(Editor’s Note:  I apologize in advance if this week’s effort is subpar.  Had to write this on the PC in my son’s room as my beloved laptop crapped out this week.  Between that and the absence of a Badger football game (bye week), the resulting emotional trauma has left me a little disjointed.)

As I noted briefly in this space last week, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Milwaukee Bucks get off to a slow start in the 2010/11 NBA season.  Unfortunately, that prediction seems to be coming true as the Bucks have dropped their first two games of the season on the road.  There’s no shame in losing at New Orleans, of course, but I expected better of the team against the Minnesota Timberwolves.  And in neither game did the Bucks perform to coach (gritty, gutty) Scott Skiles satisfaction.

I fully expect that the Bucks will right themselves in time but that doesn’t mean there isn’t cause for concern, especially in the short term.  That vaguely defined quality referred to as ‘chemistry’ may be more important in basketball than in other team sports, given the sharing nature of the game.  The Bucks appeared to have that characteristic in spades last season, which contributed greatly to their unexpected success.  In an effort to improve, however, the team swapped out veterans Kurt Thomas, Jerry Stackhouse and Luke Ridnour.  Thomas did yeoman’s work for the Bucks, particularly in the playoffs in the absence of injured starting center Andrew Bogut.  Stackhouse and Ridnour were also likely steadying influences on (then) rookie guard Brandon Jennings.  I anticipated that the Bucks would miss Ridnour especially, something I was reminded off Friday night in watching him play with the T-Wolves.  The Bucks were often at their most effective last season when playing him alongside Jennings.

That doesn’t mean that I’m quibbling with any of the moves made by General Manager John Hammond.  Hammond vastly improved the roster by acquiring players Drew Gooden, Corey Magette,  and Chris Douglas-Roberts while drafting Larry (Hey, now!) Sanders.  Hammond is also to be commended for getting rid of dead weight like Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.  The result has left the team much more talented but younger.

The problem is that it’s going to take some time for Skiles to mesh all the new pieces together.  The arrival of Gooden and Magette changes the roles of some of the remaining players.  Forwards Luc-Richard M’bah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova will have to learn to be effective with shorter minutes off the bench.  Bogut, Douglas-Roberts and guard John Salmons all saw limited playing time due to injury during the preseason, further slowing the acclimation process.

At the same time, Milwaukee won’t be able to sneak up on the league this year.  Opponents know better what to expect of Salmons and Jennings, who’s development at the point was nothing short of amazing.  The league will also be more familiar with Skiles’ defensive system.  The Bucks have always been their best when they move and share the ball.  That means that some of the new players may have to sublimate their own games for the good of the team.  I’ve no doubt that Skiles can make that happen eventually; I only hope that the Bucks don’t put themselves in too much of a hole in the meantime.

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I’m sure I’ll sound like a broken record here (if anyone else remembers what records are) but anyone who thinks that the Green Bay Packers are dealing with a ‘normal’ amount of injuries this year should take a look at this list  http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/106339678.html  thoughtfully provided by JSOnline Packers’ beat writer Tom Silverstein.  It shows the Packers with 10 players listed lost for the season on Injured Reserve.  The only teams with more (11) are the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars.  In addition, the Packers list includes 5 ‘starters’; the only teams even approaching that with 4 are the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns.  Neither of those teams have suffered the loss of such impact players as Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley.  And this list doesn’t even include DBs Al Harris and Atari Bigby, who are still working their way back from the ‘PUP’ list.

I’ve been as frustrated with the Packers as anyone else at times this season, but this needs to be kept in perspective.  Something else that is unique to this team is the multiple numbers of injuries sustained by the team at the same positions, particularly on defense.  I don’t wish to sound like a Ted Thompson acolyte, but it’s a credit to his work that the Packers even remain competitive under such circumstances.

JSOnline also reported yesterday that the Packers are pursuing a contract extension with cornerback Tramon Williams.  This makes sense as Williams is performing the best of any of their DBs, and perhaps as well as any in the league.  Given that incumbents Charles Woodson and Harris are both in their mid-30s, it’s imperative that the Packers lock up Williams long term.

The Packers should strongly consider doing the same with inside linebacker Desmond Bishop.  I have no desire to kick a man when he’s down but Bishop is playing better than the man he replaced, injured ILB Nick Barnett.  Bishop impatiently waited for his chance to start and his play as a reserve was somewhat uneven.  But since he’s been installed as a starter he has been a solid contributor on defense.  Since it’s unlikely that the team will bring back A.J. Hawk at the salary he’s due for next season, one way or another Bishop will be starting for the Packers going forward.  It would probably be smart for the team to sign him now to a multi-year contract as the price will only go up with time.

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Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress childishly blamed his team’s loss at Green Bay last Sunday night on poor officiating.  As usual, Childress was only half right.  The zebras did blow some calls in that game but they went both ways.  Indeed, the quality of officiating throughout the National Football League is pathetic and may be the worst among the major professional sports leagues in America.  And it’s probably more than a coincidence that the NFL is the only pro sports league without full time officials.  Even with the benefit of instant replay, it seems referees routinely have messed up on more plays this season.  The tone was set the first week with the horrible call overturning Lions’ WR Calvin Johnson’s touchdown catch against the Chicago Bears and has degraded from there.  I challenge anyone to find a game this year that hasn’t been affected in a substantial way by a blown call or calls .  It’s enough to make one question the competency, if not the integrity, of the entire NFL officiating corps.

Speaking of the Vikings, quarterback Brett Favre figures to keep his consecutive game starting streak intact for tomorrow’s contest at New England, despite what amounts to a broken ankle.  Favre maintains that he intends to play if he’s able and his head coach is certainly in no position to stop him.  I’m still waiting for the press corps to quit fawning over ’4′ long enough to actually ask him if he’s ever considered that the Vikings best chance to win would be for him to sit out until he’s reasonably healthy.  Meanwhile, the NFL’s “investigation” of “Phone-Gate” presumably continues, though I for one expect nothing to come of it.  It’s not in the league’s best interest to put one of its marquee players in a bad light; that’s why they essentially ignored the Packers’ legitimate claims of tampering before Favre went to Minnesota.  How I long for the ‘good ol’ days’ when “throwing a pic’ just meant that Favre had one of his passes intercepted instead of turned down.

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RANDOM SAMPLINGS:  Speculation out of Milwaukee this week still had the Brewers trying to entice ESPN’s Bobby Valentine to accept their open managerial position.  That would be repeating the mistake they made in hiring Ken Macha, who was a bad fit from day one with the Brewers.  Macha never appeared in tune with his team, reigning in the harmless celebrations that served to annoy other teams as well as himself.  Personally, I believe the Brewers played a little better when they had that chip on their shoulder.  I think the team would be better off with someone who could relate to the personality of their roster.  Valentine just seems a little too old school in that regard………..Former player, reported steroid abuser and federal perjury indictee Barry Bonds wants to return to MLB as a hitting coach, saying that he has “a gift” to impart.  With his resume and reputation as such a ‘giving’, people person, I can’t see how he can miss, especially in light of the dynamite job that Mark McGwire did in that role for the St. Louis Cardinals this past season………..Washington Redskins’ defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth said this week that he wasn’t “good enough” to play in a 3-4 defense.  I bet coach Mike Shanahan wishes Haynesworth had come to that conclusion before he accepted a lucrative roster bonus from the team before the season………..’Experts’ who have anointed the Miami Heat as the next NBA champions may want to temper their expectations.  Superstars LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have already experienced nagging injuries and the Heat are so thin that an extended absence by any of their “Big 3″ could throw a wrench into their season………..Fox TV Sports announced that advertising spots for Super Bowl XLV have already been sold out in contrast to last year’s game when it went down to the last minute.  No doubt advertisers were enticed by the prospect of having their commercials seen on the worlds biggest TV screen in Cowboys Stadium………..Finally, Brewers’ announcer and Pocket Doppler patron saint Bob Uecker was released from a Milwaukee hospital this past week after undergoing successful heart surgery.  Here’s wishing “Ueck” a speedy recovery; looking forward to having him back behind the mic for an entire season.

 

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  • Chris

    Spot on with regard to The Bishop. After GB locks down Williams, they need to resign Desmond.

    Sorry about the death of your laptop. May it rest in peace.

  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    Not to worry; the new one will arrive Tuesday. ;)