Bucks Monday: Injuries mount for already ailing team

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — What concerns Bucks coach Larry Drew the most isn’t the fact his team blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter Saturday night, but that the whole team wasn’t there for a valuable teaching moment. 

As Milwaukee’s new coach tries to establish a new culture with an entirely new offensive and defensive system, the Bucks have yet to have their full squad on the floor. The Bucks will continue to play shorthanded Tuesday, as a number of key players won’t play against Memphis.

“We’re teaching guys and then we’re going to have to reteach the other guys,” Drew said. “It’s one thing to talk to them about it and then it’s another thing to have them out on the floor going through the action.”

Ersan Ilyasova was without crutches for the first time Monday, but he still is walking gingerly on his sprained right ankle. Along with Ilyasova, reserve center Zaza Pachulia (Achilles) and reserve forward Carlos Delfino (right foot) continue to miss practice. 

Gary Neal missed Monday’s practice and is unlikely to play against the Grizzlies due to a sprained arch in his left foot. With Ekpe Udoh likely to miss the next six weeks after right knee surgery, the Bucks are down to just 10 healthy bodies among the 15 players expected to make the roster. 

“My biggest concern is it’s key guys,” Drew said. “What we are teaching and putting in here, we are not in a position or situation where those guys are a part of it physically. When they come back we’re going to have to teach it all over again.”

The Bucks are going to have to play with what they have for the time being, which means being extremely shorthanded in the frontcourt. Drew has had to play camp signees Stephen Graham and Olek Czyz out of position in recent games, making it impressive Milwaukee had a 17-point lead after three quarters Saturday night.

Because the 33-9 whooping the Bobcats put on the Bucks in the fourth quarter was so lopsided, Milwaukee’s improvement through the first three quarters of the game was lost in the shuffle. 

Drew took to the film room Monday to hammer home what happened Saturday night was unacceptable, knowing the Bucks are going to be in a similar situation again in the near future. He planned on having his starters play just five minutes to seal the game, but most ended up playing close to the full quarter. 

“It just came down to us not handling our business,” Drew said. “We totally succumbed to not being able to make a shot and allowed that to affect us on the defensive end. That just can’t happen. We’ll learn from it.”

Bucks forward Caron Butler chalked Saturday’s fourth quarter up to poor execution, as Milwaukee just didn’t have the killer instinct needed to close out an NBA team. Drew stopped Monday’s scrimmage to let the team know they were making similar mistakes again during practice and those had to stop. 

“I think it’s great to go through some things and learn from those things,” Butler said. “We’re a newly-assembled team so we are developing a way to get better and how to win games. I thought we came a long way from the Cleveland game to playing against Minnesota to the Charlotte game. Now we have to finish games. That’s what preseason is for, and we’re developing that.”

Drew plans to increase minutes for the starters against the Grizzlies but doesn’t want to wear the first unit down with so few healthy bodies. It’s just another way in which injuries have impacted Milwaukee’s plans in the preseason.

One thing the Bucks will be looking for in their only game this week is a win. Sitting at 0-3 in the preseason, Milwaukee is hoping to build momentum toward the regular season by finishing strong in its final four exhibition games.

“We have to go into each game with the mindset of focusing on us,” Drew said. “If we handle our business the result at the end should be good. If we don’t, the end result will not be good. We want to put together four solid quarters. If we put together four solid quarters then a win will take care of itself.”

Butler sees it as more important to trend forward in the preseason, regardless of the final result. He feels the Bucks have gotten better despite being winless.

“As long as we play a good style and a good brand of basketball, playing hard for 48 minutes, we’ll win games,” Butler said. “I’m not worried about that. I just want us to continue to play together for four quarters.

“We’ve come a long way since that Cleveland game with practices and guys getting their legs under them. All of the things are coming together. Hopefully we get some wins sometime in the preseason and go into the regular season with a little bit better rhythm.”

Starting five nearly set: Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Bucks will take a starting lineup of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Butler, Ilyasova and Larry Sanders into the regular-season opener. 

Drew confirmed Monday that Ilyasova will start over John Henson at the power forward spot when healthy, which isn’t much of a surprise. There’s still no timetable on Ilyasova’s return, but he is trending toward being ready for the Oct. 30 season opener in New York. 

“It’s good to see him off crutches, I’ll tell you that,” Drew said. “I’m hearing he is improving. That’s a good sign. I don’t know when we’ll get him back, but to see him walking around the building with no crutches put a big smile on my face.”

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