MILWAUKEE — There couldn’t be a better time for the Milwaukee Bucks to get a four-day break. With the upcoming All-Star weekend dividing the team’s season exactly in half, Brandon Jennings and company find themselves out of the playoff picture with a 13-20 record.
“I wish the break was longer, like a week or something,” said forward Luc Mbah a Moute, whose team will return to the practice court Monday. “It would help get everyone’s mind fresh. It’s good to have a break right now.”
The condensed season’s 66-game schedule has taken its toll on the Bucks in several ways. As has been the case with most teams, injuries have decimated the options coach Scott Skiles once had with his rotation.
“We need to regroup,” second-year power forward Larry Sanders said. “When everybody goes home, we can recap on all the positive things but then come back with a fresh mind and get things rolling.”
The Bucks were rolling at the end of January and into February. A three-game winning streak at the time included home victories over the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers in a span of four days. Those games were also part of a stretch in which Milwaukee won six of eight games and climbed close to .500 at 10-11.
However, since overcoming a 40-point night from LeBron James and beating the Heat for the second time in 10 days, Milwaukee has not been the same. Since that Feb. 1 win against Miami, the Bucks have lost nine of their last 12 games.
“I think a lot of guys and coaches are looking forward to it to take a break,” guard Shaun Livingston said. “That’s the time to really take off and let your body and mind rest.”
Winning only one of its last seven games, Milwaukee finds itself in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 2½ games separating the Bucks from the eighth-place Boston Celtics.
Playing without starting center Andrew Bogut for the past 16 games due to a fractured left ankle has been a difficult challenge for Milwaukee to overcome. Bogut has played in only 12 games this season, first due to a family issue that kept him out for four games — all losses — and then the injury. When on the court, Bogut’s numbers were down. His 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game were Bogut’s lowest since his rookie season six years ago, but his defensive presence in the paint was as impactful as ever. Though there is a possibility that Bogut could return later this season if his ankle heals properly, some players with his 7-foot size can take longer to recover.
For a while, Drew Gooden filled in very well for Bogut. Despite playing out of position at center, Gooden scored 19 or more points in five consecutive games and challenged opposing big men to leave their comfort area in the paint and guard him near the perimeter.
But a wrist injury has since taken Gooden out of action, as well. That left Skiles with undersized forwards like Sanders and rookie Jon Leuer to guard Dwight Howard twice in a span of three days.
“It feels like it’s about time to have a break,” Leuer said. “Hopefully we’ll all get some rest over the break and come back refreshed.”
Also out of the Bucks lineup heading into the All-Star break is rookie forward Tobias Harris, who took a hard screen to his right shoulder in Orlando from Howard.
“He can’t shoot the ball yet,” Skiles said of Harris on Monday. “He simply can’t get his arm up high enough to shoot the ball yet.”
This long weekend off could also be good for 33-year-old veteran swingman Stephen Jackson, who has been unhappy since being given a reduced role for the first time since 2001.
“This is a good time to have off for a lot of reasons,” Jackson said.
The break could also benefit Jennings, who nearly made the All-Star game but has struggled since not being selected. Jennings has shot just 35 percent from the field in the last 10 games, significantly below his season average — which is still above 40 percent.
Any team that is able to defeat the Heat twice, the Lakers and the Spurs, is clearly capable of big things. So this four-day break may be exactly what the Bucks needed to get back in playoff contention.