The Milwaukee Bucks attempt to break out their sudden slumber when they host the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
The Bucks have dropped two straight games and four of their last six. Their defense has been missing in action the past two games and now must prevent Portland star Damian Lillard from causing too much damage.
Milwaukee gave up 21 3-pointers in each contest as it fell 131-126 at the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday and 126-114 at the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday. The points allowed against New Orleans matched a season worst that occurred in a 131-118 home loss to the Utah Jazz on Jan. 8.
Lillard is likely salivating over his chance to face the Bucks after scoring a season-high 44 points in Saturday’s 123-122 road win over the Chicago Bulls. He drained a season-best eight 3-pointers, including the game winner as time expired.
Not surprisingly, Milwaukee’s two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is calling on his teammates to clamp down on the perimeter.
“Have pride, keep your man in front of you, don’t allow them to have easy looks,” Antetokounmpo said after the loss to Charlotte. “Don’t allow them to get easily to the free-throw line. Rebound the ball. Make sure when we miss or make shots, you got to box out.
“The little things add up in 48 minutes and then you’ll have the result of being good on defense.”
Antetokounmpo had 34 points, matched his season best of 18 rebounds and recorded nine assists in the setback. After the contest, he was dealing with a sore knee after bumping into Charlotte’s Miles Bridges with approximately seven minutes remaining.
“I think he kind of just knocked knees, so knee-to-knee,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He was obviously able to play. We’ll see how he feels, see how sore he is and hope for the best”
Milwaukee will be aiming to add to its recent success against the Trail Blazers that includes victories in three straight meetings and seven of the past eight.
Lillard will be doing his best to torment the Bucks after reaching the 40-point mark for the second time this season. He is averaging 34 points over the past eight games.
Lillard hit a 37-foot, 3-pointer with 8.9 seconds left against the Bulls in addition to the game-winner as Portland overcame a five-point deficit with 11.5 seconds left.
Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said Lillard refuses to lose.
“I know what Dame is going to give you,” Stotts said. “He’s going to give his effort. He never quits. No matter how far we are down he always believes we have a chance to win, and that attitude, that confidence is infectious.”
The victory felt like a big one to Lillard as the club lost starters CJ McCollum (foot) and Jusuf Nurkic (wrist) earlier this month and Portland is still adjusting to their absences.
“We’ve had some tough losses lately,” Lillard said. “We’ve been dealing with injuries and a lot of tough situations for our team, but we’ve been able to battle and stay together.
“We haven’t made excuses. We haven’t felt bad for ourselves. Each guy that has been put into the rotation that wasn’t in the rotation before has stepped up and been ready to play. And without those guys being prepared and having the mentality that they’ve had, we wouldn’t be in the position for a game-winner to happen or to win any of these games.”
One of those players is Gary Trent Jr., who is averaging 21 points over the past three games while going 15 of 32 from 3-point range. Trent scored 18 against the Bulls.
–Field Level Media