Two guards some thought should have been All-Stars have the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks in position for playoff runs as the second half of the season unfolds.
But after having respective three-game winning streaks snapped on Friday, Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings will both look to get their teams back on track Saturday night as the Bucks host the Warriors.
Golden State (26-16) was coming off back-to-back wins over Oklahoma City and the Clippers - teams with two of the league's three best records - before falling 103-87 at Chicago on Friday. The Warriors shot only 34.6 percent from the floor after shooting 48.3 percent during the three-game streak. Their 87 points also tied the team's fourth-lowest output of the season.
"From the start, they executed their offense at a high level and we didn't match their intensity," said Curry, who scored 21 in the defeat.
Golden State's David Lee, who finished with 23 points, was selected as an All-Star, but many were surprised that Curry wouldn't be joining him. Curry ranks eighth in the league averaging 20.9 points per game, but he said he'll be using his exclusion from the game as motivation.
Along with LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, the fourth-year guard is one of only three players averaging at least 20 points, six assists and four rebounds.
"It keeps me focused and grinding," Curry said. "I've had a lot of doubters since coming out of high school up until this level. Just another reason to stay focused and do what I'm doing. Hopefully I'll have another opportunity down the road."
The Warriors will want to re-establish their identity as one of the league's best teams on the boards after being outrebounded 56-37 by Chicago. Golden State ranks fourth in the NBA with 44.5 rpg.
The Bulls also claimed a 28-6 edge in second-chance points.
"We got outworked," coach Mark Jackson said. "We didn't have the right mindset to start the game and it just snowballed from there. That wasn't Warriors basketball."
Milwaukee (22-19) also had won three in a row before a 113-108 loss at Cleveland on Friday. The Bucks owned a 20-point advantage midway through the third but allowed Kyrie Irving to score 24 of his 35 in the second half - trumping Ersan Ilyasova's season-high 30 points, as well as Milwaukee's season-high 14 3-pointers.
"We started aggressively, but we kind of gave up the game," said Ilyasova, who is averaging 10.4 ppg on the season but has 84 points over his last three games. "Their second unit hustled and we gave up a lot of easy buckets."
Some felt Jennings deserved a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team since the speedy guard is averaging 18.6 points, to go along with career highs in assists (6.0) and steals (2.0). But he struggled on Friday with 14 points on 5-of-19 shooting.
The fourth quarter was particularly rough for Jennings as he went 1 of 8 for two points. He was 6 of 10 with 22 points in the final period over his previous two contests.
Milwaukee has a difficult time winning when Jennings' shot is off, as he's shooting 45.7 percent in victories but just 34.8 percent in losses.
The Bucks have won five of the last six meetings, including a 120-98 victory at Golden State on March 16 as Curry sat out with an ankle injury. Milwaukee's Mike Dunleavy scored a game-high 24 off the bench on 7-of-8 shooting while Lee posted a team-high 22.