A victory over the defending NBA champs late last month had the Milwaukee Bucks off to their best start in seven seasons.
They haven't won since, and now they're getting a new coach.
In the first game since Scott Skiles and the team parted ways, Milwaukee will try to avoid its first five-game losing streak in exactly one year Tuesday night against a Phoenix Suns club on the verge of its first 10-game road skid in 27 seasons.
Since a 104-85 victory over Miami on Dec. 29 moved them a season high-tying four games above .500, the Bucks (16-16) have gone winless while surrendering 105.8 points per game.
It's unclear if the skid led directly to the departure of Skiles, who was in his fifth season coaching the team. His tenure came to an abrupt end Monday even though the Bucks remain in playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Assistant Jim Boylan will take over as coach for the rest of the season.
"We're not a team in dire straits ... we're expecting good things to happen," general manager John Hammond said.
It was rumored that Hammond didn't get along with Skiles, or that the locker room was fractured. Additionally, Skiles' defensive-minded style didn't seem to click with the Bucks' roster, built around scorers Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
"John and I met and mutually agreed that a coaching change would be in the best interest of both parties," Skiles said. "I believe this team can and will have success in the next 50 games and postseason. I want to thank the players for all of their hard work. I wish them all the best."
Milwaukee is also trying to fix its offensive struggles after getting outscored by a combined 111-76 in the second half of its last two losses versus Houston and Indiana.
"The second half has been killing us - we've been coming out with a lack of energy," Jennings said after the Bucks matched a season-low point total in Saturday's 95-80 loss at the Pacers.
Jennings may be happy to match up with Phoenix's Goran Dragic on Tuesday instead of Steve Nash, who was traded by the Suns to the Los Angeles Lakers in the offseason. Jennings' two lowest-scoring games of last season (three and five points) came against Nash, who had 28 points and 28 assists in Phoenix's season sweep of the Bucks.
The Suns (12-23) have dominated this series with 37 wins in the last 42 matchups, but they open their four-game trip with one victory in their last nine contests. Phoenix, a loser of four straight visiting East teams, last dropped 10 in a row on the road from Oct. 25-Dec. 3, 1985.
"We're in a bad spot right now," coach Alvin Gentry said after Sunday's 92-81 loss to Memphis. "Number one, we've got to stay together. We can't fragment right now. That's the easiest thing to do. Number two, we've got to play better. And number three, we've got to believe in ourselves. We're not going to play out the season or anything like that."
It could turn into that if the Suns' offense doesn't improve. Phoenix has reached 100 points just once in its last nine contests - a 111-107 loss at Minnesota on Dec. 29 - and it's averaged 80.5 with 35 total turnovers in the last two.
"You've gotta move the ball," swingman Jared Dudley said. "We're not a team that can just hold the ball ... and go give it to Kobe and LeBron and (they'll) save the day. Until we figure (that out) we'll just keep doing these interviews and keep losing."
The Suns, whose next victory will be their 2,000th, have won two straight and 16 of 21 at Milwaukee following a 107-105 victory on Feb. 7 that completed a second straight season sweep.
Phoenix's 109-93 home win last Jan. 8 sent Milwaukee to its season-high fifth consecutive defeat.
These teams will meet again in the desert next Thursday.
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