Right now, a win seems a long ways away for the Milwaukee Bucks. The odds of Milwaukee snapping its long losing streak grew longer when one key player couldn’t go and another had to leave the game early.
Without Caron Butler for the entire game and Ersan Ilyasova for the vast majority, Bucks coach Larry Drew tried multiple different lineup combinations and defenses Friday night.
But everything Drew tried was to no avail, as the Bucks’ skid reached 11 with a 92-76 loss to Charlotte, their second loss to the Bobcats in a week.
“We tried to throw different lineups to give them different looks, we tried to change our defenses, but nothing really seemed to take effect,” Drew said.
Drew opened the second half with a small lineup, putting Gary Neal in with Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Khris Middleton and Zaza Pachulia. Milwaukee opened the half on a 7-2 run to cut the deficit to 53-47, but the Bobcats needed just four minutes to grow their lead to 14 points.
“It was by necessity,” Drew said of the small lineup. “With no Caron and no Ersan, we were forced to go smaller. The big lineup didn’t have much of an effect. We thought we could probably speed it up just a bit more by speeding by going small, and we did.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump. We had a couple of bad offensive possessions and they got it back up to 10 or 12. We just couldn’t overcome it.”
Big or small lineup, the Bucks couldn’t stop Al Jefferson or any Bobcats player in the paint. Jefferson finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, leading Charlotte’s 44-26 advantage in the paint and 54-38 dismantling of Milwaukee on the glass.
The Bucks had nothing working on the offensive end all night and shot just 33.3 percent. Ilyasova was 0-for-6 before he left, while Middleton was 3-of-9 and Mayo 2-for-11. Even reserve forwards John Henson and Ekpe Udoh struggled to finish, combining to make just 5-of-17 shots.
The end result was Milwaukee getting held under 83 points for the fifth time in eight games. Not only have the Bucks lost 11 in a row, but also the last five have come to teams with an under .500 record.
“We just have to be professional,” Drew said. “We have to be men. We have to stand up. This is the NBA, and this is the life in the NBA. It’s not a time to feel sorry for ourselves. The only way we get out of this hole is if we make up our mind that we are going to get ourselves out of this hole. We have another crack at it tomorrow night.
“Nobody has quit. That’s not going to happen.”
Knight takes step forward: After aggravating his right hamstring injury late in Wednesday’s loss to Washington, Brandon Knight not only was able to play Friday but also put forth his best effort in a Bucks uniform.
Knight, who came in averaging 5.0 points per game and shooting just 22.2 percent in six games, finally showed a consistent burst and looked like he trusted the hamstring for the first time. He finished with a season-high 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
“Brandon came out really aggressive,” Drew said. “I thought he did a really good job of setting the tone early. He made some shots, got us into our offense.
“It was the best he’s looked so far. Hopefully this will jumpstart him. We’re just trying to get him in his rhythm since he’s been out a while.”
Injury update: Butler was unable to play Friday due to a swollen left knee, leaving Milwaukee without one of its top reserves.
Averaging 13.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, Butler has come off the bench in the Bucks’ last two games in an effort to find a lineup combination that clicks.
Ilyasova started Friday’s game but was forced to leave with 6:16 left in the second quarter with soreness in his left hamstring. He didn’t score, grabbed four rebounds and missed all six of his field-goal attempts before exiting.
Both players’ status for Saturday’s game against Boston is up in the air.