Bucks Sunday: Shoring up interior defense

ST. FRANCIS, Wis.– Marreese Speights, Trevor Booker and Nikola Pekovic certainly aren’t untalented, but also aren’t stars in the NBA. However, all three found great success against the Milwaukee Bucks’ inside during the preseason.

And Bucks veteran center Samuel Dalembert was honest in his assessment of what has gone wrong.

“Enough talk and just go out there and do it,” Dalembert said.

On the recent road trip, the Bucks had two players’ only meetings. The main topic of conversation in both was interior defense.

“Defensively we have to have each other’s back, that’s a must,” Dalembert said. “We have to challenge our opponent to make them have a lower field goal percentage. You aren’t going to win games when teams are shooting 56 percent, 57 percent. That’s very difficult. If we keep our opponent under 50 percent every time . . . (we’ll) give ourselves a better chance to win.”

With the addition of Dalembert, rookie forward John Henson and veteran center Joel Przybilla, as well as the continued development of Larry Sanders, Milwaukee put an emphasis in shoring up the inside with shot blockers.

However, shot blockers gamble. Sometimes it works and the ball is swatted, other times it doesn’t and solid team defense is needed to prevent an easy bucket.

“We are going to have bigs always jumping and challenging shots,” Dalembert said. “Therefore your man is going to be free and open. That’s what I’m talking about having each other’s backs. Our bigs have to understand they have to stop the ball and we’ve been doing a better job of that.”

When opposing post players put up massive numbers, the assumption is that the blame falls all on the Bucks’ bigs, but that’s not always the case.

“It involves everybody,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “When penetration comes, the big people have a responsibility to kind of step up and stop it. Sometimes that’s a block, sometimes it’s stepping up higher and then their man is loose. You’ve got to make multiple reactions.

“One of the things with having shot blockers is they are normally blocking shots of smaller people driving in there and we are very good at that. Big people operating on us in there usually, that means, you’ve got to help a little bit early, then you need guards and other people kind of cracking back and dealing with those guys. It is something we need to and still are trying to work on, trying to get our habits straight.”

The response in the team meetings has been positive — which Dalembert hasn’t always seen in his 11 year NBA career.

“The good thing about this team is everybody’s spirit and mind is positive,” Dalembert said. “Nobody gets sensitive or nothing like that. We can talk and communicate to each other. That’s a good thing. A lot of teams don’t have that, trust me. When you have knuckleheads it’s hard to get them to understand the bigger picture.”

Time to ramp up: Interior defense is just one of the issues that hurt the Bucks in the preseason. Simply, they didn’t play good basketball for the majority of the exhibition slate. With four practices left until the season opener in Boston, Skiles wants to see his team kick it up a notch.

“That we look like we are attempting to get ready to play against a very good team in a tough environment,” Skiles said when asked about what he was looking for in practice this week. “The guys know we haven’t played well in the exhibition season, overall we haven’t. So, just we have some attention to detail and we look like we are getting ready to play.”

After taking Saturday off, Skiles felt Sunday’s practice was sluggish, but said that happens from time to time after an off day.

Dalembert thinks it’s a matter of developing team chemistry.

“We just have to find a way to transition the positive things we do in practice against each other and be able to carry that out into the game,” Dalembert said. “If you watch practice, we go after each other, do a lot of good things and in the game we tend to play like we are strangers.”

No lineup yet: Skiles hasn’t decided yet who will start the season opener and might not until much later in the week.

“That’s not high on the list of priorities right now,” Skiles said. “I know everybody thinks it should be but I’m worried about finding effort, energy, focus, concentration, that’s what I’m trying to find right now.”

Injury update: Small forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Henson were the only two who didn’t practice Sunday.

The 26-year-old Mbah a Moute had surgery to repair the patella tendon in his right knee in May and has missed all of training camp. Skiles said Sunday that Mbah a Moute won’t be ready when the season starts.

Henson, the Bucks’ 2012 first round pick out of North Carolina, suffered a left knee strain and bruise Oct. 16 against Chicago. He continues to do non-impact rehab, but like Mbah a Moute, won’t play Friday or Saturday.