- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008

When the Washington Wizards take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday in search of their first win of the season, they will face a team that posted a 26-56 record last season.

But they’re expecting a different Bucks squad to trot onto the floor at Bradley Center.

Sharpshooting guard Michael Redd remains the team’s top threat. But an offseason trade with New Jersey gave the 2004 All-Star a talented sidekick: small forward Richard Jefferson, who last season averaged a career-high 22.6 points. And second-year point guard Ramon Sessions has provided a spark with averages of 15 points and 8.5 assists in his first two games.

But the Wizards believe coach Scott Skiles will have the greatest impact on the new-look Bucks.


Milwaukee hired Skiles in April to improve its 23rd-ranked scoring defense from 2007-08.

And given his reputation as a demanding, hard-nosed coach, the Wizards believe Skiles is making his presence felt.

“You know they’re going to play hard, and they’re going to play hard because if they’re not playing hard [Skiles] isn’t going to play them,” Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson said. “We’ve got to go out there hard and get ready for a tough, defensive-minded coach and try to play defense and get our own offense going.”

Subtle changes this season signal Skiles’ players have bought into his philosophy.

“Defensively, they’ve looked great over the last couple of games,” forward Caron Butler said. “I saw their game against the Knicks, and they did a lot of different things. They took Jamal Crawford out of the game. It was tough for David Lee to get into a rhythm because [Milwaukee center] Andrew Bogut was playing well on both ends of the floor. … I even noticed Michael Redd is really concentrating on being aggressive on defensive end. He’s always aggressive on the offensive end but a little reluctant on the defensive end, but now you see him really getting down into his stance and getting after you.

The key for the Wizards is simple, however.

“Our energy level needs to be high,” Butler said. “We can’t get off to a slow start like we did in Detroit. In Detroit, we were resilient at the end of the game, and we managed to come back from a 20-point deficit, but we can´t keep putting ourselves in situations like that.”

The game also marks a homecoming for Butler, who is from Racine, a 15-minute drive from Milwaukee. As of Tuesday afternoon, he purchased 35 tickets. He predicted he could get as many as 20 more requests from family and friends, but he hoped to keep the number in the mid-40s.

Playing at Milwaukee has proved bittersweet for Butler. He scored a career-high 40 points in a 105-102 overtime defeat on Jan. 27 - and suffered a labral tear in his left hip. In 2007, he broke his hand while playing at Milwaukee, and the year before that he suffered a finger injury.

“You try to give the best effort possible every time you step on the court, but its a little added incentive because you’re in front of loved ones and friends and people who can’t afford [the NBA‘s] League Pass because of the recession,” Butler said before breaking into a laugh and joking that he might try to sit the game out. “I’ll have to ask [team president] Ernie [Grunfeld] about that, and [owner] Mr. Abe Pollin. But, no, I do look forward to playing at home.”

Note - Center Etan Thomas suffered an ankle injury late in Saturday’s game at Detroit and didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday. He will be re-evaluated Wednesday, and his status for the game is uncertain.