A terribly timed slump has caused the Milwaukee Bucks' playoff hopes to fade. Though still in the race, they'll have to be much better at stopping opponents to give themselves a chance to make the postseason.
Desperate to end a three-game losing streak, the Bucks try to tighten up their defense Saturday night as they go for a season sweep of the visiting New Jersey Nets, a team they've beaten 10 straight times.
Milwaukee's troubles continued with a 118-109 loss to Indiana on Thursday. Since a 13-4 stretch from March 9-April 7, the Bucks (29-33) have dropped five of six and as a result are barely hanging on in the Eastern Conference race.
Milwaukee trails Philadelphia by three games for the final playoff spot with four left for each team, including a head-to-head matchup at the Bradley Center on Wednesday. The Bucks would be eliminated Saturday if they lose and the 76ers beat the Pacers on the road.
The biggest reason for Milwaukee's slide has been a disappearance of defense. The Bucks have allowed an average of 110.2 points in their past six games after surrendering 93.8 per game in the previous six.
They gave up 121 points in a defeat to woeful Washington on Wednesday.
"It just seems like we just can't hold teams down defensively. They're getting in to the 110-120-point range every night," swingman Mike Dunleavy said after Thursday's game. " ... We're on the outside looking in. We have to do something extraordinary right now."
Milwaukee's competitive spirit hasn't waned, something evident from a rough battle with the Pacers that saw two altercations, four technical fouls, a flagrant foul and an ejection. The intensity level, though, didn't transfer to the Bucks' defense, as the club allowed 28 fast-break points and 54 in the paint.
"One game at a time. We know we have to win out," forward Drew Gooden said. "But we can only do it one game at a time."
They'll try to start a run to the finish against the Nets (22-41), whom they've defeated twice this season - both times on the road. Besides the 10 consecutive overall victories, Milwaukee has won four straight home games in the series, allowing an average of 87.5 points.
The Nets also will be looking to snap a three-game skid after falling 104-95 to New York on Wednesday. They trailed 38-22 after the first quarter but got within five late in the third despite missing All-Star guard Deron Williams.
"I thought our second unit, some of our subs did a really good job against their bench and then we got back into the game," coach Avery Johnson said.
New Jersey got 39 points from its reserves, led by Gerald Green with 12.
Sundiata Gaines had 18 points and six assists in place of Williams, but the Nets fell to 1-7 without him this season. Williams' sore right calf also will cause him to miss Saturday's game.
Williams sat out the teams' last meeting, a 105-99 Bucks win March 12, and Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings took advantage with 34 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and two blocks. Jennings has scored 52 points in the last two contests despite shooting 38.0 percent from the field.
Gooden had a big game as well March 12, scoring 23 points while adding eight rebounds and seven assists.