The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t managed to win more than three games in a row and they’re barely above .500, but they are one of the NBA’s biggest surprises.
Less than a season removed from the worst record in franchise history, the Bucks look to begin the second half of the season by capitalizing on a meeting with the last-place Utah Jazz on Thursday night.
Milwaukee (21-20) has won three straight games twice, but also has not lost more than three in a row. While putting together a consistent, strong stretch has been rare for the Bucks, they’re one game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for fifth in the Eastern Conference.
That’s a tremendous improvement after Milwaukee had an NBA-worst 15-67 record last season.
"Obviously, we survived the first half and I thought we did pretty good," guard Jerryd Bayless told the team’s official website. "We exceeded a lot of expectations and hopefully this next half, we can do the same thing."
The Bucks are poised for a strong start facing the Jazz (14-28), who have dropped four straight on the road while averaging 84.3 points on 41.0 percent shooting and five of six overall.
Milwaukee has also won four of five at home against Utah, coasting to a 114-88 victory March 3.
Ersan Ilyasova hit 13 of 14 from the floor to finish with 31 points in that matchup, one shy of his career high. The forward has missed 19 games due to a broken nose and concussion but had 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench in his second game back – a 92-89 loss to Atlantic Division-leading Toronto on Monday.
Ilyasova may need another strong effort since Brandon Knight has averaged 9.2 points – well off his career-high average of 18.3 this season – in five lifetime meetings with the Jazz. Knight, though, has scored 20 in each of his last three games.
Bayless has scored five points in back-to-back games, but he owns the longest active streak of consecutive free throws made at 49. He can become the first Buck to reach 50 since Michael Redd did it from Feb. 14-March 1, 2006.
Redd also hit 58 in a row in 2004.
"I’ve never shot at this high a level. We’ll see what happens," said Bayless, a career 83.2 percent foul shooter who has missed only one of his 66 attempts this season.
The Jazz fell 106-92 at Cleveland on Wednesday, three days after being routed 89-69 by San Antonio to open this three-game trip. Coach Quin Snyder wasn’t terribly upset with his team’s performance against the Cavaliers despite shooting 41.7 percent from the floor.
"We just played the world champions and the hottest team in the league," Snyder said. "We have to be honest with ourselves. We didn’t play very well and we’re having a tough time scoring. I’m going to object to the idea that losing to San Antonio and Cleveland on the road is like the sky is falling.
"We’re not on the level of those teams and if we make mistakes and LeBron James is having a good night, it’s hard."
Snyder may be pleased with Enes Kanter’s 24 points and 17 rebounds from Wednesday, matching his totals from the three previous games combined.
The center has averaged 22.5 points and 12.0 boards over two visits to Milwaukee, including 27 and 14, respectively, in the most recent.
Gordon Hayward scored 20 points in the loss last March, but has totaled 24 points while making 8 of 26 from the field in his last two games.