ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — The Milwaukee Bucks returned to the practice floor Monday after the four-day All-Star break and did so with their starting center back in the fold.
Larry Sanders went through full-contact practice for the first time since suffering a lower back contusion on Feb. 5 and there’s a good chance he could return to the starting lineup in Brooklyn on Tuesday night.
“I wouldn’t guarantee it, but I’d probably say a 70-30 chance (of playing),” Sanders said.
While the team as a whole needed the break, Sanders was aided the most. He spent the four days getting treatment and continuing to rehab.
“I tried to keep it lose, moved around a lot,” Sanders said. “Stayed in the gym and worked on some shots because I couldn’t do much else. Just tried to stay active.”
Sanders missed four games after suffering the fall trying to draw a charge on Denver’s Kenneth Faried, and the Bucks went 1-3 in his absence. Milwaukee allowed over 100 points in all three losses without the NBA’s leader in blocked shots.
Not only does Sanders feel he can help keep opponents off the scoreboard, but he knows he can jump back in and aid some of the rebounding struggles Milwaukee has had of late.
“With this team, I put the defense on my shoulders,” Sanders said. “I want to be a floor leader out there on the defensive end and help my teammates.
“I think they missed it a little bit, but they are working through it. I’m ready to return and lock that paint down and get us the ball back.”
In his absence, veteran center Samuel Dalembert filled in and performed well, averaging 16.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in his last five games.
Though Bucks coach Jim Boylan said Sanders will be the starting center whenever he returns, Dalembert was able to get his legs stretched to play extended minutes. That gives Boylan a valuable option off the bench.
“It will be good to have Sam in better condition so he’s more productive for longer stretches,” Boylan said. “Bringing Larry back gives us two guys that we can be productive with around the basket. They can block shots and can change the game for us.”
Odd schedule: The NBA schedule often provides a few oddities during the course of the season, and the Bucks run into one this week.
Milwaukee will play the Nets in Brooklyn on Tuesday night and then return home to face them again on Wednesday. With a split, the Bucks will clinch the season series over the Nets, something that could come in handy down the road.
Boylan has found the notion that it’s hard to beat a team in back-to-back nights to be overblown. He actually doesn’t mind playing the same team again the next night.
“It’s just like a playoff series,” Boylan said. “It’s actually, in my mind, a little bit easier. You get ready for the same team. You go out there and play tomorrow night and we’ll have a good idea of what worked and what didn’t work and then we’ll come back the next day and play them.”
This will be Milwaukee’s second trip to the impressive, brand-new Barclays Center. Boylan liked the atmosphere the first time around, but was thrown off a bit by the arena’s theater-like lighting making the crowd hard to see from the court.
That type of lighting was started by the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and since picked up by the Lakers at Staples Center.
“It’s really dark,” Boylan said. “You can kind of get lost in it. You don’t really see the crowd. You can hear them, but you can’t see them because they are blacked-out. The court looks nice, I think it’s a really nice look.”
Message to the team: With the break done, the Bucks face an important week as the final 31 games of the season begin Tuesday.
After the pair of games with Brooklyn, Milwaukee hosts Atlanta on Saturday night, giving the Bucks three games this week against teams directly ahead of them in the standings.
Boylan talked before Monday’s practice about how the overall effort level needs to increase.
“I think our energy had been down a little bit,” Boylan said. “Sometimes during the course of a season you hit lulls, I think we were in kind of a lull.
“A thing that goes hand-in-hand with that is rebounding. We’ve been outrebounded the last six games, that’s not a good trend we want to keep. We talked about the fact that it’s not just the big guys, everybody has to get involved with the rebounding game. Those were the two things we tried to key in on today.”