Preview: Bucks vs. Hornets

MILWAUKEE — Christmas is right around the corner, but like most people, the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Hornets have some work to do before opening their presents.

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The teams meet in a back-to-back, home-and-home series that kicks off Friday night at the Bradley Center.

“It’s tough to beat a team two times in a row whether it’s back to back like it is this week or within a couple weeks or a month,” Bucks wing Khris Middleton said.

Milwaukee (16-13) is riding high after holding on to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night despite blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead. The Bucks snapped a three-game losing streak with the 119-116 victory.

“It’s a big win. I think the biggest win of the season so far, but it’s just a win,” Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said after scoring 27 against the Cavaliers. “Just got to stay focused for the next one.”

Charlotte’s Kemba Walker torched the Bucks the last time the teams met, scoring 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting. It will be up to Eric Bledsoe to keep Walker in check Friday.

“Kemba puts a lot of pressure on your defense with his speed and his ability to get to the basket and also shooting the ball at a high rate,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “Hopefully, Bled can slow him down a little bit, you have speed on speed.”

Bledsoe wasn’t with the Bucks in their two previous meetings with the Hornets this season. Charlotte, too, will have an additional weapon in Nicolas Batum, who missed both meetings while sitting out the first 12 games of the season after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow.

Since returning, Batum has had an up-and-down run. He is averaging 9.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 17 games but had his first scoreless game of the season Wednesday when he attempted just one shot from the field in 26 minutes during a 129-111 loss to the Raptors.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” acting coach Stephen Silas told the Charlotte Observer after he was asked about Batum’s strange night. “I wish I had an answer for you.”

Charlotte (11-20) is slogging its way toward a likely lottery berth and Milwaukee is starting to look at climbing up the Eastern Conference ladder.

The Bucks sit in a three-way tie for fifth place in the East, a half-game out of fourth place but just a game above ninth place.

“Right now, it’s like musical chairs with that bottom four, so we’ve got to do a great job of winning games we need to win,” Middleton said. “We had a big win at home against Cleveland, so we have to back it up against a team like this on Friday. It’s a must-need win for us trying to get playoff position and trying to separate ourselves from the rest of the East. We need to win these two games.”

A sweep of the Hornets this weekend would put the Bucks five games above .500 at Christmas for the first time since 2005, when they were 15-9.