Luc, Bucks Keep Kicking

These Bucks won’t go down without a fight.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the Milwaukee Bucks kept their playoff hopes alive north of the border Wednesday night, defeating the Toronto Raptors, 104-98.

With two players returning from injury (Michael Redd and Drew Gooden) the Bucks used a deep rotation to pull out the important victory.

« We’ve got two guys that have come back, and it’s the nature of where we’re at right now, » Bucks’ head coach Scott Skiles said. « Everybody has got to adjust to it. »

No. 12 has known his role for a while now. Since moving back into the starting lineup late in the month of February, after an Ersan Ilyasova concussion, Luc’s offensive game has been developing while his defensive skills remain his foundation.

Sergio Gonzalez of CBS Sports noted that Luc has played 33.2 minutes per game in the month of March and the Prince has consistently provided double-digit scoring. But his analysis also mentioned the most compelling thing about Luc’s game:

« [Mbah a Moute] is a player, who at the very least, is consistent. »

On Wednesday, the Bucks were in need of his spark on defense. So center Andrew Bogut, point-guard Brandon Jennings and reserve Drew Gooden picked up the offensive end while Luc could did what he does best: defend.

No. 12 split his time guarding two Raptors forwards on Wednesday. Starter Amir Johnson ended up with three points and rookie Ed Davis, who came off of the bench, didn’t fare much better, as Hayley Mick of The Globe and Mail wrote:

« After back-to-back career highs in scoring, Raptors rookie Davis had just two points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. »

Though his focus was on defense, Luc Richard, who finished with seven points, also asserted himself on offense early. The Prince scored six points in the first, including a thunderous slam dunk off of a Bogut assist with just over three minutes remaining in the quarter. But after one, Milwaukee trailed by six.

No. 12 took a quick rest to start the second and reentered the game with 10 minutes remaining in the half.  The Bucks were in the midst of an 18-8 run that they used to surge to the lead. At halftime, Milwaukee was in front by three, 52-49.

The teams traded baskets in the third quarter and the Raptors tied the game going into the final period. But the Bucks would not be denied, thanks to some timely threes by Carlos Delfino and a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line down the stretch. Meanwhile Luc and the defense locked in, halting any sort of run the Raptors could muster up.

Luc Richard and the Bucks have won seven of their last nine matchups with the Raptors. Milwaukee has also now won three straight against Toronto for the first time since the 2003-2004 season.

But despite Wednesday’s victory, the Bucks failed to pick up ground on the East’s eighth-seed, the Indiana Pacers, who also won, and Milwaukee remains three games back with eight to play.

The Bucks know they will have to close out the season with a long winning streak to have any chance in the postseason chase. In order for that to happen, coach Scott Skiles is looking for consistency and smart decision making out of his group.

« The games have such importance, » Skiles told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. « I’m certainly not going to make every decision perfectly, but I’m basing all my decisions on winning the game that night. [The players] understand that; it’s what we have to do. »

Luc and the Bucks will, perhaps, play their most important game of the year Friday night in Indiana against the Pacers.

« This is probably do or die for us, » Bogut told the Stamford Advocate. « This game is everything for us and probably everything for them, too. »

Point guard Brandon Jennings agreed.

« This might be the biggest game of the season for us, » Jennings said.

In three games against the Pacers this year, Luc is averaging eight points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The Bucks have won two of three.

The Prince will be in for a challenge on Friday, as he’ll have to guard Pacers small-forward Danny Granger for most of the night. Granger is averaging just over 20 points per game this season.

The game tips off at 6 p.m. CST on FSN Wisconsin.