ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — It wasn’t long ago that the NBA was starting to take notice of what the Milwaukee Bucks were doing.
After a 19-point rout of the Miami Heat on Dec. 29, the Bucks were sitting at 16-12 and on their way to putting .500 in the rearview mirror.
Eight days later, Milwaukee is back at .500 as losers of four straight games and in the process went from tied for the Central Division lead to three games back.
So, what’s gone wrong?
“Everything,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “Everything you can put on a board basketball wise, we have to do it better.
“The only thing you can do when you get in this situation is work out of it. You have to work harder. You can’t press and put added pressure on yourself, but you have to work harder. You have to create more opportunity for yourself, share the ball a little bit better. There’s a lot of things that go into it. We have to do everything better than we’ve done it the last week or so.”
There hasn’t been a pattern to the four losses, either. One night it was poor defense, the next turnovers and Saturday against Indiana the problem was the inability to score. In the four game losing streak, the Bucks are giving up 105.7 points per game, but they’ve also seen a regression in the ball and player movement that led to eight wins in 11 games.
“Offensively we are not playing well, and defensively we aren’t playing well,” Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. “I think it puts a lot of pressure on our defense if our offense is not playing well, turning the ball over and just not playing the way we want to.
“We’ve got to execute better. We have to find a way to get easier baskets. It’s the whole thing. We have to do more on both ends collectively, not individually.”
In the last two losses, the third quarter has been a major problem. Houston outscored the Bucks 30-14 Friday to completely flip the game around and after Milwaukee scored the first six points of the third quarter Saturday against Indiana, the Pacers outscored the Bucks 25-11 the rest of the way.
Even when Milwaukee beat Miami, it was outscored 27-13 by the Heat in the third quarter. The Bucks are scrambling to find a way to not only come out of halftime playing better, but starting the game quicker, as well.
“It’s the NBA and even teams with the bad records, if they build a big lead it’s hard to come and win the game,” Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova said. “It happens very rarely. We have to be aggressive from the beginning of the game. Those big leads against good teams, especially against a team like San Antonio, it’s hard to come back and win the game.”
With a four-game, seven-day road trip starting Sunday in Toronto and continuing on to the west coast, Milwaukee faces an incredibly important week this week. The Bucks host Phoenix on Tuesday before traveling to Chicago on Wednesday, returning home for Detroit on Friday before heading to Canada.
Mbah a Moute called this week “very, very important” and also labeled Tuesday’s game against the Suns as one of the biggest of the year. With the Pacers and Bulls beginning to find their groove, the Bucks know they can’t continue to slide.
“It’s a key game for us,” Mbah a Moute said. “It’s a tricky game because they are a sneaky good team. They know we are struggling so they are going to try and take advantage of that. We have to take that game going into Chicago. We have to take it one game at a time. We know we can’t solve everything in one game, it starts tomorrow.”
The Phoenix game is indeed tricky because of the Chicago game on the road the following day. After starting 5-1 against the Central Division, the Bucks have dropped three straight contests to division foes. After blowing a 27-point lead to the Bucks the last time the two teams met at the United Center, the Bulls will be ready. Add in the fact that Milwaukee is 2-6 in second games of back-to-backs and the Bucks have a tall task at hand. But first, the 12-23 Suns can’t be overlooked.
“It’s a huge week for us,” Ilyasova said. “It’s not going to be easy for us. We have a lot of big games. It’s all about our energy. If we play with a lot of energy we have potential to win those games. If we want to be a playoff team we have to approach it with that mentality. We have to be play much better.”