Logic dictates that the Bucks should have faded away by now.
After all, when leading scorer
But with the season headed into the final quarter, the Bucks are still hanging around under coach
"The easiest thing to do would have been to mail in the season," forward
"It starts with Coach Skiles, though. He believes that whoever is out there on the floor can win the game, and that has become contagious."
Villanueva has raised his play to compensate for the injuries, averaging 21.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in 11 games last month. Combined with emergence of second-year point guard
"The actors have changed, but the script is the same," Skiles said of his approach following the injuries. "We've picked up our pace a little bit, but overall, we've made pretty good offensive decisions. We're hitting the open man, we're hitting our share of shots and our turnovers are down. And like all teams, we're going to try to keep the ball in the hands of our best offensive players and live and die with the decisions they make. Good teams generally can weather injuries, at least for a while, because they have a good system."
According to an NBA scout, Skiles' system in Milwaukee is essentially the same one he used while coaching the Bulls to three playoff appearances in five years.
"The playbook he used in Chicago five years ago compared with what he uses now varies by maybe two plays," the scout said. "It's all about defense and sharing the ball."
Ah, yes, defense, a major weakness for Milwaukee in 2007-08 and Skiles' biggest emphasis since being hired last April. Though the coach bemoaned the team's defensive slippage lately, the Bucks have made big strides overall. After ranking 23rd in points allowed and 30th in field-goal defense last season, they have improved to 16th and 14th, respectively, this season.
"I think you have to get up and get into people," Skiles said of his defensive philosophy. "You can't allow people to penetrate in the paint and you have to guard -- the post-ups, the pick-and-rolls and the pin-downs. We do it a certain way. There are only a handful of schemes most teams are using anyway. It just depends on the personnel on a given night."
It also depends on Milwaukee's effort, according to the scout.
"Everybody says he's such a hard guy to deal with, but if you listen to him during games, he's an encouraging guy," the scout said. "He knows you're going to miss shots, so he doesn't get wrapped up in that. As long as you're playing hard, he's out there with you, or you're not going to play, no matter who it is. And they play hard all the time."
After a road-heavy schedule early in the season, the Bucks play 12 of their last 20 games at home as they pursue a playoff berth -- a welcome change for a team that went 28-54 in 2006-07 and 26-56 last season.
"The No. 1 goal was to become a competitive team. We've done that," Skiles said. "Now we're in pretty good position to be a heck of a story."
"He's a pretty tough kid, and you have to be pretty tough to live with
"Of course, you have to play defense in San Antonio, and Mason is a good on-the-ball defender and he's smart off the ball. He can get into passing lanes to get steals. He's a good athlete and he's strong. You can't really post him because he's strong enough. And he's better laterally than
"Mason was always a good player in Washington, but he was the fourth guard and never got to shoot. He was a great find for San Antonio."
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