Injuries to stars Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut played a big part in the Milwaukee Bucks missing the playoffs for a third straight season in 2008-09. They certainly can't afford the same setbacks again this season.
The only NBA team yet to take the court, the visiting Bucks begin play Friday night trying to avoid a sixth straight loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, who look to bounce back from a rough season-opening defeat.
Redd averaged 21.2 points in 33 games before tearing two ligaments in his left knee on Jan. 24. Milwaukee went 17-16 with their leading scorer in the lineup, but never found a consistent scorer to replace him.
Making makers worse was Bogut (11.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg) playing just 36 games and none after Jan. 31 due to a back injury.
Even without them and the club allowing 100.4 points per game, Milwaukee managed to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff mix thanks to Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions who helped the Bucks average 99.3 points per contest.
Milwaukee finished 34-48 after failing to win 30 games in each of the previous two seasons.
Those three are gone, however, leaving the Bucks lacking some true offensive depth. They added Carlos Delfino, who averaged 9.0 points a game for Toronto in 2007-08 and played in Russia last season, Hakim Warrick (11.6 ppg with Memphis last season) and drafted raw point guard Brandon Jennings 10th overall.
The Bucks bench is a little lighter without last season's No. 1 pick Joe Alexander, who could miss up to three months with a hamstring injury.
The good news for Milwaukee is that Redd and Bogut looked healthy while logging solid minutes during the preseason.
"Those are good signs, both of those guys being healthy, for sure," coach Scott Skiles said.
Redd is averaging 20.5 in 22 games against the 76ers, but was held to six on 2 of 13 shooting in a 93-88 loss at Philadelphia on Dec. 17 in his only appearance against the club since 2005
The key, however, could be Jennings, a highly acclaimed prep star at Virginia's Oak Hill Academy who opted to pass on college and play professionally in Europe last season. After a disappointing effort for Lottomatica Roma of the Italian Lega A, he declared for the NBA Draft.
Despite averaging 5.5 points and 2.2 assists in 27 Lega A games, the Bucks made him a lottery pick and plan to start him Friday.
"I've started rookies before," Skiles told the Bucks' official Web site. "It can be hit or miss. It will be interesting to see exactly how he responds.
"He's got a ways to go on the defensive end. But he's making progress."
A good start would certainly help Milwaukee's confidence, but the Bucks have lost their last two season openers and haven't beaten Philadelphia since an 87-83 win Jan. 8, 2008.
Facing the Bucks could help the 76ers rebound from a 120-106 road loss on Wednesday to defending East champion Orlando in a rematch of last season's first-round playoff series that went six games.
Marreese Speights had a career-high 26 points off the bench to lead the Sixers, who shot 50 percent from the field, but got eight points each from starters Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala. Philadelphia was outscored 71-42 in the second and third quarters combined.
"I don't think we were as bad as it looked," first-year Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan told the 76ers' official Web site.
This was not the start Philadelphia was hoping to get out of Brand, who was limited to 29 games because of a right shoulder injury during his first season with the 76ers in 2008-09. He averaged 13.8 points and 8.8 boards when he was on the court.
Iguodala averaged 18.8 points last season and scored 20 in each of his last two games against the Bucks.