Preview: Bucks at Nets

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks visit New York to take on the struggling Brooklyn Nets

NEW YORK — For the past two-plus weeks, the Brooklyn Nets remain winless but are talking about being competitive while falling short.

The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to regain their footing in a tight race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and would like to keep the Nets talking about any kind of loss.

Milwaukee gets it chance Wednesday night when the Nets attempt to stop a 13-game losing streak and a franchise-record 15-game home losing skid.

Milwaukee (24-30) is currently in ninth place, one game behind the Detroit Pistons. The Bucks are one of four sub-500 teams within three games of the final playoff spot.

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The Bucks are 4-12 since a 116-108 home win over the Miami Heat on Jan. 13. During the first 14 games of this stretch, the Bucks experienced two five-game skids and lost six times by double digits.

Offense is not a problem for the Bucks as they averaged 104.9 points and shoot 47.7 percent in this stretch. Defense is another story as teams have averaged 108.8 points and shot 47 percent.

Monday, however, might be regarded as a step forward defensively in a 102-89 home win over the Detroit Pistons. The Bucks allowed under 100 points for the first time since Jan. 2 and only the 16th time overall.

It also was the fifth time Milwaukee held an opponent under 90. Milwaukee held the Pistons to 43 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers.

“Guys are just active, hands are moving and that’s how we play,” Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe said. “That’s how we were playing earlier in the year and we’re getting back to it now. We have to continue to do that that’s when we’re at our best.”

Also notable for the Bucks was getting things done offensively with a quiet night from Giannis Antetokounmpo. The All-Star forward was held to a season-low eight points but others filled the void in the second game since Jabari Parker’s season-ending ACL injury.

“It was huge,” Monroe said. “Every game counts. It’s unfortunate that things happen like Jabari it happens, but next man up. Giannis, he’s an all-star. He’s been carrying us all year, so it’s only right to give him a game off.”

Monroe finished three shy of his season high with 25 points and shot 12 of 15 while Michael Beasley also approached a season best by adding 23 points. Monroe has scored 42 points on 18 of 23 shooting in his last two games while Beasley made his first six shots during his second start for the injured Parker.

“We have 14 guys ready every night,” Beasley said. “Fourteen guys ready to play at a high level. … I think it showed. You just have to pick up the slack. With Jabari down and Giannis not making shots, you can’t just call it a night.”

Brooklyn’s home losing streak is the seventh in NBA history of at least 15 games. It also is four shy of the league record set by the Dallas Mavericks Nov. 11, 1993-Jan. 21, 1994.

Brooklyn’s last home win was Dec. 26 when Randy Foye hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer in a 120-118 triumph over the Charlotte Hornets. Since then, the Nets are averaging 99.4 points and shooting 42.6 percent with the average margin of defeat being 11.1.

Six of the first eight losses in this skid were by double digits but the last seven are single-digit defeats. During the recent defeats, Brooklyn blew three double-digit leads and consistently struggled in the final five minutes.

Five of these games have been within five points during the last five minutes and the Nets are getting outscored 57-34 while shooting 28.9 percent (11-of-38), including 0 of 14 from 3-point range.

Monday was not one of those instances as the Nets were down 13 with five minutes remaining and never cut their deficit lower than eight points in a 112-103 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Nets were plagued by two lengthy scoring droughts in the first and second quarters and allowed Memphis point guard Mike Conley to score 11 straight points down the stretch.

“We’ve been close,” Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I feel like we’re playing better, and it just hasn’t happened. Of course it’s frustrating for coaches, players and fans. We’re getting closer, but we haven’t been able to make the plays and get the stops we need to bust through.”

This time of year annually brings out Brook Lopez trade rumors and since the Nets go on an eight-game trip after the All-Star break, Wednesday would be his last home game with the team if a trade actually occurred. Although there are reports, nothing is imminent and Lopez scored 17 points Monday.

“We just have to come out and keep improving every game,” Nets forward Trevor Booker said. “We’re gaining confidence and we feel like we’ve played well the last five or so games, so we just have to keep building on that.”

The Bucks have won the last seven meetings with the Nets and are 9-1 in the series since coach Jason Kidd left Brooklyn following the 2013-14 season.