Ersan Ilyasova practices again, status for opener still in question
ST FRANCIS, Wis. — Ersan Ilyasova made it through practice for the second consecutive day Tuesday, but Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Drew will wait until Wednesday to determine if his starting power forward can play in the season opener in New York.
Ilyasova returned to practicing five-on-five Monday for the first time since spraining his right ankle in Milwaukee’s preseason opener Oct. 8. The next test was to see how the ankle bounced back Tuesday morning, and Ilyasova passed with flying colors.
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“We’ll have to wait and see how he is tomorrow,” Drew said. “We’re not going to make a decision on him now. It was just encouraging to have him out there for an entire practice. He did it and was fine.”
Even if he can play, Ilyasova may not jump right back into the starting lineup. Ilyasova will eventually regain his job as Milwaukee’s starting power forward, but he’s missed three weeks of learning Drew’s system.
If Ilyasova doesn’t start, the Bucks will likely trot out a starting lineup of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Khris Middleton, Caron Butler and Larry Sanders.
“Where my comfort level is right now, I honestly don’t know,” Drew said of Ilyasova. “I’ll just see how he is tomorrow. He’s been out for a little while, so I’m sure his wind and conditioning is going to be a factor. I’m going to have to weigh that.”
Considering how ravaged they were by injuries during the preseason, the Bucks enter the regular season relatively healthy. Knight and Butler have returned from minor injuries, leaving reserve forwards Carlos Delfino and Ekpe Udoh as the only two out for the beginning of the year. Udoh is still a couple of weeks away from returning from right knee surgery, while Delfino still has his surgically-repaired right foot in a walking boot.
Staying small: Drew has been pleasantly surprised with how well his small-ball experiment has worked, and the Bucks likely will put some of the adjusted lineups on display Wednesday against the Knicks.
Instead of Middleton playing power forward, Butler will slide to the four spot when the team goes small. Drew was forced to try the small lineup when Ilyasova and Udoh went down and will have it as an option when both are back.
“My mind likes it, my body is trying to get used to it banging with the bigger guys,” Butler said of playing power forward. “I think it’s fun. It’s a style and direction the NBA is heading toward — more smaller, fast-pace basketball. It’s fun to play that way, and we have had success playing it. I’m going to look forward to playing a lot of four periodically throughout the season.”
Milwaukee has seen the rewards of the small lineup offensively, as having four scorers and shooters on the floor is difficult to defend. The biggest adjustment the Bucks had to make with the small lineup was on defense. Drew changed a few pick-and-roll coverages and how the big men defended screens on the fly during the preseason.
“We had to experiment with some things,” Drew said. “Given our personnel, we had to look at what looks best for our personnel as far as defense is concerned. We did some change some things up, and I’m actually comfortable with that. We’ll continue to add and subtract to see what works for us.
“Right now, I’m at a good place where we are defensively. My concern, not from a scheme of things but from our ability to recognize when a shot goes up seeing where our floor balance is and if we can get back and take away easy transition baskets. That’s something we’ll have to continue to harp on each day.”
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