Bucks carry momentum into clash with lowly Rockets

NBA

The surging Milwaukee Bucks will carry a four-game winning streak into their closing six-game stretch of the regular season with a contest Friday against the visiting Houston Rockets.

Milwaukee (42-24) followed back-to-back victories over the Brooklyn Nets to begin the week with a 135-134 nail-biter Wednesday against Washington.

Brook Lopez’s tip-dunk with 6.8 seconds remaining proved to be the difference against Washington, giving the Bucks a four-point lead ahead of a Bradley Beal 3-pointer and Wizards steal in the closing seconds.

Wednesday’s contest was the second game in consecutive nights for Milwaukee, which played without 20.4 point-per-game scorer Khris Middleton due to a sore left knee.

“It was awesome, especially playing without Khris tonight,” said Donte DiVincenzo, who shot 5 of 7 from 3-point range and finished with 19 points. “It was a collective win, and when we can do that against a team that’s rolling — I think (Washington) won 11 out of 13 coming into tonight — it’s a big thing to know we can come together and pull it out different ways.”

The last three victories in the Bucks’ current, four-game winning streak have all been close, but all ended in unique fashion. Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo made four 3-pointers in each of the two victories over Brooklyn, and finished with 49 and 36 points in those contests.

Against Washington, Antetokounmpo went 0 of 2 from 3-point range and scored 23 points, 5.4 less than his average.

But with Antetokounmpo scoring less than usual — in part the result of a closely called game in which he played just under 30 minutes due to foul trouble — and with Middleton out, reserves Pat Connaughton, Bryn Forbes and Jeff Teague combined to score 41 points off the bench.

Depth has been a consistent theme of Milwaukee’s NBA-leading 119.6 points per game and a trait on which the Bucks will continue to rely on as they make their final push to the playoffs.

They now play host Houston (16-50), the first of five opponents in the Bucks’ final six with a sub-.500 record. It will help in their push with Brooklyn for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, if not Philadelphia and the No. 1 seed.

Milwaukee was one game behind the second-place Nets and three behind the first-place 76ers heading into NBA play Thursday.

The Rockets, meanwhile, come into Friday’s matchup with the worst record in the NBA and on a three-game losing streak. Their last victory came over Milwaukee on April 29, which was also the Bucks’ last loss.

A 135-115 loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday was the Rockets’ eighth in their last nine games.

“We were low on reinforcements, but it’s something to build on — especially for these young guys,” said Kelly Olynyk, who recorded 27 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists Wednesday. “There’s some things we could definitely do better, in terms of having more time together and executing, but I think they played well. They played together, they shared the ball, and it’s something to build on.”

Dealing with a bevy of absences — having already lost John Wall for the season to a hamstring injury, while sitting Christian Wood due to an ankle injury and Jae’Sean Tate due to health and safety protocols — the Rockets had rookies Anthony Lamb and Armoni Brooks scoring 22 and 20 points.

Houston also lost Kevin Porter Jr. to an ankle injury during Wednesday’s game.

Porter was three games removed from his career-high 50-point effort in the Rockets’ 143-136 defeat of the Bucks.

–Field Level Media

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