Sixers to battle for playoff spot with host Bucks
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MILWAUKEE --There's never a good time for a losing streak, but early March -- when the jockeying for playoff positioning starts to heat up -- may be one of the worst.
The Milwaukee Bucks are still comfortably in the postseason hunt but after dropping four straight games sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, 1 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers, who visit Milwaukee for a Sunday matinee at the Bradley Center.
"We've been through this before, it's nothing new," Bucks swingman Khris Middleton said. "We're going to stay together."
Middleton scored 30 points Friday night in Milwaukee's 103-96 loss to Indiana. The Bucks led by five early in the third quarter but went ice cold and fell behind by as many as 17 before a furious fourth-quarter rally got them within four with just over a minute to play.
It marked the second straight game that the Bucks whittled away a deep deficit before falling just short.
"We can't worry about these last couple games," Middleton said. "I know they were big games for us; we lost them, we've been through it before. Now we've just got to bounce back, pull together and show the kind of team that we are."
Any hope Milwaukee has of snapping its streak rests on Giannis Antetokounmpo reverting to the early-season form that had him being mentioned as a legitimate Most Valuable Player candidate.
He scored 24 against the Pacers but 10 of those points came from the free-throw line.
"I've been trying to get in rhythm for five games now," Antetokounmpo said. "You can't get the rhythm. If the ball doesn't go in, you can't physically get rhythm."
The Bucks will have to be at their best against the Sixers, who've won nine of their last 11 games.
Joel Embiid is averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds during that stretch while Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons has been averaging close to a triple-double.
Embiid had 23 points with 14 rebounds and three blocked shots Friday night as Philadelphia rallied from 14 down to beat the Charlotte Hornets in the second game of a back-to-back set that started a night earlier with a victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ersan Ilyasova added 18 but was crucial down the stretch, scoring 11 points in the final 12 minutes.
"We found a way to come back, win at home, and reload on a back-to-back," coach Brett Brown said.
As the 76ers gear up for their own playoff run, Brown is hoping to shore up some of his team's remaining loose ends, especially when it comes to 3-point shooting.
Having Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli will take care of most of Philadelphia's long-range attempts, but Brown would like to see the 7-foot-2 Embiid get more involved from beyond the arc, too.
"I really want him to shoot six to eight threes a game -- and so how does that happen and he is still an interior presence, a paint-catch guy?" Brown said.
"The 3-point line is where the sport is headed and will rear its head during the playoffs. And our point guards don't shoot threes."
The Bucks have won or tied the last five season series with Philadelphia and can make it six straight seasons with at least a tie if they get past the Sixers on Sunday.
Each team has won once on its home court already this season and, after Sunday, will meet once more this season, April 11 in Philadelphia.
Updated March 3, 2018