The Milwaukee Bucks have done little to build any momentum heading into the playoffs.
With the status of two injured starters uncertain, the Bucks look to avoid a ninth consecutive road loss Saturday night against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats.
Milwaukee (37-42) is headed to the postseason for the first time in three years, but has dropped three in a row and 10 of 13. The Bucks hope to turn things around in the final three games before a likely first-round date with reigning NBA champion Miami.
The Bucks led by 19 early in the second half Friday at Atlanta, but allowed a 13-0 run by the Hawks in the fourth quarter and went on to lose 109-104. Monta Ellis had 27 points and 17 assists while Ersan Ilyasova scored 25, but Milwaukee dropped to 0-3 on a four-game trip.
Despite missing star guard Brandon Jennings (Achilles), who has a team-leading 168 3-pointers, the Bucks hit a season-high 17 in 33 attempts. However, they were outscored 62-30 in the paint partly due to the absence of Larry Sanders (back), who averages team highs of 2.8 blocks and 9.5 rebounds.
"We were feeling good the whole game," Ellis said. "It was a hard-fought game."
Though they've topped 100 points in two straight road games after averaging 86.5 in the previous six, the Bucks have allowed an average of 104.0 on 47.4 shooting over their last nine away from home.
Milwaukee last lost nine a row on the road Dec. 5-31, 2007.
The Bucks have won the last two with the Bobcats (18-61) - both at home - by a combined 44 points after falling 102-98 at Charlotte on Nov. 19. Milwaukee set a season high for points in a 131-102 win over the Bobcats on April 1, but has dropped six of seven in Charlotte.
With Jennings missing most of the past two games, Ellis has moved into the point guard role and totaled 28 assists along with 48 points but has shot 16 of 50 (32.0 percent) from the field. He had 19 points and 14 assists earlier this month against the Bobcats and scored 31 at Charlotte in November.
Coach Jim Boylan has no problem giving control of the offense to Ellis again if Jennings can't play.
"Any time we've called on Monta to do any variety of things he's always risen to the occasion," Boylan said. "We slide him over to the point guard position (Friday) for most of the game and he does what he does. He's a very, very good basketball player."
It's also unclear if Sanders will return. John Henson had 17 points and 25 rebounds in Wednesday's loss at Orlando, playing extended minutes after Sanders got hurt, but had just eight of each Friday in his first start since December.
Ilyasova was held to four points and four rebounds in the road loss to the Bobcats, but has totaled 43 and 20, respectively, in the last two meetings.
Owners of the NBA's worst record, the Bobcats have lost four straight and nine of 11. Kemba Walker scored 24 of his 28 points in the first half of Charlotte's 113-93 loss at Detroit on Friday.
"It's an inch-by-inch process where you have an amalgamation of veterans and young guys," coach Mike Dunlap said. "It's never going to be a fast thing - you have to take your lumps while you turn it around."
Walker, who scored 27 at Milwaukee this month, has averaged 20.7 points and shot 62.2 percent against the Bucks this season.