Bucks hope trip fuels turnaround

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By Charles F. Gardner
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, December 31, 2013

LOS ANGELES--It seems an unlikely place to start a winning streak or simply to win a game.

But the Milwaukee Bucks have to start somewhere, don’t they?

The Bucks (6-24), owners of the worst record in the National Basketball Association, open a three-game western swing against the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night at the Staples Center.

But the Lakers suddenly have their own problems with Kobe Bryant sidelined by injury and a playoff berth seeming far from certain in the imposing Western Conference.

So call Bucks coach Larry Drew crazy, but he sees an opportunity for his team as it travels west Monday to face the Lakers, followed by games at Utah and Phoenix.

“I think the road is one of the best places to get well,” Drew said. “When you go out on the road, there’s more of a sense of urgency.

“I think being at home, there could be distractions. But when you’re in the situation we’re in, the timing is right to go out on the road and get well. The road has been known to bring teams closer together and I’m certainly looking forward to it doing it to us.”

The Bucks stumbled to consecutive lopsided losses against Brooklyn and Minnesota last weekend. A leaky defense was much to blame with both the Nets and Timberwolves knocking 3-pointers down at will, and Kevin Love took advantage of his chances to score 33 points Saturday night.

Milwaukee also continued to miss too many shots. Caron Butler was 3-of-18 in the two defeats while Ersan Ilyasova connected on just 4 of 21 attempts.

Ilyasova has missed his last 15 three-point tries and is 1 for his last 24 attempts from beyond the arc.

Bucks forward Khris Middleton continued his solid recent play with 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks in 41 minutes against the Timberwolves.

“You can’t have those lapses on the road, especially playing the teams we are coming up,” Middleton said. “We’ve got to watch film and put these two games behind us.

“We’ve got three games on the road to try to refocus and regroup.”

One interesting note on the trip will be two of the top rookies in the league, Bucks guard Giannis Antetokounmpo and Utah point guard Trey Burke, appearing on the same court Thursday night.

Burke, the former Michigan star, has returned from an injury and looked quite impressive.

Antetokounmpo, 19, continues to develop while playing in the Bucks starting unit. He started his sixth straight game on Saturday.

“I try to be better every game,” Antetokounmpo said. “Sometimes I’m not playing good.

“Thank God I have coach giving me the chance to play. I’m happy and I appreciate that.”

The Lakers, plagued by injuries, have dropped five straight games after losing a Sunday night home game against Philadelphia. Milwaukee will be the Lakers’ New Year’s Eve guest before heading to Salt Lake City.

The best team the Bucks will face on their trip is Phoenix, which has stunned most observers by posting an 18-11 record. The teams play Saturday night to conclude the Bucks’ road swing.

The Suns were expected to be lottery-bound but have put it together quickly under new coach Jeff Hornacek. The backcourt duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe has given opponents fits, and Miles Plumlee and the Morris brothers (Marcus and Markieff) have become strong contributors.

Second-year player John Henson will stay behind after suffering a lower left leg injury Dec. 20 that forced him out of Saturday’s game.

Larry Sanders moved into the starting lineup at center Saturday in Henson’s absence. After being out six weeks following right thumb surgery, he is getting into playing shape.

And he said the team must take advantage of its week away from the cold temperatures in Milwaukee.

“The best place to get better is on the road,” Sanders said. “There’s nobody but us; we don’t have the distractions of being home.

“We’re just looking forward to getting out and competing, get everybody in a better mood."

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