The Milwaukee Bucks are headed to the NBA playoffs.
And not for the reason you might think.
Battling for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee seemingly acquired the player to put them over the top in explosive scoring guard Monta Ellis.
The Bucks obtained Ellis in a multi-player deal with the Golden State Warriors last Tuesday, a deal that sent talented center Andrew Bogut to the Warriors.
While Bogut may not even play this season because of a fractured left ankle, Ellis provides the Bucks with immediate help for their playoff push.
The 6-foot-3 guard strutted his stuff in his Bucks’ debut last Friday night when he scored 18 points in Milwaukee’s 120-98 victory over the Warriors.
You can fully expect the Bucks will win a bunch of games the rest of the regular season as well, although I contend they would have done so even without Ellis and without having had to sacrifice Bogut, a blue-chip center who, despite his injury record, is only 27 years old.
The Bucks not only have more than enough talent to sneak into the playoffs in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but they also have a soft-as-Charmin schedule the rest of the way.
The Bucks, riding a five-game winning streak — all against teams with sub .500 records, I might add — will play only nine teams with a winning record in their final 22 games. And none of those teams are named Miami, Chicago or Orlando.
Short term, the Bogut-Ellis trade looks like a boon for the Bucks. Long-term, the trade looks like a bust.
Steelers have high hopes for Clay
I chatted with Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert at the recent NFL Combine in Indianapolis and, naturally, the conversation eventually turned to John Clay.
Clay, the former Park High School and University of Wisconsin standout, made the Steelers’ roster last season as an undrafted free agent.
While Clay played only a few series down the stretch at fullback for the Steelers, Colbert was highly encouraged.
“John did a nice job for us last season on the practice squad and then, when we had some injuries with Rashard Mendall (a torn ACL), we activated John and he did a nice job again,” Colbert said. “So he’ll be in the mix going into training camp.
“We’re pretty sure we won’t have Mendenhall early, so we’ll have to see what happens. But ultimately, John is a big part of it. We like John’s desire to get better.”
And what does Clay need to do to improve his lot with the team?
“He has to continue to understand the pace of the running game and continue to understand protections because those are the two things he’ll most be involved with,” Colbert said. “So, if he continues to get better in those two areas, he’ll be fine.”
One of the major reasons I enjoy the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the broadcasters, particularly the dynamic duo of Merton “Verne” Lundquist and Bill Raftery.
The insight, wit and entertaining style served up by Messrs. Lundquist and Raftery make watching any game a real treat.
Said Raftery after Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom got away with an obvious traveling violation just before halftime against Murray State: “They would have even called that in the NBA.”
Analysts Charles Barkley and Greg Anthony can be counted on to deliver some gems and they did.
Said Barkley about Wisconsin and Bo Ryan’s fundamentally-sound Badgers: “I think all these guys have fathers who were a coach.”
And Anthony on Marquette senior Jae Crowder: “He may be the most versatile player in the nation. ... He’s about winning.”
The Bucks had a chance to select Monta Ellis, whom they acquired last week from Golden State, in the 2005 NBA draft.
Instead, they chose Ersan Ilyasova who, after going through some growing pains has emerged as bona-fide starter.
Ilyasova was the 36th player taken in that draft, and Ellis was the 40th, taken by Golden State.
Wedged in between those picks was none other than Travis Diener, the former Marquette standout who is now playing professionally in Italy.
Under the microscope
In the wake of his controversial drug-testing incident, Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun will be the most scrutinized player in baseball this season.
So far in spring training, Braun has only 1 hit in 15 at-bats. That’s a paltry .067 batting average. Braun batted .325 in spring training last season en route to becoming the NL’s MVP. Do you think the Brewers are concerned?
Around the horn
While the heartbreak of losing a WIAA Division 5 state championship won’t be going away any time soon for Racine Lutheran High School coach Jeff Christensen and his boys basketball crew, they will always have a lifetime of fond memories of a truly special season. ... Congrats to Lee Kaboski, who was recently honored at a Marquette University men’s basketball game for his dedication to the program as a season-ticket holder. Kaboski, a native of New Jersey who lives in Caledonia, attended MU in the 60s and has bled blue and gold ever since. ... I can’t imagine Aaron Rodgers was overly thrilled the Packers didn’t re-sign center Scott Wells, who is now dutifully employed by the St. Louis Rams. Wells was the Packers’ most reliable and durable offensive lineman in recent years and rarely mis-snapped the ball to Rodgers in the shot-gun formation. ... Anyone looking for a house? You can buy Bucks coach Scott Skiles’ humble abode in Mequon for a mere $1.3 million.
Gery Woelfel is a sports reporter for the Journal Times. Gery can be reached by calling (262) 631-1730 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org