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News » ? Issues of starters, health will unfold during preseason

? Issues of starters, health will unfold during preseason

?  Issues of starters, health will unfold during preseason By CHARLES F. GARDNER

St. Francis - A grueling first week of training camp is over for the Milwaukee Bucks , and now some of the fun begins.

The Bucks will hold an open scrimmage at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Bradley Center before beginning their preseason schedule Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Mankato, Minn.

And there's plenty to find out about the retooled Bucks during October. Three issues stand out as they get ready for the franchise's 42nd season:

* Coach Scott Skiles is looking for starters at the two forward spots and expects intense competition over the Bucks' eight preseason games. Richard Jefferson, traded to San Antonio, started all 82 games at small forward last season, and Charlie Villanueva, who signed a multiyear deal with Detroit, started 47 games at power forward.

Second-year pro Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who did start 52 games a year ago, and Carlos Delfino are auditioning at small forward, while Hakim Warrick, Ersan Ilyasova and veteran Kurt Thomas will vie for minutes at power forward.

Joe Alexander also is expected to be in the forward mix when he returns from a hamstring injury.

"We feel like our bench is better, and now it's a matter of who are we going to start, and who plays best with whom," Skiles said. "Those things will work themselves out in the exhibition games."

The 6-foot-6 Delfino, returning to the NBA after playing one season in Russia, has been impressive in the first week.

"I feel he's shot the ball well and passed it well," Skiles said. "He's picked up our defensive stuff and moved around well. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes.

"He plays a pretty simple game. When he's open, he's confident so he shoots it. When he's not, he puts it on the deck and makes a play for somebody else."

* All eyes will be on rookie point guard Brandon Jennings, who also will be battling for a starting job with veteran Luke Ridnour. Will the 20-year-old Jennings be able to adapt quickly and direct the offense while holding his own defensively?

"There are things offensively that he's skilled enough to do," Skiles said. "He needs a lot of work on the defensive end. He needs a lot of work knowing how to run a team, but there's nothing shocking about that.

"You'd rather have a guy with his offensive tools and try to teach the other things to him. We'll get a good gauge on Sunday when we put him in the game, and just go by what we see."

Jennings will go up against former Bucks guard Ramon Sessions, signed as a free agent by Minnesota in September, and rookie Jonny Flynn.

"You've got to learn the NBA game," said Bucks veteran Charlie Bell, who has been impressed with Jennings. "This is where it's important in the preseason, and maybe he can make a couple mistakes and get them out of his system.

"It's difficult in practice because everybody knows the plays. Once he gets in games, things are going to open up a little more. I know a lot of people are looking forward to seeing him play.

"And I know he's looking forward to playing when the lights are on and the popcorn is cooking."

* The health of center Andrew Bogut and shooting guard Michael Redd will be watched carefully during the preseason.

Skiles said he wants to bring them along at the proper pace as both return from serious injuries that kept them out of the lineup for long stretches last season.

"I'll start them both (on Sunday)," Skiles said. "I probably won't play either one of them very much. I just want to get some quality minutes out of them.

"Regardless if they were coming off an injury or not, I probably wouldn't play them a whole lot in an exhibition game. Maybe Michael gets in the teens in minutes or something, and Andrew a little bit less.

"We're just trying to be smart right now. The last thing you want is somebody going down because you're overplaying them in the exhibition season. You just want to try to build as the month goes and get them right for the first game of the season."

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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Added: October 4, 2009


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