The Milwaukee Bucks are getting closer to their first playoff berth in four years, and coach Scott Skiles isn’t happy with moral victories any more.
The Bucks will try to rebound from a loss to the NBA’s best club Friday night when they visit the Charlotte Bobcats, another team vying for a playoff spot.
Milwaukee (41-33) hasn’t reached the postseason since 2006, when it qualified as the eighth seed and was eliminated in the opening round by Detroit.
The Bucks appear on their way to returning to the playoffs, but this time they plan to last much longer than five games.
Milwaukee is fifth in the Eastern Conference, one-half game ahead of sixth-place Miami and two in front of the Bobcats (39-35) in seventh. The Bucks are also six games ahead of ninth-place Chicago with eight to play.
The Bucks are gaining confidence, and Skiles has them believing they can win every game. They nearly defeated league-leading Cleveland on the road Wednesday, but fell 101-98 after rallying from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a lead with 1:27 left.
Moral victories aren’t good enough for Skiles any more.
“I think we stopped doing that a long time ago,” Skiles said. “Hopefully every guy in there knows we should have won that game. We played hard. I can’t fault the effort of anyone out there. The game was there for the taking and it’s not often when you come into this building and the game is there for the taking.
“When it is, you have to take it.”
John Salmons(notes) has been a big reason for the Bucks’ resurgence. The swingman is scoring a team-high 19.9 points per game to help them go 17-5 since being acquired from Chicago in a three-player trade Feb. 18.
Salmons has averaged 21.0 points in four games against Charlotte, scoring 19 with seven assists and five rebounds in a 93-88 win two nights after being dealt to Milwaukee.
Brandon Jennings(notes) also had 19 points in that meeting with the Bobcats, helping the Bucks beat them for a second time in three tries. The guard, however, was held to five points against the Cavaliers.
Despite that poor 2-for-9 shooting performance, Jennings earned a third consecutive conference Rookie of the Month award Thursday. He averaged 14.1 points and 5.1 assists in March.
The Bobcats are nearing their first playoff appearance, leading Chicago by four games with eight remaining.
The forward had a season-high 15 points while adding six rebounds and two blocks in Wednesday’s 103-84 win over Philadelphia.
Chandler has been hampered by injuries since being acquired from New Orleans for Emeka Okafor(notes) in the offseason. He’s been limited to 43 games and is averaging 6.2 points and 6.2 boards, drawing a great deal of criticism.
“It was more frustrating for me than it could possibly be for anybody else because I’m a very prideful person,” Chandler said of the criticism. “I took it to heart. Me and coach (Larry Brown) had a talk about it. I had to get over it because I wasn’t 100 percent.
Chandler hasn’t faced the Bucks this season, but he has averaged 14.3 points and 16.5 rebounds in six meetings.