Bucks strive for better defense vs. Jazz in rematch
MILWAUKEE — After outlasting the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, the Milwaukee Bucks will have a quick turnaround before playing host to the Utah Jazz Saturday night at the Bradley Center.
The teams met late last month in Salt Lake City and things didn’t go well at all for the Bucks, who allowed a season-high 18 3-pointers including six from rookie Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell finished with a career-high 24 points and scored 10 in the final quarter in the Jazz’ 121-108 victory.
Milwaukee got 27 from Giannis Antetokounmpo in the contest and the Bucks shot 53 percent overall but they were doomed by another subpar defensive effort and lost in Utah for the 16th straight time.
“We didn’t play any defense,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after that loss. “I think both teams were in a shootout offensively and they won that by shooting the three at a very high clip. …
“Effort, energy and caring and I think sprinkle in a little trying — we didn’t do that tonight. We tried hard on the offensive end, but we didn’t try — we didn’t do anything on the defensive end.”
The Bucks have won four of five since, including a 109-102 victory Friday night against Dallas while the Jazz won four in a row after that meeting — extending their winning streak to six — but come to Milwaukee having lost two in a row.
“It’s easy when you go on certain streaks to go out there and go, ‘We got this,’ and be happy with it,” Mitchell said. “This was definitely a good reminder game and we’ve definitely got a tough schedule coming up, so it was good to get it at the beginning of the month.”
The Bucks’ offense has been clicking on all cylinders during their recent run of success and since Eric Bledsoe joined the team in a Nov. 7 trade with Phoenix, Milwaukee’s “Big Three” of Bledsoe, Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton was outscoring its opponents by 17 points per 100 possessions entering play Friday and the Bucks have a 115.2 efficiency rating with that group on the floor, putting them near the top of the league.
They’ve each scored more than 20 points in the Bucks’ last two games and combined for 82 in the victory over Dallas with Middleton scoring 31 and knocking down five 3-pointers.
“You get in the zone where you feel like all your shots are good even if they’re contested,” Middleton said. “You just have to stay confident. That’s the main thing. Stay confident and let it go; just try to find a rhythm.”
The Bucks will again be playing short-handed, though point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who’s missed 10 games with tendinitis in his left knee, is listed as questionable. But Milwaukee will be without Jason Terry, who’s battling a strained calf, Mirza Teletovic, who’s recovering from knee surgery and now Tony Snell, who sat out Friday night with tendinitis in his left knee.
“We just have to do it by committee,” Middleton said. “Tony’s a big piece of what we do. Tonight, he was out, so Rashad (Vaughn) had to step up. … It’s not something one person has to take on, we have to do it as a team.”
Along with their home-court winning streak, the Jazz have won seven in a row and 21 of the last 25 overall meetings with the Bucks.