it all. Don’t worry about getting foul calls, making friends, just go out there and be nasty. Just put it on the line every game this year.”
Knight tried to give it a go Saturday but decided against pushing his strained right hamstring. He considered participating in a part of Monday’s practice taking a step forward, saying the hamstring didn’t feel bad but also didn’t feel great.
“It’s definitely a tricky thing because you don’t want to get out and do something where you aren’t completely warmed up or ready for the action,” Knight said. “You just set yourself back. You want everything to be controlled, that’s why I was only able to do a couple of things (Monday).”
Knight will continue to get treatment Monday night and again Tuesday, holding out hope that he may be able to return against the Cavaliers.
“Every game is possible,” Knight said. “Last game was possible, the game before that was possible, it’s all base on how I feel. I want to make sure I can play a full game. I don’t want to go out there and doubt myself. I don’t think I would help the team like that.”
If Knight and Ridnour both are unable to play Wednesday, Drew said he would start rookie Nate Wolters at point guard for the second straight game. What he’ll do if Ilyasova can’t go is still up in the air.
“I tell you, when it rains it seems like it pours,” Drew said about the injuries. “We’ll keep our head above water until we get everybody back.
“I won’t allow frustration to settle in. I just look at it as us having to overcome some adversity of having some guys out. I want to show these guys that we’re still capable of winning and competing at a high level even with guys out.”
Lineup change possible: Searching for why the Bucks have gotten out to sluggish starts in the first three games of the season, Drew didn’t like what he saw when watching film of the starting unit.
He showed the film to the team after practice Monday, letting them know the energy at the beginning of games is unacceptable. If things don’t improve, Drew will change the starting lineup.
“Right now it’s maybe the combination of guys I have out there starting the game,” Drew said. “That might not be a good combination. I’m concerned about our energy, our speed, our activity with that first unit. I’m very concerned about that. I have to reassess that and maybe that’s not a good starting five.”
Drew said he will likely give the current starting five one more chance to get the team off to a strong start before making any changes.
“I’ve got to weigh all the options, as far as what team can I put on the floor at the beginning of the game that’s going to give us the best chance to get off to a good start,” Drew said. “It doesn’t look like the unit I’m using right now is that team.”
Pachulia warned: Bucks center Zaza Pachulia was given a flopping warning by the league Monday for an incident that occurred during Friday’s victory in Boston.
With the Bucks trailing 74-58 in the third quarter, Pachulia was on defense when Celtics forward Jared Sullinger ran into him. Pachulia went to the floor and an offensive foul was called on Sullinger, but the league deemed it a flop when reviewing the tap.
The first offense for flopping is just a warning, but Pachulia will be fined $5,000 if he receives another flopping warning.