Bobcats-Bucks Preview

The Associated Press

The Milwaukee Bucks have made strides toward joining the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference with help from a recent slate that's included some lackluster opponents.

Before their schedule gets tougher, the Bucks will try to take advantage of a visit from the woeful Charlotte Bobcats, losers of nine in a row, on Friday night.

After dropping three of four near the end of last month, Milwaukee (26-28) has gotten back on track with four wins in five games - three coming against teams with losing records. The Bucks fended off Cleveland 107-98 in the first of a season-high five straight home games Wednesday as Monta Ellis scored 16 of his team-best 30 points over the final 4:32.

"We knew coming into the game they were going to play hard all the way until the end," Ellis said. "There'll be games like that, and we just have to find a way to win. And we did."

Brandon Jennings also had 19 points to help make up for the absence of Drew Gooden due to back soreness. Ekpe Udoh, who came over with Ellis in the trade with Golden State on March 14, filled in for Gooden in the starting lineup, and had 11 points and eight rebounds.

It's unclear if Gooden will return Friday, but the Bucks might not need too much help against the struggling Bobcats (7-45).

Milwaukee has won 12 of 13 all-time home matchups, but Charlotte claimed a 96-95 victory in the season opener for both teams Dec. 26 at home. The Bucks, though, blew out the Bobcats 112-92 in Charlotte on March 23 as Brandon Jennings' 20 points led six players in double figures.

The Bobcats enter this game having dropped six in a row on the road, including a 120-93 rout by Atlanta on Wednesday.

Rookie guard Kemba Walker had 21 points in the losing effort and is challenging to take over an ailing D.J. Augustin's spot in the starting lineup.

"I was just trying to do whatever I can to help the team," Walker said. "But it wasn't enough."

Already dealing with tendinitis in his right knee, Augustin fell and hurt his left one during a 92-87 loss in Toronto on Tuesday and scored two points in 11 minutes against the Hawks.

Augustin had a team-best 19 points during the season-opening win over Milwaukee, while Jennings had 22 for the Bucks.

Jennings also had 32, including two free throws with six seconds left, during a 104-101 home victory over the Bobcats on Nov. 27, 2010. Jennings has averaged 22.4 points over his last five games against Charlotte but was held to 12 during last month's win in North Carolina.

The Bobcats' Gerald Henderson had a season-high 29 points during that loss and will try to help end a seven-game skid in Milwaukee.

After facing Charlotte, the Bucks will end their homestand against Portland, West-leading Oklahoma City and their rival for the eighth spot in the East, the New York Knicks.

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