ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — After a week of cramming in lots of new material and beating up on themselves, the Milwaukee Bucks are ready to compete against somebody else.
The new-look Bucks will be on display in game action for the first time Tuesday night as Milwaukee opens up its seven-game preseason schedule in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. With 11 new players, three training camp additions and an entirely new coaching staff, how ready are the Bucks after just one week?
“We’re about as ready as we’re going to be after about a week of practice,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “It will be good for us to see where we are after a week. We’ve got some guys that are nursing some injuries so we don’t know who all will play tomorrow. We’ll kind of have to see how some of these guys are tomorrow.”
Reserve center Zaza Pachulia (Achilles) and forward Carlos Delfino (right foot) both are out against the Cavaliers, while forwards Ekpe Udoh (right knee) and Khris Middleton (sprained ankle) are questionable.
Middleton sprained his ankle Wednesday and was limited in practice at the end of last week. He scrimmaged Friday and Saturday and practiced Monday for the Bucks. Udoh had swelling in his knee Monday morning but still participated in the majority of practice, sitting out of the contact portion.
Drew seems as if he’ll play it safe with both players rather than try and push them through the first preseason game of the year.
“I don’t want to run guys into the ground,” Drew said. “Chances are we are going to have to play a lot of the young guys, which will be good for them.”
Milwaukee hasn’t spent a lot of time scrimmaging in training camp because of the amount of teaching that had to be done. Drew woke up Monday morning wondering if the lack of scrimmaging would hurt the Bucks going into game action, but he then realized the instruction of the new defense and offense would be more important in the long run.
“We’ve been beating up on each other pretty good this last week,” Bucks guard O.J. Mayo said. “We’re ready to go out there and see how we do away from our comfort zone, in Cleveland and against another opponent.
“We know we tried to jam together as much as we could of our package defensively and offensively. You have five guys out there who need to communicate and help each other. We know it isn’t going to be the prettiest game, but we definitely want to try to win and try and get better.”
Though the young players are expected to play a good portion of the game, Drew is prepared for things to be a little sloppy even when the veterans are in the game. The Bucks got in front of a crowd at their open scrimmage at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday, but that setting doesn’t compare to a game.
Cleveland will likely have some energy in the building with top pick Anthony Bennett making his debut and coach Mike Brown making his return to the Cavaliers.
“It may be a little raggedy,” Drew said. “I’m hoping it won’t be that bad, but these preseason games are an opportunity to see where we are number one, and number two, to help us prepare for the regular season. A little raggedness comes early in the exhibition season, but hopefully we’ll hold it to a minimum.
“My patience is going to only last so long, I can tell you that right now. Hopefully we’ll be able to put together a solid game.”
Tuesday will also be the Bucks’ first opportunity to show others what those inside the organization feel they can do. Picked not to do much in the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee feels it will compete for a playoff spot with its revamped roster.
To them, playing well and winning in the preseason is the first step in proving the experts wrong.
“Anytime you keep time and score and you have some fans your juices automatically get flying,” Mayo said. “We watch ESPN, we read, we do all of that. Coming into this season we haven’t got the respect that we feel we deserve being the eighth seed last year in the Eastern Conference. You hear a lot of teams being the dark horse in this conference, so I think this is our opportunity for us to just get after it a little bit and show what we can do out there.”
Another number: The signs were back at the Cousins Center on Monday and a new challenge was thrown at the Bucks by Drew.
Monday’s signs read 46, as in 46 percent field goal percentage. Milwaukee shot 43.5 percent from the field last season, 28th in the NBA. Houston shot 46.1 percent last season and was ninth in the league.
“I think we have good enough shooters,” Drew said. “I think offensively if we execute and get the shots that we want, if we play together, I think there’s no reason why we can’t get up to that number or close to it.
“I put that number up there to challenge the team. If we move the basketball, execute our offense and play very unselfishly, we’ll get high percentage shots. I know that’s a big number and where it ranked at last year, but I’m going to throw that out there to challenge this team.”