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Open thread: Regular season game 31

The essentials:
Wizards (15-15) at Bucks (12-19)
8 p.m.
Bradley Center

Last year:
November 11: Wizards 116, Bucks 101.
December 30: Bucks 119, Wizards 102
January 3: Wizards 108, Bucks 105
April 1: Wizards 121, Bucks 107

Notable Bucks numbers this season:
27th in expected winning percentage (.302).
20th in pace factor (89.7 possessions per game).
19th in offensive efficiency/offensive rating (105.1)
27th in defensive efficiency/defensive rating (111.6).

Key links (drop any others in the comments)
Brew Hoop.
The Bratwurst
Bucks Diary.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Redd doubtful tonight.
The Bratwurst: Charlie Bell sucks.  A lot.
Brew Hoop preview.
Wizards Insider Thursday practice update.
Vote for us!.
Bango's Bunch blog preview.
Competition discussion: Milwaukee.

Starting lineups:
PG: Maurice Williams
SG: Michael Redd/Charlie Bell
SF: Bobby Simmons
PF: Yi Jianlian
C: Andrew Bogut

PG: Antonio Daniels
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Antawn Jamison
C: Brendan Haywood

Tonight's lines:
Wizards at Bucks: Bucks by 1.5.
Over/Under on Big 2 scoring: 43.9 points.

The whole long game preview thing worked well yesterday, so let's do it again.

Sliders: Remember when Milwaukee was leading the Central Division in November?  That seems like an eternity ago.  They've lost 15 of their last 20 games, and some of those came in blowout fashion (though they did beat Miami last night).  It's become so bad that apparently nobody's job is safe anymore.  (Via The Bratwurst).

Among league executives, there's a belief that the Bucks are close to declaring everyone available, except for Yi Jianlian and Andrew Bogut. Larry Harris is fighting for his job as general manager. Owner Herb Kohl mandated playoff contention in the offseason, and the Bucks are spiraling. In the horrific 45-point loss to the Pistons, one league executive monitoring the game said of the Bucks, "After five minutes, that team just quit."

Making matters worse...: If Michael Redd is indeed unable to go, as the above Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests, that means we'll probably see Charlie Bell in the starting lineup.  Bell was the subject of a ridiculous bidding war between the Heat and the Bucks this summer, and so far, he hasn't exactly made his money's worth.  The Bratwurst says he's having the worst season in NBA history thus far.  

Since the NBA was founded, only ten times has a player seen over 1000 minutes and failed to shoot 30%. The worst of those was Red Holzman in 1951-52 -- and he shot .280. 6 of those performances were before the shot clock was even implemented in 1954. Bell has been worse than all of them.

Only two recent seasons have been close to as bad as Bell -- Bobby Hurley shot .283 in 1995-96 and Nikoloz Tskitishvili shot .293 in 2002-03. But both of them have some sort of excuse for their performances. Hurley's game was nothing like it had been before his car accident, and it was just amazing that he was alive and living a normal life, much less playing in the NBA. Denver was trying to force-feed the 19 year old Tskitishvili minutes to see if they had, indeed, made a mistake by drafting him over Amare Stoudemire. Bell has no such excuse.

If you only look at players who played over 500 minutes in a season then three other times a player has shot .267 or worse -- all of them before the shot clock era.

The shooting percentage sucks doubly because Milwaukee isn't a big free-throw shooting team, meaning scores have to come mostly on jumpers.  Michael Redd, despite struggling a bit recently, is as good as they come in that department.  Charlie Bell, quite simply, is not.  If he is forced to start in place of Redd, that should guarantee a victory, one would think.

Most Valuable Bloggers: It's a shame the Bucks stink so much, because they have a really good group of bloggers covering them.  Brew Hoop, The Bratwurst, and MKE Bucks Diary are all among my favorite team-specific blogs to check out, and I encourage you all to do the same.

Yi-lectric slide: One bright spot for the Bucks has been the surprisingly solid play of first-round pick Yi Jianlian.  He's averaging 15.6 points/40 minutes while sporting a decent 53.6 true shooting percentage as the team's starting "power" forward.  Not spectacular, but that certainly places him in the upper echelon among rookies this year.  One thing I've been impressed by is his ability to pop on the high screen and roll.  It's become Milwaukee's bread and butter play, and already, he's doing a nice job executing it.  The Wizards have to be careful to not trap the ball-handler on that play, because that leaves Yi wide open for his patented mid-range jumper.

Front and center: Interesting tidbits from Ivan's blog entry yesterday.  The good news is that Oleksiy Pecherov is getting closer to returning from his sprained ankle, though we've heard that drum beat many times already this year.  Also, Andray Blatche missed yet another practice with "personal problems," which concerns me a bit, because I doubt too many other Wizards would miss practice under those circumstances.  

But the most intriguing stuff came from Eddie Jordan's defense of not playing Darius Songaila against Detroit yesterday.  Songaila was bothered by a sore achilles tendon, but he missed yesterday due to a DNP/CD, not an injury.

"I wanted to go with Andray first and when I went with Andray, I wanted our forwards to max out there minutes a little bit. I went with Andray at forward with Brendan at center which we don't do a lot. That's something I wanted to look at to see if it could give us some kind of advantage there (pause)... it didn't (laugter), I'm glad Darius had another day (to rest the Achilles). I'm sure he was a little bit dissapointed he didn't play but there are still a lot of games and alot of minutes for him. I think there are going to be some good matchups tomorrow and coming up for him."

This raises an interesting question.  What happens to the frontcourt once Pecherov returns.  If Eddie is smart, he will cut Blatche or Songaila's minutes instead of Brendan Haywood's, considering the way Haywood has been playing, but does it pay to even do that?  Blatche has been struggling, but he needs minutes to build confidence.  Songaila hasn't been playing as badly as Eddie seems to imply, and we need him out there for the second unit to move the ball effectively offensively.  One of those needs to be sacrificed, and I don't know which I'd rather prefer.  I guess the best solution would be to just not play Pecherov.  

Remember when: It was just over a year ago that Gilbert Arenas began to make his case for being one of the best clutch performers in the league when he hit the game-winner against the Bucks.  

By the way, remember who missed the open three pointer than could have rendered that play meaningless?  Charlie Bell, of course.

Housecleaning: The contest standings have been updated.  One of my New Year's Resolutions is to update them more often.  Alas, I lost the first Heat game thread, so those picks aren't included in the tally.  If you did vote in that game (no lying, please), tell me, and I'll give you an automatic win for both categories.  

Also, do vote for us in that link to Hardwood Paroxyism.

Keys to the game: I honestly think we'll have little trouble with this team, but just to be sure, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison need to drive the ball to the basket.  I feel like I say that every game, but it carries meaning here.  The Bucks have very bad interior defense, and I don't think Yi or a banged-up Bobby Simmons can cover Caron and Antawn one-on-one.  This is not a game for Jamison to launch six three-pointers with three guys on him.

Defensively, the Wizards need to be sure to go over every screen, as Milwaukee has some excellent jump shooters.  Mo Williams is one of the best in the business coming off the screen and roll, and Yi and Charlie Villanueva are dangerous on the pick and pop.  Force the Bucks to put it on the floor and drive, where they are much, much less successful.  

Otherwise, this is an open game thread, so count the number of times Steve Buckhantz mentions Caron Butler's homecoming.