Thanks to the struggles of the two teams directly above them, the Milwaukee Bucks are amazingly just 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.
If they have any plans on getting there, they certainly can’t afford to lose to teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Bucks look to win consecutive games for the first time since late January on Wednesday night when they host the Cavaliers, who will try to win their first back-to-back road contests since early November.
Hopes were high in Milwaukee after going 46-36 last season and taking Atlanta to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, but injuries and inconsistency have the Bucks (24-38) stuck in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
But even for a team that played nearly six weeks without Brandon Jennings(notes) - and is 5-13 since he’s returned - all isn’t lost. The Bucks drew closer to eighth-place Indiana on Tuesday after throttling Washington 95-76 and watching the Pacers lose their fourth straight and sixth in seven games.
Milwaukee is just 1 1/2 games behind ninth-place Charlotte, which has lost five in a row.
“If you’re trying to catch people, you’ve got to keep the pressure on them,” Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said.
It’s no coincidence that one of the Bucks’ most lopsided wins came with Andrew Bogut(notes) back in the lineup. The Australian center missed three games with a muscle strain in his left ribcage area, but had 14 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in his return.
Bogut, who said he felt good, wants Milwaukee to focus on itself and not the teams it’s chasing.
“We don’t want to get stuck in that game of checking the standings every day,” he said. “We just need to go out and play and win the games we’re supposed to.”
Milwaukee hasn’t won consecutive games since a three-game streak from Jan. 26-29, but it should feel good as its faces the East’s worst team a night after routing the conference’s second-worst club. Bogut had a game-high 23 points as the Bucks won 102-88 in Cleveland on Jan. 21.
He missed a Nov. 24 trip to Quicken Loans Arena, though, and Milwaukee shot just 37.8 percent in an 83-81 loss.
The Cavaliers (12-51) had lost 26 consecutive road games before winning at New York on Friday, but they struggled to find offense upon returning home. Cleveland shot 36.8 percent in a 96-81 loss to New Orleans on Sunday, then scored just 55 points over the final three quarters Tuesday while falling 95-85 to Golden State.
Forward J.J. Hickson(notes) dislocated his left pinky - the same finger Antawn Jamison(notes) fractured last month - in the fourth quarter, but the initially gruesome-looking injury turned out to be nothing serious as Hickson re-entered with a minute left.
“I saw his finger pointing east and west,” coach Byron Scott said. “I didn’t want to start crying in front of 17,000 people.”
Cleveland’s four wins in its last 10 games have all featured impressive performances from Hickson. The third-year forward has averaged 21.8 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the victories while shooting 50.7 percent.
In the six losses, he’s averaged 13.2 points, blocked four total shots and shot 37.2 percent.
Hickson has a total of four points in 37 minutes against Milwaukee this season despite starting both games.
Cleveland will be missing Baron Davis(notes), who has left the team following the death of his grandmother. Davis has averaged 18.0 points and 5.7 assists in three games off the bench since being acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers.