Philadelphia, PA – Back in 2009-10 the Milwaukee Bucks won 46 times and took Atlanta to seven games in the first round of the playoffs despite losing their best player to injury.
Adding a tweak here and there to a standout rookie year by Brandon Jennings and an All-NBA Third Team performance from Andrew Bogut, had many thinking it wasn't outrageous to expect 50 wins in '10-11 and the first postseason series triumph in Brew City in a decade.
Instead Milwaukee took a major step back, recording just 35 wins last season and missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. The real setback actually came near the end of the '09-10 campaign when Bogut suffered a major right elbow and hand injury after falling hard to the floor following a slam dunk against Phoenix.
The next day the Bucks announced the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft had suffered a dislocated right elbow, broken right hand, and a wrist sprain. His breakout season, in which he averaged 15.9 points, 10.3 rebounds along with 2.6 blocks per game and became the first Australian native to earn All-NBA honors, was over.
One of the best passing centers in the game and an underrated defender Bogut played with much less recklessness when he came back last year. That along with a sophomore slip by Jennings was enough to make sure the Bucks finished out of the money.
Now, with Bogut 20 months removed from the injury and playing more like his old self along with the addition of a veteran like Stephen Jackson, Milwaukee was a popular pick to return to the postseason.
But the Bucks have not looked anything like a playoff team early on, arriving in Philadelphia on Monday for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee with just two constants, Jennings and Jackson.
Injuries, illness and just plain bad luck have the Bucks battling Detroit at the bottom of the Central Division.
Following the team's 94-82 setback to the 76ers, it's eighth consecutive road loss to start the campaign, Milwaukee has already lost 35 player games to various problems.
Scott Skiles has been forced to use five different starting lineups featuring eight different players in the team's first 12 contests
The key absences have been Bogut, who has missed a total of five games, first with a personal problem and then with a concussion, defensive stopper Luc Mbah a Moute, perhaps the most versatile shut-down defender in the NBA, along with sharp-shooter Mike Dunleavy.
Bogut returned to the lineup against the Sixers after suffering a concussion during last Thursday's win over the Pistons and the 7-footer was a difference maker, recording 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Bucks.
"I thought Andrew (Bogut) was good," Skiles added. "We are not having any issues finding a guy to play well. The problem is getting multiple guys to play well in the same game. We're trying to impress upon the guys that we have to compete harder, the whole game, at every position."
That would probably be easier if Mbah a Moute, a player who can check everything from a point guard to a power forward, was there to help put the clamps down on Jrue Holiday, who finished with 24 points, five assists and five steals for the 10-3 76ers.
Or maybe having Jennings temper his wild open floor play or Dunleavy around to create space in the half-court set could have the Bucks solving their road woes.
Bogut with little help, however, wasn't enough to stop the Bucks from falling to 0-8 on the road for the first time since dropping their first 16 away from Milwaukee back in 1976-77.
"A sense of urgency. We've got to have the same urgency as we do at home,". Jennings said when asked about his team's failings away from the Bradley Center. "On the road we've got to find a way to stay together as a team and find a way to win. I know it's tough on the road, but we're NBA players. We've been in situations like this before."
Perhaps the lone bright spot in Philly for Milwaukee was rookie Tobias Harris, who played most of the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points and three rebounds in a season-high 22 minutes.
"He is somewhat lost defensively, and he should be," Skiles said of the 6- foot-8 forward. "He hasn't had the reps yet. He did a nice job offensively. He's just got to get more time on the court and figure out all of our coverages and be able to verbalize them and stay in them. But he's not alone with that right now. We're having great difficulty with that."
These days if you mention the postseason in Milwaukee, you might send every radio host in the market searching for Jim Mora's famous playoff rant.
"Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs? I'm just hoping we can win a game, another game."
But you know what? Despite their awful start, the Bucks are currently the ninth seed in the East, just a 1 1/2 games out of a postseason spot.
Getting a few players out of the training room, developing a little more continuity from game to game and solving their much-talked road woes could have Milwaukee back in the thick of things sooner rather than later.