With a showdown looming against the team they're chasing for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks have to be careful they don't get caught looking too far ahead.
A very favorable portion of their schedule could make that difficult.
Milwaukee looks to complete a season sweep of the reeling Cleveland Cavaliers - who will again be without Kyrie Irving - on Wednesday night in the opener of a five-game homestand.
The Bucks (25-28) trail New York by 1 1/2 games for the East's final playoff berth and will face the Knicks for the last time this season April 11. Milwaukee has a golden opportunity to cut into that deficit before that matchup with its next three games versus Cleveland, league-worst Charlotte and Portland - teams it's a combined 5-1 against this season.
"We've got to make sure we take advantage of this spot on our schedule when we're at home, and not go home and kind of get lazy, laying around," coach Scott Skiles said.
Skiles' team took care of an inferior opponent with a 112-98 victory at Washington on Monday, as Brandon Jennings led six Bucks in double figures with 19 points - 17 in the third quarter. Ekpe Udoh chipped in 15 points, eight rebounds and a career-high five assists for Milwaukee, which shot 51.8 percent after connecting on 41.5 in Saturday's 99-95 loss to Memphis.
Playing at home hasn't been much of a benefit for the Bucks, who have split 24 games at the Bradley Center this season. They have, however, won six straight overall against Cleveland and four in row at home in the series.
"If you want to talk about what's the most important games, I'd have to say all five of these at home - just from the fact that we've been struggling at home lately," Jennings said. "But a good thing is we'll be back at home, be able to rest in our home bed, do our regular thing that we do every day. Hopefully that can give us a lot of confidence."
Monta Ellis - the NBA's eighth-leading scorer last season - had one of his better performances Monday in his 10th game since joining the Bucks, scoring 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Ellis has reached 20 points with his new team only once and is averaging 14.4 points with Milwaukee after scoring 21.9 in 37 games with Golden State.
A playoff spot is no longer a serious option for Cleveland (17-34), which has lost a season-high eight straight after Tuesday's 125-90 defeat to San Antonio.
Irving's return wasn't nearly enough to prevent the Cavaliers from losing their 11th in 12 games. Irving came back from a one-game absence after spraining his right shoulder during Friday's 121-84 loss to the Bucks, but aggravated the injury after contact Tuesday and didn't travel to Milwaukee.
An MRI revealed a bruise and sprain, and Irving is expected to miss at least a week to 10 days this time.
Cleveland is averaging 84.3 points during the losing streak, reaching 90 once in the past seven games.
"I worry more when me as a coach and my coaching staff want it more than my players. That's when I start to worry," coach Byron Scott said. "And I'm getting worried."
The eight-game skid is the Cavaliers' longest since a league-record 26-game slide Dec. 20, 2010-Feb. 9, 2011.
Jennings has averaged 23.0 points against Cleveland this season, helping the Bucks win all three meetings.
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- The Bucks
- Brandon Jennings