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TWO superb NBA stories of late implicate the Milwaukee Bucks, which is why you've read or heard precious little about them. Despite boasting an unadulterated All-Star in Michael Redd — unrecognizable at his own dinner table until his coming out party in L.A. in which Rick Carlisle set up a possible game-tying trifecta in his honor — the Bucks essentially are a company of hand-me-downs.
In fact, if not for rookie stylist Terry Porter earning a modicum of national consideration for coaching honors, nobody outside of Wisconsin would have known his geeked-up band of overachievers were fourth in the east and six games north of the equator going into last night's game in Miami.
Oh, that's news to you, too?
Well, here's another bulletin:
Since Damon Jones was given custody of the ball five games ago following T.J. Ford's slight (is there such a diagnosis?) spinal injury, the Bucks have played five times, winning the last four after losing to the Timberwolves, and (drum roll) Jones has accumulated an inhuman 53 assists and two turnovers, accentuated by the 17-0 ratio in Wednesday's manacling of the Magic in Orlando.
Attention, please, the above stats are not typographical errors
Damon, who, you plead?
Damon Jones, you know, the guy who came out of the University of Houston undrafted in 1997 and known primarily as a 3-point long distance dialer. Admittedly, my short-term memory isn't what it used to be, but, as I recall, he nailed 20 or 25 in a row (some ridiculous number like that) on the outskirts of Downtown Freddie Brown in last summer's Wheelchair Classic at the Garden.
Yeah, that Damon Jones, holding it down for his ninth outfit in six seasons; his stops at the blinking light include Orlando, New Jersey, Boston, Golden State, Dallas, Vancouver, Detroit, Sacramento, Milwaukee and the obligatory para-professional leagues in between.
Yeah, that Damon Jones, here a free agent, there a free agent, every year a free agent. Come July 1, it'll be no different. During that hang-tough time, it's safe to say, Jones has amassed more per diem than after-tax dollars.
Because Redd is such a toxic outside shooter and Desmond Mason has developed a lethal weapon to complement his aerially dynamic act, the Bucks began the season armed but not all that dangerous. Porter's emphasis on dripping sweat on defensive assignments, sharing the ball and running at every opportunity made them competitive more times than not. But what makes them especially complicated to negotiate with recently is the pick-and-roll orchestrated by Damon and Keith Van Horn.
Unlike Ford, whose springer is suspect, at best, Damon's jumper must be taken seriously; cheaters are instantly punished. Unlike Thomas, not exactly celebrated for his passing, Van Horn creates easier shots for himself or Jones in the two-man game. Additionally, he flaunts longer and more accurate range.
For the first time since college, Van Horn's teammates and coach are focusing on his strengths as opposed to highlighting his weaknesses. Whether it's been Jersey, Philly or New York, Van Horn has been accused of being soft, defensively deficient and un-athletic. In Milwaukee, the help is there before he can be exploited. Moreover, he's being encouraged to do what he does best.
Already Van Horn has notched a 23-point effort, delivered a season high 30 and poured in 25 against the Magic. Down the stretch the Bucks cleared out the middle — that's right, cleared out the middle — and let him work one-on-one against Drew Gooden or Tracy McGrady. Using superior size and experience he mistreated both! Frequently!
Rich Majerus would've been proud. Then again, I think I spotted him alongside Porter calling Van Horn's number.
Subject: Far From Eagle-I-Iverson
After aborting his last 18 shots, Allen Iverson was traded by Glen Sather to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for a Slovak defenseman and the right to pick John Kerry's running mate. Jayson Williams says Iverson needs to work on his shooting.
Subject: Who Owns New York? Arizona, Of Course
Having beaten the Knicks by 18 and Nets by 13, the Suns were anointed by George Karl as the best team in the New York area. In all fairness, the Jersey Jammers were without Jason Kidd, who afterward admitted it was tough being on the receiving end of such abuse in Arizona.
Subject: Kerry Effectively Nails Down Dem Nomination
To his credit, the Senator from Massachusetts said he didn't mind showing up in a photo with Jane Fonda. But he drew the line when asked to pose with Danny Ainge.
Why do the things that we treasure most, slip away in time
Till to the music we grow deaf, to God's beauty blind
Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?
Till we fall away in our own darkness, a stranger to our own hearts
And life itself, rushing over me
Life itself, the wind in black elms,
Life itself in your heart and in your eyes, I can't make it without you
Van Horn has played extremely well for the Bucks, and I'll say right now the Bucks are better than the Hornets.
Depends on which Hornets team shows up. The one that played the Pacers a couple of weeks ago looked awfully scary. I'll be rooting for the Bucks in a Hornets/Bucks series. Baron Davis scares the hell out of me.
I know: you have to be careful what you wish for.
Either way a second round playoff bout with either team will be an adventure.