Rookie Rankings, Week 8: Injuries Give Bucks New Plan – Play the Kids

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Larry SandersIt was kind of hard to figure out what the Milwaukee Bucks were doing this offseason.

Allowing their entire backcourt rotation of Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick to leave via free agency seemed to indicate a rebuilding project was about to begin. Jennings and Redick brought youngsters and draft picks in sign-and-trades, reinforcing that premise.

Then GM John Hammond used his newfound cap space on middle-tier free agents O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia and Carlos Delfino before dropping a big contract extension on Larry Sanders, which seemed to indicate that contending for a playoff spot was the goal.

With 10 new players and a new coach in Larry Drew, continuity appeared to be of paramount importance. But the Bucks have been hit hard by injuries, and the season is quickly unraveling.

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Bernucca: With fundamentals, Spurs making NBA look like AAU

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We are all familiar with the Spurs and their uncanny efficiency. Are you familiar with AAU basketball? benched spurs

I have coached it at the high school level for the last three years. And one thing I have learned is that with just four hours of weekly practice time followed by four games every weekend, if you don’t have definitive, well-drilled schemes on both offense and defense, you have no chance to compete.

However, if you have a group that is committed to a specific style of play on both ends of the floor, you can consistently compete with, and even beat teams that are bigger, stronger, quicker and more talented than yours.

Gregg Popovich has the San Antonio Spurs committed to a system. At its roots, that system is grounded in the fundamentals that are preached – and often ignored – at every level of basketball, from AAU to NBA. On defense, pressure the ballhandler to make things difficult. Commit to playing defense as individuals and as a team. Box out and don’t allow second shots.

On offense, get the ball quickly upcourt and look for early offense. In the halfcourt, set solid picks and make hard cuts. Trust your scheme and your teammates. Give up a good shot to get a great shot.

These are the basics of the game. And right now, with these basics as their foundation, Popovich and the Spurs are making the NBA look like an AAU tournament.

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Preseason Playoff Picture: Eastern Conference

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Kyrie Irving 2Who is crashing the playoff party in the East this season?

Conventional wisdom says the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference and – barring a disaster – will secure the top five spots.

At the other end of the conference, you can probably toss out the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats and Philadelphia 76ers, who could pool their rosters to come up with the 15 best players and still not make the playoffs.

That leaves three spots for the remaining seven teams. Last season, those spots went to the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks. Some would argue that each of those teams took backward steps in the offseason and could wind up in the lottery.

The postseason door could be open for teams such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, who clearly upgraded their rosters this summer in an effort to play in May. But have they done enough?

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Five Things to Watch: Milwaukee Bucks

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Brandon KnightCapping off a mediocrity-defining three-year stretch that saw them finish ninth, ninth and eighth in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks should have entered the summer of 2013 with change as the most obvious mandate.

As in change everything.

Despite a return to the playoffs and encouraging progress from big men Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson, the Bucks had little to show for their efforts last season, as coaching upheaval and a dysfunctional locker room motivated GM John Hammond to take a flamethrower to his roster once again.

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The Evening News: Larry Drew not likely to be retained; Rose “might have a chance” to return against Heat; Nuggets confident in ability to re-sign Iguodala

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Hello and welcome to the Evening News.

As the playoffs continue, we’ll keep you updated every evening. What’s happening today?

Here’s the latest news from around the league: