They’ll have to take the final step without him.
Bogut’s season is likely over after he suffered a scary elbow injury in Milwaukee’s latest win, leaving the Bucks feeling bittersweet as they take their first shot at clinching a postseason berth Tuesday against the Chicago Bulls.
Rookie Brandon Jennings(notes) and deadline acquisition John Salmons(notes) have certainly done their part in transforming Milwaukee (42-34) into an Eastern Conference playoff contender, but Bogut’s season-long impact has been the most significant.
After a back injury sidelined him for much of last season, the 7-footer returned in 2009-10 and is one of eight players averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds (15.9, 10.2). The Bucks have been a virtual certainty to win when Bogut has a big game, going 16-3 when he scores at least 20 points.
Now, they will have to find a way to win without having him at all. Bogut suffered a broken hand, dislocated elbow and sprained wrist during a fall from the rim in a 107-98 win over Phoenix on Saturday night.
While the official prognosis is that Bogut will be out indefinitely, he is unlikely to play again this season.
“That’s the NBA. Things happen and guys step up,” guard Jerry Stackhouse(notes) said. “We’re all professionals and that’s why we pay these guys in this locker room. When somebody goes down you have an opportunity to step up and help the team and hopefully we’ll find some guys to do that.”
While Bogut has given opponents fits in the paint, Salmons has been doing the same on the perimeter since being acquired from the Bulls (37-39). The veteran swingman, traded to Chicago at last season’s deadline, has averaged 20.0 points in 24 games with Milwaukee - 7.3 more than he was scoring in just five fewer minutes per game with the Bulls.
This is Salmons’ first trip back to the United Center, and he finds himself on the other side of a season series that couldn’t get much tighter. Chicago beat Milwaukee 83-81 on Nov. 3 - its eighth straight home victory in the series - behind 24 points and 20 boards from Luol Deng(notes), but the Bucks won twice in Milwaukee by a combined five points as Bogut averaged 24.5 points and 14.0 rebounds.
The Bucks, a half-game behind Miami for the fifth seed, are five up on ninth-place Chicago - meaning a win Tuesday would lock up their first playoff berth since 2006.
The Bulls’ concern is catching Toronto. They trail the Raptors by one game for the final playoff spot after rallying to beat Charlotte 96-88 on Saturday night.
“We understand the situation and have to keep fighting and keep fighting,” center Joakim Noah(notes), who had 11 points and 16 rebounds, told the NBA’s official Web site. “… I think everybody here really wants to make the playoffs.”
Derrick Rose(notes) has averaged 20.0 points and 7.0 assists versus Milwaukee in 2009-10, but the game could come down to a battle between Salmons and Deng. Chicago’s small forward, who recently returned from a strained calf, has averaged 19.7 points and 13.7 rebounds in the three meetings.
Milwaukee last won in Chicago on Jan. 2, 2006.