Last season's success against the bottom half of the league allowed Milwaukee to finish .500 and reach the postseason.
That advantage is gone, and the Bucks find themselves in last place with Monday night's visit from the similarly positioned Los Angeles Lakers providing little comfort.
As the Bucks' team website points out, their 12-21 mark against teams .500 and above is an improvement over their 9-27 mark in 2014-15, but they went 32-14 against teams under .500. This season, Milwaukee (23-33) is 11-12, though three wins in its last four overall could have a calming effect – particularly with Jabari Parker playing well.
That includes a 117-109 double-overtime win at Atlanta on Saturday in which Parker recorded career highs of 28 points and 13 rebounds, while Milwaukee limited the Hawks to 41.5 percent shooting, including 22.0 from 3-point range. In their last three games, the Bucks have held teams to 41.1 percent overall and 23.1 from long range.
“I think that we kept our endurance, especially in the first few minutes of the second overtime, seeing our energy go up to another level,” Parker said.
The individual effort came a night after the 20-year-old forward had 23 and 11 in a 98-95 home loss to Charlotte. Parker has averaged 22.7 points on 54.9 percent shooting with 11.0 rebounds in his last three games, and his coach has taken notice.
“I think he's really finding his rhythm,” Jason Kidd said. “He's getting on the glass, he's getting to the rim and he's knocking down some shots.”
It helped the Bucks overcome a rough night from Khris Middleton, who was limited to 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting. The guard had averaged 21.2 points in his previous five games, though that came while shooting 38.6 percent.
The Lakers (11-46) contributed to Milwaukee's struggles against the bottom dwellers with a 113-95 home win Dec. 15 behind 22 points from Kobe Bryant. The Lakers have taken the last two meetings, but the Bucks have won the previous four in Milwaukee.
Bryant is making his final stop in Milwaukee, and the Bucks are the NBA team he's visited least in his career along with the Nets, Bulls, Hornets and Heat. It's confirmed he'll play the tail end of a back-to-back set.
Los Angeles is looking to end a five-game losing streak after opening a three-game trip with Sunday's 126-115 defeat in Chicago.
Defensively, the Lakers have been a disaster on the skid while allowing an average of 112.0 points on 49.2 percent shooting without a single game going to overtime. The Bulls were 13 of 19 from 3-point range, and Los Angeles' last three opponents have made 51.6 percent from beyond the arc.
“(Trying to defend the 3) opened up driving lanes,” coach Byron Scott said. “You've got to take away one of the two, and tonight we weren't able to take away the 3-point line.”
Bryant and Julius Randle each had 22 points. The 21-year-old Randle, who had 14 points and 14 rebounds in December versus the Bucks, has been a far better shooter over the last month, averaging 14.2 points and connecting on 49.3 percent in 12 games after managing 10.5 on 40.0 in his first 44 of the season. He also had 12 rebounds and has averaged 14.0 in the last five games.
Rookie D'Angelo Russell moved back into the starting lineup against the Bulls for the first time since Dec. 12, and Scott said after the game that Russell will start the rest of the season.
“Offensively, I thought he did a really good job of getting our guys involved,” Scott said.