Preview: Bucks vs. Rockets
MILWAUKEE -- Funny how quickly fortune can change in the NBA.
Barely 10 days ago, the Milwaukee Bucks were riding high and dreaming of not only a playoff berth, but potentially sneaking into the Eastern Conference's top-four spots and earning home-court advantage in the first round.
But when they take the floor Wednesday night to face the Houston Rockets at the Bradley Center, the focus will be on staying in the playoff picture.
After winning 10 of its first 13 after firing head coach Jason Kidd, Milwaukee has dropped five of its last six games and now sits seventh in the East, still five games ahead of ninth-seeded Boston but just a half-game ahead of the Heat, who occupy the eighth spot, which would make for a first-round matchup with No. 1 Toronto.
The Bucks' road gets no easier against the Rockets, owners of the NBA's best record overall and winners of 16 in a row after a 122-112 victory at Oklahoma City Thursday night.
Milwaukee won the last two meetings at the Bradley Center and split the last two season series with Houston but could be playing short-handed if center Cody Zeller is unavailable because of hip and back soreness suffered after a bad fall Sunday against Houston.
If Zeller sits, that would mean more minutes for Thon Maker, who's been struggling of late.
Maker played 18 1/2 minutes in Milwaukee's loss at Indiana Monday night, but spent a season-low five minutes on the court Sunday in a victory over Philadelphia. He's averaging just 2.7 points on 25 percent shooting and has missed six of seven 3-point attempts over his last six games and has missed his last eight shots overall, dating back to the second quarter of a game last Wednesday against Detroit.
He's also struggled with more simple tasks, like catching passes.
"It's something I've got to get better at," Maker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Early on, let's say we're running a pick-and-roll, I'd just roll. After you get missed on those rolls, say you were open and you get missed a few times, you start to fade away, not looking for the ball. Now everybody, especially Jabari (Parker) when he's coming off, he's looking right away. He's a great playmaker and Bled (Eric Bledsoe), so now I've got to get back to really focusing in and being ready to catch those."
Interim coach Joe Prunty emphasized a need for better effort from the entire roster.
"We need rebounding, running, run the floor, help get stops, be a presence in the paint in terms of making shots difficult, pick-and-roll coverages," Bucks coach Joe Prunty said. "We know they'll put us in pick-and-rolls, make sure you're on point with that."
While the Bucks are scuffling, the Rockets appear to be at cruising altitude while riding the second-longest winning streak in franchise history.
"Let's keep it going," Mike D'Antoni said. "We're going to eventually lose, but it shouldn't be from a lack of effort. So far, we've been focused pretty good."
They forced eight turnovers in the first quarter and shot 52.5 percent in the first half against Oklahoma City and are now 33-1 when James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela all play in the same game.
"Our defense was really good," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said. "To beat a team like this on their own floor is unbelievable."