Bucks have 16 games to get back to winning ways
NEW ORLEANS—The sense of urgency is rising as the Milwaukee Bucks enter the final 16 games of the regular season.
The Bucks still appear to be in prime playoff position, firmly in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. They entered Monday 3½ games ahead of seventh-place Indiana and four ahead of eighth-place Charlotte.
But Miami and Boston started the day only one-half game out of playoff position, and the Celtics have been hot lately, winners of five in a row. Indiana also is on the rise after a sluggish start to the season.
Nobody on the Bucks team is getting comfortable, particularly with the rash of injuries that has depleted the bench.
“We definitely need to make a nice little push here to finish the season strong and stay in the playoffs,” Bucks guard Khris Middleton said.
“We're not safe right now. These last 16 games are very important for us to get better, heading to the playoffs if we make it, and heading to next season.”
The Bucks (34-32) were eight games above .500 after beating Denver in the first game after the all-star break.
They have won only three of 12 games since then, which included an 0-4 record on a western swing with losses to the Los Angeles Lakers, Nuggets and Utah Jazz, all sub-.500 teams.
The Bucks hope a turnaround can start tonight when they face league MVP candidate Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, who are battling for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams did not practice Monday but said he thought he would be ready to play today after missing the Bucks' loss at Memphis due to a sore right ankle.
Backup guard Jerryd Bayless, out three games with a right ankle injury, did practice Monday and expects to play against New Orleans. Key reserves O.J. Mayo (right hamstring) and Jared Dudley (lower back) were sent home Sunday to get treatment on their troublesome injuries.
“It hasn't been good, but we've got to find a way,” Bayless said after Monday's practice session. “We have a lot of guys who can contribute, so we've got to find a way to get back where we were, and we will.”
Bucks coach Jason Kidd was glad to get in a full practice Monday and thought it could help.
“We had a lot of energy and it was competitive, so it was good,” Kidd said.
The Bucks will get a second look at the 6-foot-10 Davis, who scored 43 points on 17-of-23 shooting and added 10 rebounds and six assists in Milwaukee last week as the Pelicans prevailed, 114-103, in a tight game.
Davis' numbers in New Orleans' double-overtime loss to Denver on Sunday were staggering: 36 points, 14 rebounds, 9 blocks and 7 assists. He was named the Western Conference player of the week as he averaged 31.3 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 4.7 blocks over three games.
“He just is a special kid,” Kidd said. “He fills up the stat sheet. He can shoot it, block shots, rebound, pass. He's a team guy.
“When you look at what he's done at the age of 22, it's very impressive. He shot the ball extremely well in Milwaukee, but he's done that pretty much all season.”
Davis has played so well that he has become a legitimate candidate in a crowded MVP race that includes Golden State's Stephen Curry, Houston's James Harden and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook.
“There's a lot of guys, and it just shows you how young the league is and how talented these young players are,” Kidd said.
The Bucks have lost eight straight road games, dating to a Feb. 2 victory in Toronto.
“We've just got to keep fighting, get those last stops and execute down the stretch,” Middleton said. “We put ourselves in that position in Indiana and couldn't make some of those final plays.
“Memphis, we hung in there as long as we could, and they broke away from us. We're learning. We're trying to get better and finish the season strong.”