The Milwaukee Bucks are ready to kick off the second half of the NBA season against the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday night. If Milwaukee wants to climb up the Eastern Conference standings they will need to be in full force and that means getting center Larry Sanders back healthy.
Sanders went through a full practice Monday for the first time in almost two weeks, as he has been unable to participate in team activities since bruising his lower back against the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 5. He did get a second medical opinion last week because the pain was not going away.
“I’m not feeling that much better so we’ll see,” Sanders said last week. “It’s a really deep (bruise) so I’m going to get another opinion on it. I’ve never had one that really bothered me like this before.”
The Bucks have had a difficult time competing on the court without their 6-foot-11, 235-pound center in the middle making plays. Milwaukee has posted a 2-5 record when Sanders is not in the lineup this season, including 1-3 in their last four games. It is understandable why the Bucks have such a poor record without him because he is such a huge threat on offense and defense. Sanders leads the NBA in blocks per game (3.2) and averages 8.5 points as well as 8.5 rebounds per contest.
The 24-year-old is optimistic about his chances of playing against Brooklyn saying it is about “70-30” that he will suit up.
It is critical that the Bucks put up a decent showing against the Nets in order to boost confidence among the team that they can hang with one of the top squads in the East. The Bucks will have two opportunities to defeat the No. 4 seed in the conference in back-to-back nights – Tuesday in Brooklyn and Wednesday in Milwaukee. If the Bucks want to make a run at a decent playoff spot over the next 31 games, they have to start defeating the teams that are ahead of them in the standings.
Milwaukee will have to use hard-nosed defense from here on out to get in the minds of their opponents. Sanders will have to continue leading the charge on this front, as he is the heart and soul of the defense.
“With this team I put the defense on my shoulders,” Sanders said. “I want to be a leader on the defensive end. I think that helps us out a lot.
“I think they missed it a little bit. But they worked through it, especially that Philly game, and showed we have that in us. But I’m ready to return. I’m ready to lock that paint down and get this ball back rolling.”
The Bucks will also have to take smart shots on offense in which guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis must improve their shooting percentage from the field. Also, it is very important to get the ball to Sanders and backup center Samuel Dalembert in the middle so they can work the paint, which will help improve the shot opportunities on the outside.