MILWAUKEE — If there is a silver lining to the Milwaukee Bucks’ showing in their NBA Eastern Conference first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, it’s the improvement of Larry Sanders.
The Bucks’ young center, who exhibited dramatic growth in his game during the regular season, has played well in the postseason. He has been the Bucks’ most consistent and productive performer through the first three playoff games.
Sanders is averaging 12 points, after averaging 9.8 during the regular season, and 7.3 rebounds. He is also shooting a team-leading 67 percent from the field.
One play that illustrates Sanders’ determination occurred in the third quarter of the Bucks’ 104-91 Game 3 loss Thursday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. After collecting a rebound under the Heat’s basket, Sanders dribbled upcourt like a flashy point guard.
After outrunning Miami center Udonis Haslem, he crossed midcourt and finished the play after not finding an open teammate.
“I thought I’d take my chance,” Sanders said with a smile.
Sanders went airborne, slicing between Heat defenders Mario Chalmers and LeBron James near the free-throw line before throwing down a vicious dunk that brought down the house.
“That was a great move, a great play,” Bucks swingman Mike Dunleavy said. “Larry is a really good ballhandler as he showed there. The general public may have been surprised by that play, but his teammates weren’t. They know he can do these things.”
Not done yet
Joel Przybilla barely played during the regular season and hasn’t played during the playoffs.
The Bucks’ reserve center, who has overcome some serious injuries in recent years — he has twice ruptured his right patella tendon — isn’t ready to hang up the sneakers.
Przybilla, who will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, said he hasn’t been this healthy in years and could still contribute to a team.
“I’m definitely keeping the door open,” the 33-year-old Przybilla said.
Przybilla, who could have signed with any team last summer, said he doesn’t have any regrets about his decision to sign with the Bucks.
“I knew the situation here; I knew what my role would be,” Przybilla said. “I wouldn’t mind coming back here, but I don’t know what direction they (the Bucks) are headed in, They got a lot of things to decide on this summer.”
Wade down but not out
Miami guard Dwyane Wade had the worst shooting playoff game of his career Thursday night in the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the same place where he rose to prominence as a Marquette University All-American.
Wade made only 1 of 12 shots from the field in Game 3. Wade has been plagued by a sore knee and it appeared he may have also been bothered by a right arm injury. His arm was frequently massaged while he was on the bench.
There is some speculation Wade may sit out today’s game. If that occurred, backup shooting guard Ray Allen, who began his pro career with the Bucks, would likely replace him in the starting lineup. Allen scored 20 points in Game 2 and 23 in Game 3.
It’s likely James would be more assertive offensively in Wade’s absence.
“LeBron has been playing an efficient game, a smart game,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “If he had to do something more, he probably will.”
Ilyasova feeling good again
Ersan Ilyasova rebounded from a dismal Game 1, when he went 1 for 7 from the field and scored two points. Ilyasova scored 21 points in Game 2 and 15 points in Game 3, combining to shoot 16 of 26 from the field.
Ilyasova confirmed before Game 3 that he was hurting in Game 1.
“The first game, my wrist hurt; I had pain,” said Ilyasova, who has been receiving treatment for a deep bruise on his right wrist that occurred late in the regular season. “It’s much better now, but I have to be careful. When I take a charge and land on it (the right wrist), it gets sore again.”
Weltman rumors heat up
Two years ago Bucks assistant general manager Jeff Weltman drew serious consideration for a front office job with the Phoenix Suns. Now, his name has resurfaced for the Suns’ vacant general manager’s job.
Weltman, like Bucks GM John Hammond, received a three-year extension from the Bucks during the middle of this season. Weltman couldn’t be reached for comment.
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis were supposed to be the Bucks’ strength coming into the playoffs. That hasn’t happened.
Both veteran guards are mired in shooting slumps. Ellis is shooting 40 percent from the field and averaging 12 points for the series, seven under his regular-season average. Jennings has been worse. He is shooting 32 percent from the field and 21 percent from 3-point range.
There used to be a time when a coach, who led his team into the playoffs, would be in line for a contract extension. Not anymore.
There’s a legitimate chance five coaches with teams in the playoffs could be jettisoned. They are Atlanta’s Larry Drew, Brooklyn’s P.J. Carlesimo, Vinny Del Negro of the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis’ Lionel Holllins and Milwaukee’s Jim Boylan.
Another coach, Keith Smart of the Sacramento Kings could also lose his job as part of a front office purge.