MILWAUKEE (AP) — Before an ugly injury to center Andrew Bogut, the Milwaukee Bucks were regarded as a potentially dangerous first-round playoff opponent. Fans adopted "fear the deer" as their rallying cry, and the Bucks had knocked off several of the NBA's top teams in recent weeks.
Now instead of patrolling the paint for Milwaukee, Bogut will be recovering from multiple injuries and surgery while his teammates continue their playoff push without him.
Milwaukee can clinch a playoff berth with a win at Chicago on Tuesday, but these deer suddenly don't seem as fierce.
"Nobody wants to see another team's player get hurt, especially in that kind of dramatic fashion like it happened," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said Monday. "Yet at the same time, there could be some teams saying, 'Man, I'm glad we don't have to play Bogut tonight.' It's part of it. Our guys all understand it. There isn't going to be anybody in Chicago shedding a tear for us that Andrew's not playing tomorrow night."
Bogut had surgery to repair his broken right hand Monday afternoon, two days after he sustained the injury — plus a sprained wrist and dislocated elbow — in an arm-wrenching crash to the court during Saturday's victory over Phoenix.
Team officials said Bogut is expected to need six weeks to recover before he can begin full rehabilitation, essentially ruling him out for the season.
Bogut was having a breakout season before the injury, averaging 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
"It's really disappointing for Andrew," said veteran Jerry Stackhouse, a midseason acquisition for the Bucks. "I think he's worked really hard to put this team in position to be in the playoffs, and be where we are right now. No way we'd be anywhere close to it without him. Just disappointing he doesn't get an opportunity to taste it a little bit."
In one sense, the Bucks are right back where they were a year ago — playing without a pair of cornerstone players, Bogut and Michael Redd, because of injuries.
But they're a better team with more to play for this time around. Milwaukee currently is sixth in the Eastern Conference and would clinch its first playoff berth since the 2005-06 season by beating the Bulls.
Skiles successfully guided the team through yet another season-ending knee injury to Redd back in January. But the injury to Bogut comes with only six games left in the regular season.
"You'd like a little more time to kind of tinker with things, and we don't have that," Skiles said. "It's just the nature of what it is. Obviously, each guy's got to do a little bit more."
Veteran forward Kurt Thomas is expected to start Tuesday. Thomas, who is in his 15th NBA season, knows he'll have to change his approach to playing defense as a starter.
"Coming off the bench, I don't really have to worry about foul trouble," Thomas said. "I can just go out there and hack and just do what I do best. But being in the starting lineup, I've definitely got to try not to get in early foul trouble."
The Bucks do have more size on their bench in 6-foot-10 Ersan Ilyasova and 6-11 Dan Gadzuric, but neither can be expected to provide Bogut's physical presence. Primoz Brezec, a 7-1 center who has played sparingly since coming to the Bucks in a trade with Philadelphia in February, also could figure more prominently.
Mostly, the Bucks will rely on each of their more established players to do more.
"We'll just have to do it as a committee now," John Salmons said.
While Bogut was scoring consistently, his defense and rebounding might be missed more.
"He's able to cover up a lot of our mistakes defensively," Stackhouse said. "We want to be aggressive, we want to stunt the guys on the perimeter and you're going to give up some penetration sometimes. We've got to have guys step up."
Skiles said the team was taking Bogut's injury in stride.
"Obviously, we had a day to absorb it a little bit," Skiles said. "But the guys were sharp again today, and we'll see what happens. I mean, all the guys know the importance of Andrew to our team. At the same time, they also know they've got to go on right now."
And at least the Bucks still have something to play for.
"It's still got to be fun to still be able to play for something at this time of the year," Stackhouse said. "A lot of guys are shipping cars (home) right now and getting ready to get done with playing. But we're still focusing on basketball, and that's a good thing."