MILWAUKEE (AP)—The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t had a lot to smile about this season, and it wasn’t just their 113-103 win over Orlando on Saturday night that had them grinning.
The Bucks, suffering through a 30-50 season, were peeking ahead to next season and the possibility that point guard T.J. Ford would be back in uniform.
Desmond Mason, who scored 22 points in three quarters, said a jolt of joy spread through the team Saturday when Ford shot baskets with his doctor’s blessing Saturday for the first time since bruising his spinal cord almost 14 months ago.
“I think this is a great thing, definitely a blessing for him to be able to come back and play basketball,” Mason said. “There’s still a healing process, still some treatments and there’s still him getting back in basketball shape, getting his weight back, shaking the dirt off a little bit. But it’s definitely good to have him back out here.”
Ford shot baskets at the team’s training center in the morning and at the Bradley Center hours before the game between two teams whose playoff hopes were dashed by injuries and inconsistency.
While Ford has gone through a torrent of emotions over the uncertainty of his health and career, the Bucks have been in a free-fall since he went down last February, backsliding into the playoffs last year and missing them altogether this season.
“All of our guys are happy that he’s back, all of our guys know how much he meant to us at the beginning of last season,” Mason said. “I think he was key to us getting a lot of wins. He’s obviously talented. And as long as he can stay healthy, I think he’s going to get better. I think he’s going to be key for the franchise.”
Magic forward Grant Hill, who knows all about coming back from injuries, said Ford needs to be smart and patient: “Don’t try to get it all back right away. If you stay smart and optimistic, you can overcome it.”
Bucks general manager Larry Harris tempered his enthusiasm by saying this was just the first small step, but forward Joe Smith said it was a ray of hope for a franchise beset by back luck for the last 1 1/2 seasons.
“It’s been hard to see him on the bench,” Smith said.
Ford had the biggest smile of all.
“I didn’t lose anything. I didn’t lose my game,” said Ford, who hasn’t played since getting hurt Feb. 24, 2004, when he bruised his spinal cord by landing on his tailbone in a game.
Ford will undergo another battery of tests in six weeks, after which he hopes to have clearance for contact so that he can resume his NBA career in the fall.
Smith said he’d love to see Ford team up with point guard Mo Williams to form the quickest 1-2 point guard punch in the NBA: “They’d tire out a lot of point guards,” Smith said.
Williams did a pretty good job by himself Saturday night.
The Magic, losers of seven straight, got 19 points from Dwight Howard. But they were without guard Steve Francis (sore lower back), negating any advantage they would have had with Bucks guard Michael Redd (left Achilles’ tendinitis) sitting out.
Marcus Fizer’s eight points sparked the Bucks’ 30-20 second quarter that gave Milwaukee a 12-piont halftime cushion and Mason scored 13 points in the third quarter as Milwaukee extended its lead to 88-69.
The Bucks led by as many as 24 in the fourth quarter.
“Maybe we’re not going to the playoffs,” Magic coach Chris Jent said. “But I see each game as a chance to do something positive. I thought we played with a lot of spirit and effort, and that’s all you can ask.”
The Bucks won the season series 2-1, their seventh series win over the Magic in the last eight years. … Brewers ace Ben Sheets, who just signed the richest contract in franchise history, a four-year, $38.5 million deal, had to jump out of harm’s way when Williams’ momentum took him into the stands while chasing down an errant pass.