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News » BUCKS Division a priority for Skiles Five years in cellar of Central long enough

BUCKS Division a priority for Skiles Five years in cellar of Central long enough

BUCKS  Division a priority for Skiles  Five years in cellar of Central long enough By TOM ENLUND

Chicago - After the curtain fell on last season and the Milwaukee Bucks started looking ahead, it became clear quickly that one of the top priorities would be to fare better against teams in the Central Division.

After all, the Bucks finished last in the division for the fifth straight season.

"In order to get where we want to go, we've got to be a bigger factor in our division," coach Scott Skiles said then. "That's a given. We can't be in last place in our division and still be a contender.

"We have to look at the Clevelands and Detroits and Chicagos and have to be better than the teams we play three and four times a year. We have to try and get better than those teams. Right now, we're not."

Two of the Bucks' first three games this season - against Detroit last Saturday and Chicago on Tuesday night at the United Center - were against Central rivals, and nothing has changed in Skiles' mind as far as the importance of divisional games is concerned.

"We talked about it at some length (before playing Chicago), that's for sure," said Skiles.

The Bucks have finished last in the five-team Central Division every season since the league went to the six-division format in 2004-'05. The last time Milwaukee did not finish in the cellar was in 2003-'04, when the Bucks finished 41-41 and in fourth place in the eight-team Central Division.

Detroit and Cleveland have dominated the division over the past five seasons, with Detroit winning four straight titles before the Cavaliers won the division last season. The Pistons compiled a 269-141 record over those five seasons, while Cleveland was 253-157.

Chicago was 211-199 over that span, while Indiana was 192-218 and the Bucks were 158-252. Four coaches - Skiles, Larry Krystkowiak, Terry Stotts and Terry Porter - led the Bucks in those five seasons.

"It's tough, year in and year out," said Bucks guard Charlie Bell. "You know Cleveland is going to be there and Detroit has been tough. But I think some of the other teams we're right there with, like Chicago and Indiana, teams like that.

"We've got to be ready to go out there and compete night in and night out. Go out there with a chip on our shoulder with something to prove."

Divisional games also have additional significance because of the playoff tiebreaking factor. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition, and the second - for teams in the same division - is record within the division. Last season, the Bucks were 0-4 against Cleveland, 1-3 against Chicago and Detroit, and 2-2 against Indiana.

"The tiebreaker proves huge," said center Andrew Bogut. "If you're tied, 2-2, it goes back to division records, so these are very important games.

"It's a very tough division, too. There are five pretty good teams in this division, so we have a lot of work cut out for us, but I think we can definitely have an achievable goal there."

The Bucks also will have to improve their road record against Central teams if they intend to move up in the standings. Last season, they were 1-7 on the road against Central teams, with the only victory at Detroit. Over the past five seasons, the Bucks averaged 10.2 road victories overall per season.

"We know we need a better home record," said Skiles. "But we need a better road record, as well. We have to be a team that if you want to make steps and move up in standings and those kinds of things, you can't be winning 9, 10, 11, 12 or 13 road games. You've got to be around a .500 road team."

Copyright 2009, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. (Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media.)

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