MILWAUKEE — The stage was set for the Milwaukee Bucks to make a major playoff push on Saturday.
With the Bucks coming off a dominant 39-point win in Cleveland on Friday, less than 24 hours later news broke that New York Knicks point guard sensation Jeremy Lin would miss the remainder of the regular season to undergo left knee surgery. This created a significant opportunity to aid Milwaukee’s chase of the Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
However, the Bucks were unable to capitalize, losing at home, 99-95, to the Memphis Grizzlies. Without Lin and Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks were still able to win Saturday, and now Milwaukee is 2.5 games out of the playoffs.
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“It’s frustrating,” Brandon Jennings said after scoring 24 points. “The fact that we come off a big win like that against the Cavs, and now tonight, we just let one get away from us. With 14 games left, we’re going to have to have a sense of urgency, which means going into every game and playing every 48 minutes like it’s our last.
“It doesn’t matter what we do, but the Knicks have to keep losing.”
Mike Dunleavy, who scored 10 points off the bench and has become a veteran leader of the Bucks, didn’t mince words about his displeasure with the team’s performance.
“We don’t take the easy plays,” Dunleavy said. “It’s why we end up with 80 points against these good teams and 115 against the bad ones. It’s easy basketball plays. It’s the same thing every time. We come home and we play against these better teams and it’s a struggle.”
Since acquiring Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh in a trade that sent Andrew Bogut to Golden State, the Bucks have consistently been defeating non-playoff teams like the Cavs and Bobcats, and losing to playoff teams such as the Celtics, Pacers and Grizzlies.
“Against teams that struggle defensively, you can pretty much do anything you want and score 115 points,” Dunleavy said. “When we don’t do that, it makes it tough.”
When asked how the team can correct that, Dunleavy said: “Trust your teammates. If somebody comes out and double-teams you, just get it out of there and trust your teammates. We have a lot of guys that can make plays.
“The one main thing is, offensively, we really struggle with making easy plays.”
If there is good news in this for the Bucks, it’s that their next four games are all against teams that are below .500. First, a trip to Washington (12-39), followed by consecutive home games against Cleveland (17-33), Charlotte (7-43) and Portland (24-28).
Ellis struggled, scoring eight points on 2 of 12 shooting. He did not make his first shot until there were only nine minutes left in the game.
Ersan Ilyasova played well with 20 points and 16 rebounds, but missed two open 3-point shots late in the game with a chance to bring Milwaukee right back into it.
“I always feel like we can be better than what we are,” Jennings said. “I’m never satisfied with how we play. I always feel like we can be better and better.”