Larry Sanders has emerged as a dominant defensive player in his third pro season.
And it's clear the Milwaukee Bucks missed their big man while he sat out four games with a bruised lower back.
So it was a relief for interim coach Jim Boylan to see Sanders running freely up and down the court during Monday's practice as the team returned from the four-day NBA all-star break.
Sanders sported a wide smile after practice and termed his chances to return Tuesday night against Brooklyn at "70-30."
"With this team I put the defense on my shoulders," Sanders said. "I'm ready to return. I'm ready to lock that paint down and get this ball back rolling."
Samuel Dalembert stepped into the starting center role with Sanders out. Dalembert contributed three double-doubles in four games and averaged 11.7 points and 11 rebounds over that span.
The 31-year-old Dalembert had 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in the Bucks' 94-92 victory over Philadelphia.
But Milwaukee was 1-3 in the stretch without Sanders, still the league's leading shot blocker at 3.2 per game and also the Bucks' leading rebounder (8.5 average).
"Larry brings a lot to the table for us, especially at the defensive end," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "But around the basket he's really active getting a couple tip-ins here and there, diving to the front of the rim in the screen-and-roll game and getting some easy baskets for us.
"We've been struggling a little bit offensively, so if you can produce a couple extra points by doing what Larry does, we miss him.
"Sam has done a great job, but it's nicer to have both guys."
Bucks' Larry Sanders ready to return from back injury
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Feb 19