MILWAUKEE — The West Coast didn’t change the Milwaukee Bucks.
Still feeling good about themselves after their best road trip since 2001, the Bucks continued their recent uptick with a 110-102 victory over Philadelphia at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Tuesday night.
With a win over a team chasing them in the standings, the Bucks moved a full six games ahead of the ninth-seeded and slumping 76ers and just a half-game behind Atlanta for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. More important, Milwaukee continued to display the positive demeanor it has shown since Jim Boylan took over as head coach on Dec. 8.
“Right now, we are winning and we are in a good situation,” Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings said. “We are 6-2 under Jim, and things couldn’t get any better.”
So what’s changed?
“Guys are playing with a lot of confidence,” Jennings said. “The energy in here is really up. Jim just lets us play, including myself. I’m just able to make plays down the stretch to help the team.”
Jennings did just that Tuesday. Other than three free throws, Jennings assisted on or scored 14 straight points when Philadelphia was making a fourth-quarter run.
Four games over .500 for the third time this season, the Bucks moved to 17-9 against the Eastern Conference and 13-5 against teams in the top nine spots in the conference. In the end, wins over teams in the East will loom large, and Milwaukee continues to rack them up.
“When you look at the East right now, everybody is close to each other (and) even second and third place is only a couple of games (ahead of us),” Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova said. “That’s what we have to do. Just try to win these games and just look forward. With everybody close to each other, even those teams behind us aren’t far.”
Though those teams aren’t real far back, the Bucks have begun to build separation during this run of six wins in eight games. Eighth-seeded Boston is now 2.5 games back, and the 76ers – who have lost 16 of 21 games – have dug themselves a deep hole behind Milwaukee. With the season reaching its midway point Friday for the Bucks, building separation now is critical. And as they begin to separate themselves, opponents are taking notice of an energized team.
“They play unbelievable, all of them,” Sixers guard Nick Young said. “Brandon, Ilyasova, Sanders blocking shots. They play as a team. That’s how we’ve got to play. They play the way we need to play.”
Though the Bucks left the arena feeling good, Milwaukee has been in this place before. Sitting at 6-2, the Bucks blew a big fourth-quarter lead and fell to lowly Charlotte on the road and eventually dropped to 7-7. A win over Miami left the Bucks at 16-12, but Milwaukee lost to Detroit the next night – the first loss in a four game losing streak that dropped the Bucks to 16-16 and led to Scott Skiles’ departure.
With a game at 11-32 Cleveland next on the schedule, the Bucks have a chance to be a season-best five games over .500 when a tough Golden State team comes to town Saturday.Or momentum could be killed again. The Bucks understand how things have gone already this season.
“We have Cleveland coming up that we need to win,” Jennings said. ” … These are games that we need to win, that’ll give us breathing room down the stretch.”