Streak ends despite Jefferson's 32 points
Talk about your elusive goals.
The Milwaukee Bucks have had their sights set on a return to the .500 mark for about three months now only to have those desires continually go unfulfilled.
After winning three straight games, the Bucks had drawn tantalizingly close to .500 at 27-29 only to take a step backward in a 113-104 loss to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night at the Bradley Center.
The three-game winning streak they took into the game matched their longest of the season.
And now, dangerous home games loom against the talented Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
''We just can't get over the hump," said Bucks guard Charlie Bell. "I don't know what it is. I don't know if we just relax when we're getting close (to .500) or what, but there's still a lot of basketball left to be played. We've got two tough games coming up with Cleveland and Denver, so we kind of wanted to get this one tonight and make it four wins in a row for the first time this season."
Said forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, "We come to within one or two (of .500) and then we lose one or two. We just have to keep fighting. All year we've been doing that."
The Bucks haven't been at .500 since Nov. 14, when they were 5-5. But the good news for them is that the way the NBA's Eastern Conference is shaping up, they probably would be able to sneak into the playoffs with a sub-.500 record.
Wednesday's game will be looked back on as another one of those "coulda-woulda-shoulda" home games that they could have won had they not been so lackadaisical.
Forward Richard Jefferson made 15 of 16 free throws and led the Bucks with 32 points. Charlie Villanueva scored 17 points on an off-shooting night but grabbed 12 rebounds to help the Bucks to a 50-38 advantage on the boards.
But the Bucks, coming off a 40.5% shooting game the night before in Detroit, shot 39.3% and turned the ball over 22 times, leading to 33 Chicago points.
Reserve guard Kirk Hinrich scored 18 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter to lead Chicago, which made 34 of 37 free throws and exhibited superior athleticism throughout the game.
The Bucks find themselves even in the loss column with Chicago and three games under .500.
''All year we've been going after it," said Jefferson. "But luckily we have a few more games left and we can keep fighting for it. That's a great goal to fight for . . . the . . . .500 mark and to be in the playoffs. Those are things you want to keep fighting for. Even though we've lot a lot of guys, our goals haven't changed."
Neither team led by more than eight through the first three quarters, and Chicago took a four-point lead into the fourth when Hinrich went off.
A three-point basket by Hinrich was the first of six straight Bulls points that gave Chicago an 85-79 lead early in the fourth quarter. A fast-break layup, a three-pointer and a jumper by Hinrich helped the Bulls extend their lead to 96-86 with 4 minutes 45 seconds left. Two thunderous dunks by forward Tyrus Thomas, much to the delight of the sizable Chicago contingent in the crowd, helped the Bulls hang on from there.
''Back-to-back coming right out of the break is tough," said Bell who scored 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting. "It didn't look like we had any energy tonight. We looked real sluggish. A lot of turnovers and they capitalized. Our transition defense from the turnovers wasn't good. We didn't play like we wanted to win."
Said Jefferson, "We didn't do a good job defensively tonight. We just didn't have it. We fought, but we didn't play smart."