Bucks hit challenging stretch
MILWAUKEE Road realities can be harsh in the National Basketball Association.
The Milwaukee Bucks are about to hit the pavement for a rough stretch filled with potholes and dangerous curves, and it will take more than a state-of-the-art GPS for them to survive.
“We’ve got to be a better road team,” Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings said. “We’re going into some hostile environments right now. Dallas is crazy, Portland, L.A., San Antonio, even Sacramento.
“When you’re at home you’re always in your own bed, you’ve got your own routine. On the road you’ve got to have a different approach. You’ve got to play freely, I think. When you’re playing tight, that’s when things go wrong.”
The Bucks (9-13) play five of their next six games on the road, all against Western Conference teams, starting with a two-game trip to Texas this week.
Milwaukee plays at Dallas tonight and at San Antonio on Wednesday before returning home to meet Utah on Saturday.
Then it’s a three-game swing to the West Coast to play Portland, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento before returning home on Christmas Eve.
A 2-8 start on the road doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
But that could change quickly if the Bucks can compete with the top teams in the West and get a signature road victory.
“That would be nice, maybe two,” Bucks center Andrew Bogut said. “Boston (a 105-102 overtime loss) was our last closest call. That would have been huge for us.
“If we don’t get them, we don’t get them. We have to stay positive. These are two tough teams (the Mavericks and Spurs). We’ve got to play almost a perfect game in both those arenas to get wins.”
Surging Dallas took an 11-game winning streak into its Saturday night home game against Utah. San Antonio, still featuring big man Tim Duncan and getting a big boost from former Bucks forward Richard Jefferson, boasts the league’s best record at 19-3.
“In the last two years we’ve played well in San Antonio, played well in Dallas,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “We lost a couple tough ones in Dallas. We’ve got to try to get ourselves straight and go out on the road and see what we can do.”
The Bucks had a chance to win at the buzzer in Dallas last season but Carlos Delfino’s runner in the lane rimmed out and the Mavericks escaped with a 108-107 victory.
They weren’t as close in San Antonio, suffering a 112-98 defeat as Duncan scored 24 points.
Jennings said he was looking forward to going against veteran point guard Jason Kidd in Dallas and red-hot Tony Parker in San Antonio.
“San Antonio is just coming back and kicking everybody’s butt,” Jennings said. “Their goal is to go ahead and get in that ring conversation.
“Parker is playing great. Kidd is a Hall of Famer; he’s going to go out there and run the team. I’ve got to try to take advantage of the old man, a little bit. I’ll try to do the best I can.”
The Bucks squandered a fourth-quarter lead in Boston and lost in overtime, and they had plenty of chances in a four-point loss in New Orleans to open the season.
The most painful road loss thus far was the 83-81 defeat in Cleveland when Mo Williams hit a buzzer-beater over Jennings, completing the Cavaliers’ comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit.
“We’ve just got to stick with it, try to get together as a team on the road,” Bogut said. “Road games are tough to win in this league, no matter who you’re playing. Every team feels comfortable at home.”
The Bucks were a respectable 18-23 on the road last season but also had a rough time early in the schedule.
Skiles hinted that mental toughness could be a critical factor.
“I don’t go around saying to friends that today’s players are so much different than players of yesteryear,” the Bucks coach said. “But there are some differences.
“The younger guys like to have a lot of people cheering for them. One thing that happens on the road is it’s silent when you get introduced, if you’re not getting booed.
“That’s got to turn you on a little bit. You’ve got to go in with a mind-set that a really tough road win is sometimes even better than a hard-fought home win.”
One of the Bucks’ most memorable road victories last season was the Game 5 decision over Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs. The Bucks seemed done, but Delfino hit a key three-pointer in a late rally and Milwaukee grabbed a 91-87 victory that put it ahead, 3-2, in the best-of-seven series.
Jennings skipped off the floor in front of a stunned Atlanta crowd, although the Hawks rallied to win the next two games and the series.
“We had a lot going against us and made a lot of big plays,” Skiles said.
The Bucks have gained a measure of confidence with a 3-1 home stand and a more settled playing rotation, with Bogut returning from a back injury that sidelined him for two weeks.
It’s possible that forward Drew Gooden, who has been out with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, could return this week.
“It’s going to be tough but that’s the NBA,” guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. “We play two really good teams (in Texas). We’ll just go in there, stick to our principles and see what happens.”