Dec 3, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders (8) blocks a shot by New Orleans Hornets shooting guard Austin Rivers (25) during the second quarter of a game at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Playoffs: Bucks vs. Heat, Game 2: Sanders Loses Out and Another Opportunity Arises

Larry Sanders isn’t going to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award for the 2012-13 season. Now the Bucks simply need him to be the most improved player of their playoff series when they face Miami tonight.

According to Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star

So Paul George won out over Sanders, Nikola Vucevic, Greivis Vasquez, and others.  Paul George is a great player, and he deserves a lot of recognition for helping Indiana to a great season.  But a lot of his improvement was simply a case of getting more minutes.  Below are the “per-36 minutes” numbers for George and Sanders:

Paul George

Season FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2011-12 5.2 11.7 .440 1.7 4.3 .385 2.7 3.3 .802 1.0 5.8 6.8 2.9 2.0 0.7 2.2 3.5 14.7
2012-13 6.0 14.2 .419 2.1 5.7 .362 2.7 3.3 .807 1.1 6.2 7.3 4.0 1.7 0.6 2.8 2.7 16.7
Career 5.5 12.8 .431 1.7 4.9 .358 2.6 3.2 .797 1.1 5.9 7.0 3.2 1.8 0.7 2.4 3.2 15.4

Larry Sanders

Season FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2011-12 4.7 10.3 .457 0.0 0.1 .000 1.0 2.1 .474 3.5 5.5 9.0 1.8 1.8 4.3 2.4 7.4 10.4
2012-13 5.7 11.2 .506 0.0 0.0 .000 1.6 2.5 .618 4.2 8.3 12.5 1.5 1.0 3.7 1.6 4.3 12.9
Career 5.3 11.0 .479 0.0 0.0 .000 1.4 2.3 .580 3.6 6.9 10.5 1.4 1.1 3.6 1.8 5.0 11.9

 

Now Sanders has to balance the frustration of his Game 1 performance, the self-doubt of a return from injury, and the disappointment of losing out on an award that he clearly knew he had a shot to win. Can he do it and still play well?  Is that asking too much of a emotional player who often struggles to reel himself in?

Whether or not he can actually pull of the feat, the Bucks need surely need him to.  If he can’t help them, no one can.  After a season of Sanders covering up for the defensive mistakes of his teammates, Larry was plagued by foul trouble and ineffectiveness in Game 1.  The Heat repeatedly maneuvered the ball to the Bucks’ great point of disorganization — and more often than not, that point was right at the rim.  The Heat made 23-of-28 shots within 8 feet of the basket.  They also took a fair percentage of open corner three-point shots, their other favorite type of shot attempt.

The Bucks defense pretty much begins and ends with Sanders now.  Marquis Daniels and Luc Mbah a Moute did little to impede LeBron James.  It’s too much to expect from them.  Luc is slowed by a bad knee, and Daniels is a forward/guard trying to guard a forward/bulldozer.  Plus, Marquis doesn’t get much love from the refs.  Quite honestly, if neither can defend better, the Bucks should give up on the idea of a “LeBron Stopper” and just play their offensive guys more in an attempt to trade baskets.  Daniels and Mbah a Moute put too much drag on the offense to stay in the game when they’re not defending well.

So it’s up to Sanders.  Playing the Heat is a much bigger national stage than winning an award analyzed by a bunch of stathead hoops geeks (myself included).  Can he play to standard worthy of that spotlight?

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