MILWAUKEE — A simple old quote states: If you want to go east, don’t go west.
If only the Milwaukee Bucks had the option.
Instead, the Bucks — as they do twice a year, every year (unless there is a lockout) — will embark on a three-game swing to the West Coast starting Tuesday in Los Angeles. This year’s trip comes at a critical time in the season. A successful trip would mean a much needed confidence boost under a new head coach, but a few losses could provide another stumbling block in a season full of them.
If Milwaukee is to achieve the former, it must shake history because history certainly isn’t on its side.
In fact, the Bucks have just five winning road trips of at least three games against Western Conference teams in the past 20 years, with two of those coming in 1999-00 and just one since.
The last time Milwaukee finished a season with a winning road record against Western Conference teams was 1999-00. Since then, it’s a combined 41-130.
This season has been no different. The Bucks are just 3-8 against the West and 0-4 in road games.
After Tuesday’s game against the Lakers, the Bucks travel to play Phoenix — a place they haven’t won since 1987 — on Thursday and wrap up the trip Saturday night in Portland. The only other extended road trip west will come in March when Milwaukee plays three games in five nights in Utah, Golden State and Sacramento.
When the schedule first came out, this trip might have looked more difficult than it does now. Though it’s not going to be easy, the Lakers entered play Sunday injured and on a six-game losing streak, and Phoenix has lost eight of 10.
Los Angeles got star center Dwight Howard back for Sunday’s game against Cleveland, but power forward Pau Gasol is still out with a concussion.
Portland — led by former Bucks coach Terry Stotts — is the opponent on the trip playing the best. The Trail Blazers have won seven of 10 and would be the seventh seed in the Western Conference if the season ended today.
The Bucks are 9-4 on the road against Eastern Conference teams — including five road wins against clubs currently in the top eight seeds in the league.
Though the Western Conference as a whole is more talented than the East, the Bucks would benefit from playing just .500 basketball against that half of the league.
“We have to fight discouragement,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “If you start to feel discouragement and adversity you have to fight through that. It’s going to happen, it’s inevitable, and it’s something we have to get better at.
“We have to stay positive and get as many wins as we can and make it a successful trip.”
History aside, this current Bucks team could benefit greatly from a successful trip. The road swing started with a win in Toronto on Sunday, and Milwaukee is looking to put some separation between itself and the teams trying to bust into the playoff picture.
Philadelphia — currently in the ninth spot, four games behind Milwaukee and Boston — visits the BMO Harris Bradley Center right after the Bucks return from West Coast. A successful trip and a win over the 76ers would help solidify Milwaukee in the playoff picture.
“We have to get out on the road and find a way to win some games on the road,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “Lakers are the Lakers, Phoenix we haven’t won since FDR was in office.
“I think we have our hands full all the way through it. It’s not an easy trip, but we’ll see what we can get done.”