Bucks embrace winning ways, good fortune

MILWAUKEE — Wednesday was a great day for the Milwaukee Bucks on multiple levels.

The day began with the arrival of newly acquired Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh. Then, with Ellis and Udoh watching from the bench unable to play until player physicals are completed, the Bucks defeated Cleveland to take a two-game lead on the Cavaliers in the race for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.

But that wasn’t all.

In the locker room after the game, Milwaukee’s players were as happy, upbeat and unified as they had been in a long time. After reaching a low point this season two weeks ago with a 14-23 record and several games out of the playoff race, the Bucks have now won five of their last six. In addition to beating the Cavs — who entered the night just one game behind Milwaukee in the standings — Milwaukee knocked off the New York Knicks a week earlier. Because of that win against the Knicks, the Bucks hold the tiebreaker over New York and therefore are ahead of them in the standings despite identical records.

So there are plenty of reasons why the Bucks were feeling good about themselves as they began to embrace their winning ways.

In just the first three quarters against Cleveland, Drew Gooden recorded his second career triple-double with 15 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. Those 13 assists not only tied a career high for Gooden, but also led Milwaukee to the most assists by any NBA team all season with 38.

“(Gooden) was looking like a point guard tonight,” Jennings said with a big smile. “That’s Drew. He plays point guard in the summer time.”

It’s true that Gooden, at 6-foot-10, does in fact spend his offseasons playing point guard.

“That’s all I play in the summer,” Gooden said. “Every summer. Believe it or not, I like to pass. I think it’s becoming contagious. All of us are actually swinging the ball, making the right extra pass, making the right play and converting.”

Two nights earlier in New Jersey, the Bucks had 32 assists in the game.

“Having 70 assists in two games, that’s a lot,” Gooden said.

For a team that struggled offensively so mightily a year ago and finished last in the NBA in points and field-goal percentage, Milwaukee is now sixth in the league in assists and 13th in scoring this season.

And soon, the Bucks will be back to a full complement of players. With Andrew Bogut’s fractured ankle now in Golden State and Luc Mbah a Moute returning to the court Wednesday after missing 18 games this season with knee and shoulder injuries, the only player that still needs to heal up is Shaun Livingston. But there was good news there, too, as coach Scott Skiles revealed that Livingston could return in time for their next game.

“We’re getting close to full strength,” Skiles said.

What seemed like a dreary situation just a few weeks ago in Milwaukee has suddenly become one of the NBA’s hottest teams. Perhaps the Bucks are only a few more wins away from the return of “Fear the Deer.”

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