Bucks-Cavaliers Preview

The Associated Press

After getting off to a slow start with his new team, Monta Ellis broke out in a big way in the Milwaukee Bucks' latest game.

The Bucks have to like their chances of climbing into Eastern Conference playoff position if he can keep it up down the stretch.

Following two off days after five games in six nights, visiting Milwaukee opens another busy stretch Friday seeking a sixth consecutive win over the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers.

While Ellis averaged just 12.2 points on 34.2 percent shooting in his first six games after coming over from Golden State, he carried the Bucks during Tuesday's 108-101 win over Atlanta. Ellis posted 33 points on 15-of-24 from the field to go with eight assists as Milwaukee (23-27) concluded its busy stretch 2-3.

"It was only a matter of time and the time was (Tuesday)," coach Scott Skiles said of Ellis. "He was scoring the ball. He was active. He made big shots. When he was covered, he passed it."

Milwaukee, which begins a set of three games in four days Friday, sits in ninth place in the East - 2 1/2 games in back of eighth-place New York. That margin could prove easier to cut into with Ellis in a groove.

"I was light on my feet. I was just moving. I went into one of my modes. It felt good," he said. "I'm glad I was able to show the Bucks (Tuesday). I want to take this game and build off it."

Ellis and the Bucks will look to do just that against Cleveland (17-31). The Cavaliers have surrendered 109.6 points per game on 49.8 percent shooting in dropping five straight in the series.

Cleveland has also lost five in a row overall, a skid in which it's been outscored by an average of 13.8 points. The Cavaliers concluded a stretch of three games in four nights with Wednesday's 87-75 loss to Detroit.

"I guess you would say (fatigue) is a factor, but we're not trying to make any excuses for ourselves," said rookie standout Kyrie Irving, who had 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists. "It's been a tough stretch of games for us and this is our fifth (loss) in a row.

"We've been in a position like this before. Everyone is down on us, but we just have to pull it together and continue to compete."

The Cavaliers, who lost a season-worst six in a row Feb. 22-March 5, have dropped eight of nine at Quicken Loans Arena - including the last four by 15.2 points per game.

"We've been through this before and we've been through worse," coach Byron Scott said. "The only thing we have to do is continue to stay together as a team and keep encouraging each other and keep fighting. That's all you can do.

"I don't see this group quitting. We're going to keep playing and we're going to keep fighting. That's the only thing we know."

The Cavaliers could catch a break with Milwaukee's Carlos Delfino (right groin) out and Ersan Ilyasova (back spasms) uncertain to suit up after both were held out Tuesday. Ekpe Udoh and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute would likely start again if those two can't go, but Ilyasova could play after returning to practice Thursday.

Delfino and Ilyasova combined for 39 points during a 115-105 win over Cleveland on March 14. Drew Gooden had 15 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds - the second triple-double of his career, both of which have come in his last three games against the Cavaliers.

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