ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Jim Boylan made it clear from the beginning that he was going to enjoy his time as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, however long that may be.
His players seemed to have followed suit. Playing with a newfound energy and seemingly having fun on the court, Milwaukee is riding the wave of a midseason coaching change to a 2-0 record under Boylan.
“I think our overall attitude is better,” Boylan said. “We are playing together as a unit and playing together as a team. Everybody seems to be ready when I call on him. We are making a lot of individual sacrifices.
“We are moving in the right direction, and that’s a good sign for us. But we have to stay on that path and that’s got to be our focus — to do whatever is the right thing for our team.”
Stressing better communication and playing more as one unit, Boylan has the players buying in early. He referenced a situation in Wednesday’s 104-96 victory over Chicago as an example.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute hadn’t played much in the second half because Boylan opted to give Mike Dunleavy the majority of the minutes at the small forward position. But when the Bucks needed a defensive stop late in the fourth quarter, Mbah a Moute jumped off the bench and got the job done when he was called upon.
Regardless of who leaves and who takes over, it’s common for there to be increased energy with a new coach. The Bucks might be getting a bigger boost because former coach Scott Skiles was as intense as they come and Boylan is a players’ coach.
Boylan, though, has been through this before – he took over when Skiles was fired in Chicago in 2008. So how long can this wave of energy last?
“Hopefully for a long time, we’ll see,” Boylan said. “It’s a lot of management, a lot of communication has to go on, so right now things are going well and we’ll try to keep it on the right track.”
There have been more celebrations and positive gestures in the last two games, but while Boylan is fine with his team showing emotion, there is a line.
Tuesday, center Larry Sanders made a gesture as if he were searching for the basketball after he blocked a shot. Wednesday, point guard Brandon Jennings got into a war of words with Bulls point guard Nate Robinson and started mimicking some of Robinson’s over-the-top celebrations Robinson.
“As long as you can play well and do that, that’s fine,” Boylan said. “But if it affects you in a negative way, which it doesn’t for Brandon, then it becomes a problem.”
As for changes to Milwaukee’s offensive or defensive system, fans shouldn’t expect to see many. There just isn’t enough time during the season for Boylan to implement anything big. And even if he did have time, Boylan likes and has been around the system Skiles was running and probably would have stuck with it.
“You throw something new in, then you play a game,” Boylan said. “Then you have back-to-back games and (finally) four days later you have a practice.”
One player who has thrived since the coaching change is Jennings, who initially expressed his displeasure over Skiles’ departure.
Putting himself in prime position to take home his second Eastern Conference Player of the Week award this season, Jennings has averaged 32.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the two games while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 58.8 percent from three-point range.
“He’s definitely on an uptick right now, and he’s playing well and taking good shots,” Boylan said. “He’s playing hard, and he’s doing a little bit of everything for us.”
Jennings has shown in the past that he can get in a “man on a mission” groove when something motivates him. Frustrated with the way he found out about Skiles’ departure, Jennings is playing just as he did when he was upset he wasn’t given a contract extension offer this offseason.
The key for the Bucks now is to continue the momentum. That’s something they haven’t been able to do all season. With very winnable games against Detroit and Toronto to close out the week, Milwaukee can quickly put the four-game losing streak that quickened Skiles’ departure in the past.
As for Boylan, he’s going to keep enjoying the ride.
“I told myself I wasn’t going to let this position put too much stress on me,” Boylan said. “I was going to enjoy it. Any time I start to feel like I don’t enjoy it, I take a deep breath and relax and just think about how fortunate to be here.”
Ellis should play: Shooting guard Monta Ellis was injured late in Wednesday’s game when he rolled his ankle stepping on the foot of teammate Ersan Ilyasova while successfully saving a ball from going out of bounds.
Ellis didn’t do anything during Milwaukee’s light workout Thursday but should play Friday against the Pistons.
“I talked to him today, and he said he feels good,” Boylan said. “His foot is a little sore, but he seems to be fine. I expect to see him out there.”