Bucks aim to resume surge in Charlotte

The Associated Press

The surging Milwaukee Bucks hit a roadblock on Sunday night.

Milwaukee (37-36) had won 11 of 13 to move a season-high two games above .500 before a 109-94 home loss to the Chicago Bulls.

Now the Bucks visit the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday for the first of back-to-back road games.

The Bulls' Nikola Mirotic torched the Bucks from deep, going 6 of 9 from behind the arc in route to a career-high 28 points, many of them coming via Jimmy Butler, who dished out 14 assists, also a career high.

"We had struggles there moving the ball, and we thought one person could do it. That's not the way we play," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after the game. "On defense, we're just a step behind."

Milwaukee is tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference standings with the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks are 3-0 against the Pacers, but Milwaukee dropped three of four against the Hawks.

"We put ourselves in a great spot the last couple weeks," Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We want to stay in this spot and possibly put ourselves in a better position, so we've got to finish out strong."

Charlotte (33-40) has won four of five but is mired in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Miami Heat, who currently hold the final playoff spot.

Even playing their best basketball since November, the Hornets are still plagued by inconsistency, which continued with a 120-106 win over the Phoenix Suns Sunday.

Against Phoenix, the Hornets raced to a 17-1 lead, were up 69-47 at the half, and led by as much as 25 in the third quarter. But after the Suns closed to within 105-101, Charlotte needed a 15-5 run to secure the win.

"We had to step up, especially the last 12 minutes," said Hornets guard Nicolas Batum, who had 18 points, six rebounds and 10 assists. "We had a great start. We had an early big lead and Phoenix didn't give up. They came back and made it a four-point game."

Charlotte held Suns guard Devin Booker scoreless for the first 10 minutes, two days after he became the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 points in a game. Booker finished with 23 points.

"We knew we had to match those guys," guard Kemba Walker, who scored 31 points in the win, said. "They've been playing hard all year. They had some scorers. Everybody knows how hot Devin can get. We all saw the 70-point game he had. We just wanted to be locked into him and play some good team defense."

Hornets coach Steve Clifford had criticized his defense after Charlotte's 112-105 loss to Cleveland on Friday.

Forward Marvin Williams said the players are to blame.

"It's on us as players to go out there and execute the game plan," Williams told the Charlotte Observer. "We've had some rough times this season. That will happen sometimes throughout the course of a season, but as of late we've been playing really well. We've got to continue to do that."

The Hornets, who are chasing Chicago and Detroit in addition to the Heat in the standings, are very aware of where they sit.

"The guys came in (Monday) and they all know Miami lost and Chicago won (against Milwaukee)," Clifford said. "So, they're following the scores and all that."

Williams said seeing that Miami lost to Boston gave his team a boost.

"We have everything to play for," he said. We're currently on the outside looking in, but we're right there."

The Hornets will fly to Toronto to face the Raptors on Wednesday, and the Bucks will be in Boston for a Wednesday game against the Celtics.

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