MILWAUKEE — Jim Boylan’s message to his struggling team after the Bucks dropped their fourth game in a row was simple.
There’s not anybody in the NBA feeling sorry for them, so the Bucks shouldn’t feel sorry for themselves.
Milwaukee continued its slide with a 102-90 loss to Washington on Monday night, dropping the Bucks back to the .500 mark with their sixth loss in seven games.
“We are at a rocky point right now,” Bucks guard Monta Ellis said. “We are hitting a lot of bumps in the road, but it’s the NBA, it goes like that. We just have to fight our way out of it.”
While the Wizards are improved since the return of John Wall and Nene, Washington entered Monday with a 3-21 road record. One of the main reasons the Wizards walked out of the BMO Harris Bradley Center with their first road win over an Eastern Conference opponent was Milwaukee’s inability to defend.
“Our defense was terrible,” Boylan said.
Energized and playing with great intensity for extended stretches of games, Milwaukee busted to an 8-3 start after the coaching change. With Monday’s loss, the Bucks fell to 9-9 under Boylan, who isn’t seeing the same energy, effort and focus on the floor as he did when he first took over.
“Spotty,” Boylan said to his team’s energy level. “I think sometimes we’re good, we bring some energy. Even in tonight’s game there were spurts where we had a little something going, we had a little pop. Sustaining it, I feel like we’ve had a little bit of slippage in that area.”
To Boylan, the lack of focus was apparent on the defensive end. Multiple times throughout the game the Bucks were burned on the same play two or three times. Rookie guard Bradley Beal was a main benefactor, scoring a career-high 28 points.
“When you can’t figure out what’s going out there on the floor and make adjustments during the course of the game, to me that’s a little bit of a lack of focus,” Boylan said. “You need to get beat one time and not let yourself get beat a second or third time. Tonight that happened to us a couple of times. That’s just not being focused 100 percent on the game.
“We lost (Beal) quite a few times. I don’t know what else to say about that other than we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be better than that.”
Defensive struggles aren’t anything new. Milwaukee has allowed 100 points or more in every one of its four straight losses and in 10 of its last 18 games. When the Bucks were successful early in Boylan’s tenure they were topping the 100 point mark. Milwaukee has scored over 100 in eight of its last nine wins.
Monday the Bucks not only missed shots — they shot 37.9 percent — but repeatedly passed up good looks at the basket. Ellis rebounded from a rough night Saturday to score 24 points on 9-of-21 shooting, but Brandon Jennings hit just 3 of 17 shots from the field and missed six of his seven three-point attempts.
A win Monday not only would have put the brakes on the skid, but the Bucks could have gained ground on teams ahead of them and those chasing, as well.
Philadelphia lost to the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, leaving the 76ers three games behind the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
The 76ers will come to Milwaukee smelling blood on Wednesday. The Bucks have to find a way to right the ship in less than 48 hours or they’ll be under-.500 at the break with just a two game cushion on the final playoff spot.
Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova called it a must-win for the team’s motivation for the second half of the season, but Ellis took it a step further.
“It’s going to be like a playoff game on Wednesday,” Ellis said. We just have to come focused and ready and try to do whatever we can to get a win.”