Both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Houston Rockets spent the All-Star break in ninth place in their respective conferences, with the Bucks hoping a second-half surge can get them into the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
The Rockets haven’t missed the postseason since that year, but could be heading in the wrong direction as they try to avoid their first four-game losing streak in more than two years Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
The Bucks (24-27) haven’t played since last Wednesday, when they closed a promising first half with their sixth win in eight games, a 97-77 victory at New Jersey.
Thanks in part to the emergence of rookie point guard Brandon Jennings(notes), Milwaukee is in the thick of a crowded Eastern Conference postseason chase, trailing Charlotte, Miami and Chicago by 1 1/2 games as the four teams jockey for the final three spots.
“This season is going to come down to the wire. It’s just one of those seasons,” Bucks center Andrew Bogut(notes) said. “It’s fun for us and for the fans. Coming down the stretch will be huge for us.”
Bogut is averaging career highs with 16.0 points and 2.2 blocked shots while adding 10.2 rebounds per game, but Jennings has been the biggest revelation after Milwaukee drafted him 10th overall last June.
Jennings leads the team with 16.9 points and 6.2 assists, and he had 22 points and eight assists in Friday night’s Rookie Challenge, helping to lead the rookies to a 140-128 win over the sophomores. The only first-year player ahead of Jennings in scoring is Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans(notes) (20.3).
“Right now, I feel like he has (the rookie of the year award),” Jennings said of Evans. “He’s doing a good job where he’s at. Me, personally, I’m just trying to make the playoffs.”
Jennings would also like to break out of a brief slump after averaging 10.5 points and shooting 31.1 percent in his last six games. He’s been held to single digits in points four times in that stretch after failing to reach 10 points four times in his first 45 games.
Houston (27-25) is slumping, losing seven of 10 and its last three in a row. The Rockets are trying to avoid their first four-game slide since dropping six straight Nov. 13-23, 2007.
They slipped to 10th in the West after a 104-95 home loss to Utah on Tuesday night, coming after two particularly disheartening defeats going into the break. The Rockets blew a 13-point second-half lead in a 102-95 home loss to Philadelphia on Feb. 6, then lost 99-66 at Miami three days later.
Houston led the Jazz by six at the half but was outscored 55-40 after the break.
“We’ve talked about this over the course of the season,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “We have to have everybody contributing, especially against a team like that. We were right there, we had every chance. We just didn’t finish, and we have to find a way to finish it.”
Shane Battier(notes) was 1 of 10 from the field against the Jazz while point guard Aaron Brooks(notes) went 5 of 17, scoring 18 points to match 29-year-old rookie David Andersen(notes) for the team high.
Behind 27 points from Luis Scola(notes), the Rockets beat Milwaukee 101-98 in overtime Jan. 18 for their ninth win in their last 10 meetings with the Bucks. The only defeat in that stretch was a 124-112 loss in their last visit to the Bradley Center on Feb. 9, 2009.