The Bucks are taking the preseason seriously when it comes to lineup combinations.
By ANDREW GRUMANFS Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE — There's no set timetable for preseason basketball in the NBA.
Unlike in the NFL, where starters gradually build up to play the majority of the third preseason game and then sit out the fourth, some NBA teams continue to tinker with their lineups right up to the regular season while others treat exhibitions as little more than auditions for young players.
The latter group includes perennial contenders such as Boston, San Antonio and the L.A. Lakers -- veteran teams with only minor things to learn.
Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles doesn't have that luxury. With a younger squad that has many questions to be answered, Skiles might not have his final rotation down until the preseason concludes next week.
In Saturday night's 102-94 loss to Washington at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Skiles continued to tweak his starting lineup, reinserting forward Ersan Ilyasova and pairing him inside with center Samuel Dalembert.
Against Memphis on Thursday, Skiles felt the lane got a bit too clogged without Ilyasova in the starting unit.
"I wouldn't say it is becoming to totally clear, but it is obvious, I suppose anyway, that when Ersan is out there, different than some of the other guys, there's more space to operate because he's a three-point threat," Skiles said. "It's not that you can't play a combination of Sam (Dalembert) and Larry (Sanders), Larry and Ekpe (Udoh), Sam and Ekpe or Drew (Gooden) in there, but most teams have a big that can shoot threes and that provides a lot of spacing out there."
That doesn't mean Saturday night's starting lineup of Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Tobias Harris, Ilyasova and Dalembert will be the one Skiles trots out the rest of the preseason or even for the season opener Nov. 2 in Boston.
The Celtics were one of the examples Skiles used to illustrate how different teams approach the preseason. Boston coach Doc Rivers knows his team better than Skiles at this point.
"There's no set formula to it; guys are trying to get to know their teams," Skiles said. "Boston is 2-4 right now. There's no way they are going to be 2-4 (in the regular season). They are just managing minutes and trying to get some guys some good run.
"Normally, when you are a really established team, you can get away with that. Normally, if you are not and you are sloppy in the exhibition season, that's not a good sign."
Saturday night that meant bringing Ellis and Ilyasova back in late to try and get a win to start building momentum.
"We aren't like the Miamis, the Bostons or all those great teams," Ellis said. "We have to prepare differently. If it means him having to put me and Brandon back in to do what we need to do to get a win, we have to go out there and do it."
Both Ellis and Ilyasova had chances to give the Bucks the lead, but shots didn't fall. Now, after a 2-0 start to the preseason, the Bucks have lost three straight.
"We still have multiple guys who aren't real sure of what we are executing out there," Skiles said. "That's stuff you have to clean up."
Mike Dunleavy echoed those thoughts.
"We are just not sharp offensively or defensively being in the spots we need to be in," Dunleavy said. "We need to tighten things up before the real stuff counts. Hopefully, we don't wait until then and get some momentum next week. We are not playing great right now.
"There's just a lot of guys back from last year for that to happen. We don't have too many new guys."
That means the Bucks, unlike some others in the league, must use their final three preseason games as a way to build some positive energy going into the regular season.
That starts Monday in Toronto.
"We just have to go back to the drawing board, stay positive and continue to build," Ellis said. ". . . Don't panic. It's a long season, long, long season. It's too early to panic."
Injury update: Bucks rookie guard Doron Lamb won't make the trip Toronto, but Skiles is hopeful Lamb can play in one of the team's final two preseason games. Forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute continues to be out, but Skiles said he's "making progress."