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JENNINGS PUTS BUCKS IN FAST LANE It would be easy to cut Brandon Jennings a little slack if he had developed a case of stage fright.

After all, it was the rookie phenom's first game against LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But it wasn't Jennings who was awestruck while playing against NBA royalty Sunday, it was the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks . Even King James noticed that during the Bucks' ugly 101-86 loss to the Cavaliers at the Bradley Center.

"He's very confident," James said of Jennings. "He knows how to play the game of Basketball. It seems like the team has given him that torch to carry this team. It's very tough to be a superstar in this league, but right now he's doing an unbelievable job for this team, for this franchise. And he's only going to get better."

But if this was a test for Jennings, who became a league-wide sensation after scoring 55 points in his seventh game, it was an even bigger test for his team. With the Green Bay Packers taking a Sunday off , the Bucks had the state stage all to themselves and a golden opportunity to show that their 8-3 start wasn't some Jennings-inspired fluke.

Alas, even with a handful of Packers players sitting courtside, it didn't happen like it was scripted. In the best example of bad timing since the University of Wisconsin cost itself a New Year's Day Bowl with a loss to Northwestern, the Bucks showed only that they have a long way to go before they can be mentioned in the same conversation with the contenders in the Eastern Conference.

After Jennings fueled a quick getaway in the opening minutes, the Bucks missed 18 consecutive shots - many of them open jump shots - and watched the Cavaliers reel off 29 consecutive points even without a major contribution from James. That effectively put an end to the suspense sometime in the second period.

"Obviously, that's a very good team," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "They more or less manhandled us except for a few minutes in the game. That's undeniable."

It is equally undeniable that this little trip to the NBA woodshed dropped the Bucks' record to 9-10 and put them squarely in their place.

"They're a great team," Bucks center Andrew Bogut said. "We haven't played too well against playoff teams. We've beaten a lot of teams we should beat. The only team we've really beaten that no one expected us to was Denver, so we still have a long way to go."

The hope, of course, is that Jennings will lead them on that journey and that it will happen quickly. The reality is that Jennings has struggled with his shot lately as opponents have developed a "book" on him and that the Bucks have faded without his nightly heroics.

Against Cleveland, however, Jennings rose to the occasion, something he seems to do with regularity. When the Bucks took an 11-0 lead at the start, Jennings had a hand in nine of the 11 points as a shooter or passer. When they rebounded in the second half with some decent play despite having no chance to win, it was Jennings at the forefront, scoring 15 of his 24 points.

"(He had) a lot of energy," Bucks forward Hakim Warrick said. "It showed that he wasn't going to quit and he wasn't going to back down. That's what we need."

Boy, do they ever. Of course, they also need Bogut to start playing like he did before he hurt his leg and Michael Redd to get over his knee problems. In the meantime, Jennings looks like Milwaukee's best hope to become the superstar every contending team needs.

"He has the makings of being a star in this league for a long time and he's on his way to being there if he isn't already there," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "I like his game and I think Scott is doing the right thing with him by working with him and trying to help him grow by letting him play through mistakes. You guys have got a good one here in Milwaukee in Jennings."

The Cavaliers should know. When Jennings became the youngest player in NBA history to score 55 points, it was James' record that he broke.

James said Jennings is "very talented, very quick, very fast, and you can tell he's very confident in his abilities and that's really good. That's something that you kind of gain over the years in the NBA, but he has it right now. If you have confidence in yourself, it goes a long way."

The Bucks certainly hope so.

Contact Tom Oates at or 608-252-6172.

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Added: December 8, 2009


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