Preview: Bucks vs. Nets

Preview: Bucks vs. Nets

Published Dec. 29, 2018 4:09 p.m. ET

MILWAUKEE -- The Bucks will try and close out the year on a high note when they play host to the Brooklyn Nets Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee.

Back-to-back victories over the Knicks by a combined 30 points gave Milwaukee wins in six of its last eight games and eight in the last 11. As a result, the Bucks hold a slight lead over Toronto for first place in the Eastern Conference.

The addition of Brook Lopez over the summer is a big reason for Milwaukee's success. A somewhat unheralded signing during the annual free-agent frenzy, he's been a rock in the Bucks' front court -- not to mention lethal when he has the ball in his hands beyond the 3-point line.

Of his 134 shot attempts this month, 85 have come from distance. He's made 35.4 percent of his 3-point attempts this season while shooting 42.5 percent overall.

"He can get a lot of easy ones," forward Giannis Anteotkounmpo said of Lopez's talents. "He's 7-1, 7-2; he's huge. He's always going to shoot his threes, we want him to shoot the threes because that creates a lot of space for me, Khris, Bledsoe and Malcolm (Brogdon) also. But I think he's got to mix it up a little bit."

Nobody knows Lopez's abilities more than the Nets, who shared the floor with him for his first nine NBA seasons. Lopez is the franchise's all-time scoring leader with 10,444 points and also tops the franchise leader board with 4,044 field goals made, 7,998 field goals attempted and 972 blocked shots.

But during his time in Brooklyn, he attempted all of 31 3-pointers. He credits the development of that aspect of his game to the presence of talented teammates like Antetokounmpo, who's ability to slash through the lane often leaves Lopez wide open on the perimeter.

"Guys like Giannis and (Eric Bledsoe), they do such a good job drawing the defense," Lopez said. "A lot of times guys are closing hard and so it's just making the read."

Like Milwaukee, the Nets come into the game on a high note. Their 100-87 loss at Charlotte Friday night was just the second in in their last 11. Brooklyn was 8-18 after a 114-112 loss to Oklahoma City stretched its losing streak to eight games and dropped the Nets' record to 8-18.

They responded with seven straight victories and come to Milwaukee with a 17-20 record, a game back of Detroit for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"It's been amazing, man," Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said. "Just to see the hard work we put in, all the resiliency we had, it's amazing to be able to say we put together some wins."

Saturday marks the first meeting of the season between the two teams. Milwaukee won the series, 2-1, a year ago with the Nets' lone victory last season snapping a 10-game losing streak to the Bucks.

In all, the Bucks have won 12 of the last 14 meetings with Brooklyn, including six of the last seven at home, and has won four straight season series.