Bucks eyeing season sweep of lowly Pistons

Bucks eyeing season sweep of lowly Pistons

The Milwaukee Bucks wore down in a battle of conference leaders on Saturday. They’ll look to rebound against a struggling team that they’ve dominated in recent years.

Following a 129-106 loss at Denver, the Bucks visit Detroit in the third contest of a four-game road swing. Milwaukee (53-21) has won 16 of the last 17 meetings against its Central Division rival and can sweep the season series with a victory.

Detroit (16-58) has lost its last five games and 16 of its last 17.

The Bucks blew out Utah by 28 points on Friday night but couldn’t sustain that energy and production in the Mile High City. The Bucks led 66-63 at halftime but were outscored 34-19 in the third quarter and 32-21 in the fourth.

“We love competing against the best, whether we’re fresh or not,” Milwaukee forward Khris Middleton said. “(Saturday) it came off a back-to-back, we’ve still got to be better. There’s no excuses about that. I’m sure for a lot of fans, a lot of people out there that would love to see healthy teams or not off back-to-backs play the top teams in each conference.”

Denver shot 52.8 percent from the field and made 15 3-pointers. Milwaukee was held to 44.3 percent shooting and connected on just 25 percent of its 3-point attempts.

In the showdown of Most Valuable Player award candidates, the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic had 31 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo also scored 31 points and added nine rebounds, four assists and four steals.

“You just want to make things tough for him,” Milwaukee center Brook Lopez said of Jokic. “He’s obviously very talented offensively so you just want to make things as tough as possible and obviously be smart as well, too, because he’s great at drawing fouls and getting to the line. I appreciate that trust (to guard him one-on-one). It’s a great challenge and I’m up to that challenge. I’m here for it.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer felt ball and player movement were lacking in the second half.

“Credit to Denver. They played well in the third quarter, fourth quarter,” he said. “They just had us in the second half. We can be better.”

The Pistons have been playing with depleted lineups over the past month and the results have been predictable. They have lost by at least nine points in each of their last five games.

In their last outing on Friday, the Raptors romped past them 118-97. Toronto scored 38 points in the first quarter and led 72-52 at halftime.

“With all of our leading guys out, our young guys didn’t approach it with the proper disposition,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Toronto is playing for a playoff spot and our guys didn’t play with the intensity you have to have against a team fighting for the playoffs.”

Rookie guard Jaden Ivey led the Pistons with 20 points and eight assists but also committed nine of their 22 turnovers, which led to 23 Raptors points.

“That was a big difference, too,” Casey said. “That was a great lesson for him.”

The Bucks wrap up their road trip at Indiana on Wednesday. The Pistons begin a three-game road trip at Oklahoma City on Wednesday.