Bucks can’t contain Bulls in 109-94 loss

MILWAUKEE — What had been a stout Milwaukee Bucks defense over the last couple weeks reverted back to old form in a 109-94 loss to the Chicago Bulls Sunday afternoon.

Chicago converted on 10 of its 21 (47.6 percent) three-point attempts, while dominating the glass and grabbing 49 rebounds, compared to Milwaukee’s 34. The Bulls used a 35-point third quarter to expand their lead to as many as 20 points.

Nikola Mirotic led the Bulls by tying his season high with 28 points, while Jimmy Butler added 20 for Chicago, along with a career-high 14 assists.

”My mantra is always to pass the ball to the open guy whether it’s late game, early game,” Butler said.

The Bucks were led by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 22 points and eight rebounds. A win would have given Milwaukee the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference outright, while completing the season sweep of their southern rivals for the first time since the 2000-’01 season. That year, Milwaukee also made the Eastern Conference Finals.

Milwaukee has beaten its last 17 opponents when holding them under 100 points.

Rangers may be expressing interest in Wily Peralta

SURPRISE, Ariz. — While Milwaukee Brewers starter Wily Peralta threw 5.2 innings of scoreless baseball in a 1-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, Texas Rangers scouts were in attendance keeping an eye on Peralta, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The Rangers are reportedly looking for more starting pitching depth while they decide whether to use a four or five-man rotation this season. Peralta’s $4.275 million 2017 contract, along with ineligibility for free agency until 2019 could make him an appealing addition, per the Dallas Morning News.

Peralta is looking to bounce back from a rough beginning to his 2016 campaign in which his first 13 starts saw his ERA balloon to an MLB-worst 6.68. But after a demotion to Triple A Colorado Springs, Peralta returned to post a 2.92 ERA over his final 61.2 innings.

Peralta has shown improvement so far this spring, adding some velocity through a mechanics change in the offseason. He also got some work for the Dominican Republic during the World Baseball Classic.

Bucks move into tie for fifth place with win over Hawks

MILWAUKEE — The BMO Harris Bradley Center crowd started chanting “Fear the Deer!” as the Milwaukee Bucks downed the Atlanta Hawks 100-97 Friday night, moving into a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s performance was part of the reason for the celebration as he logged his second straight double double with 34 points and 13 rebounds. Malcolm Brogdon added 14 points and seven assists to give Milwaukee its 11th victory in 13 outings.

”It was a playoff-type game. Everybody is fighting for pole position,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said.

Milwaukee led by as many as 13 before Atlanta went on a 13-2 run in the second quarter to trim the deficit to two by halftime. But 17 turnovers wreaked havoc on the Hawks’ efforts to establish offensive continuity in the game. Atlanta did win the rebounding battle 49-35.

The Hawks had a late opportunity to send it to overtime, with former Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova taking a contested three-pointer with less than a second remaining. It clanged off the rim to encapsulate what’s been a difficult stretch for the Hawks.

Atlanta has now lost six in a row and is forced to share its fifth-place standing with Milwaukee — a team fighting for a playoff spot with 10 games remaining. The Bucks host the Bulls on Sunday afternoon, having won all three previous meetings this season.

Bucks hold off Trail Blazers for 93-90 win

PORTLAND, Ore. — Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo combined for 48 points to lead the Milwaukee Bucks past the Portland Trail Blazers 93-90 Tuesday night.

Damien Lillard’s game-tying three-point attempt with 6.4 seconds left ricocheted off the backboard to end a three-game winning streak for Portland. But for the Bucks, it was their ninth win in 11 games, keeping Milwaukee in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 12 games to play.

Middleton’s 26 points led the way for a Bucks team that was outscored in the third quarter 28-19. But Milwaukee rallied in what is a pivotal stretch for the Bucks — six straight road games.

”This shows how much we’ve grown over the season,” Middleton said. ”At this time last season we would’ve panicked but tonight and on this road trip we stayed with it and weathered the storm.”

The rebounding was evenly split 49-49, but where Milwaukee had its greatest advantage was three-point shooting. The Bucks converted on 43.8 percent (7-of-16), while the Trail Blazers were just 19 percent (4-of-21) from beyond the arc.

Brewers name Junior Guerra Opening Day starter

PHOENIX — Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell wanted to be sure a stellar rookie season at 31 years old wasn’t a fluke, but after consideration, named Junior Guerra the team’s Opening Day starter for the Apr. 3 game against the Colorado Rockies at Miller Park.

“It was unexpected. It was certainly the most pleasant surprise of the season for us,” Counsell said during a Feb. 27 session with the media. “He was a waiver claim. And to have the season he did with the consistency he did — he was one of the top starting pitchers in the National League.”

Counsell was referring to Guerra’s 2.81 ERA in the 2016 season, which ranked seventh among National League pitchers with at least 120 innings. Guerra hit his planned shut-down number of 121.2 innings in mid-September last season, but also spent some time in the minor leagues. Counsell has seen enough this spring to give Guerra the nod for Opening Day, after throwing 10 innings of two-run ball.

“He pitched really well last year,” Counsell said on Thursday. “I know he has a different story, but for his [121.1] innings [last year], he was really one of the better starters in the National League. At this point, he’s pitched really well. That’s what it boils down to.”

Guerra drew trade interest from several teams this offseason, but Milwaukee wisely kept him around. His original plan was to play in the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs, but the Brewers urged him to sit out due to some elbow issues that crept up late in the MLB season.

Guerra figures to be a main component to Milwaukee’s pitching staff this year, with his main weapon being the split-finger fastball.

“The split-finger, which is really the pitch that makes him dangerous, it by nature that pitch takes a while to get going,” Counsell said of Guerra via Fox Sports Wisconsin. “It’s a difficult pitch, that’s why a lot of guys don’t throw it. In the age of trying to get a swing-and-miss, it’s a big swing-and-miss pitch if you can master it, if you can get a feel for it and get a handle on it.”

Bucks can’t overcome second quarter run in loss to Warriors

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors outscored the Milwaukee Bucks 36-15 in the second quarter to win the game 117-92.

Steph Curry paced the Warriors with 28 points, including eight three-pointers, while Klay Thompson followed that up with 21 points. As a team, the Warriors held a distinct advantage when it came to perimeter shooting, converting on 12-of-23 attempts (52.2 percent), while Milwaukee was just 9-of-27 (33.3 percent).

But the Bucks were tasked with playing from behind for much of the game, despite leading 17-5 in the game’s opening minutes. It didn’t help Milwaukee’s case that Golden State hoarded all the missed shots. The Warriors dominated the glass with 44 rebounds, compared to the Bucks’ 35.

It was the fourth game of a six-game road trip for the Bucks, who were led by Malcolm Brogdon’s 18 points. They’re now 2-2 over that stretch while trying to hold on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

”No excuses but we were fatigued,” Brogdon said. ”If your second game on a back-to-back is one of the best teams, it’s going to be tough. Fatigue definitely plays a factor but it’s not the reason we lost.”

The Bucks have Sunday and Monday off before returning Tuesday night to visit the Portland Trailblazers.

Three ejected as Bucks beat Lakers 107-103

LOS ANGELES — Greg Monroe, D’Angelo Russell, and Nick Young were all ejected during a third quarter scuffle, but the Milwaukee Bucks held on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 107-103.

In the third quarter, Nick Young responded to being fouled harder than he thought appropriate by shoving Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon. Greg Monroe defended his teammate by shoving Young, which got L.A.’s D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram involved. A Bucks security guard also got involved, which didn’t sit well with Lakers coach Luke Walton.

”If there’s nothing wrong with that, then I have no problem finding some people to hire on our staff  next time we get in a skirmish,” Walton said. ”The refs don’t say anything about that, and he puts his hands on one of our players. He works for them. He can touch [Milwaukee’s] players all he wants. Don’t touch my damn players. Because if that’s okay, I’m sure we can find a couple of people here in L.A. that want that job working for the Lakers, too.”

That exchange allowed the Lakers to go on a late run, but Khris Middleton scored 14 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Bucks out in front for their eighth win in nine games and solidify their spot in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has now evened up its record at 34-34 with a chance to earn its second winning season in 14 years. The win officially knocked the Lakers out of playoff contention, extending their franchise-record-long drought to four seasons without a postseason appearance. Their previous drought lasted just two seasons.

Bucks hold off Clippers to move into seventh place

LOS ANGELES — The Milwaukee Bucks avoided a late-game collapse to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 97-96 Wednesday night and move into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Milwaukee used a 30-point fourth quarter to stay ahead of Los Angeles, while Blake Griffin’s last-second shot missed the mark. Clippers coach Doc Rivers didn’t place the blame on Griffin for missing the shot.

“We just couldn’t get multiple stops,” Rivers said. “We got a couple stops because we cut the lead, but I just thought we failed to get big stops.”

Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for the Bucks with 16 points apiece, but it was likely the late three-pointer from Matthew Dellavedova that was the final nail in the coffin. The dagger put Milwaukee up 97-91 with 1:17 remaining in regulation. Milwaukee’s ability to keep Los Angeles off the three-point line was also crucial, as the Clippers made just five of their 24 (20.8 percent) three-point attempts.

The Bucks remain in Los Angeles for Friday night’s contest with the Lakers, scheduled to begin at 9:30 p.m. CT.

Bucks chasing down slim playoff chances

LOS ANGELES — When the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night, they’ll do so with slim odds of making the postseason.

FiveThirtyEight.com projects the Bucks to finish with a 39-43 record, good enough for 10th place in the Eastern Conference and two spots out of the playoff spot. That translates to a 37 percent chance of making the postseason, but with just a 24 percent probability of beating the Clippers, those odds may dwindle further on this six-game road trip.

The Bucks had won six in a row heading into Memphis Monday night, but failed to capitalize on what should have been a very winnable game. With 11 of their remaining 16 games on the road, Milwaukee will have to improve on its road record of 12-18 (.400) if it wants to make the postseason for the second time in three years. Six of Milwaukee’s remaining games come against teams with winning records.

The preseason hamstring injury to Khris Middleton severely hampered the Bucks’ three-point shooting, but Milwaukee’s luck got even worse once Middleton returned prior to the All Star break. One has to wonder how Jabari Parker’s second ACL tear affects the team and where it may have been had Parker stayed healthy.

Milwaukee’s playoff chances peaked on Jan. 4 when it was 18-16, following a 105-104 win over the New York Knicks. FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Bucks a 1541 rating, which was slightly above the average rating of 1500.

With a tough schedule remaining and down a key player, will the Bucks pack it in and try better next year? If they miss the playoffs, will people give coach Jason Kidd a pass or hold him accountable?

 

Grizzlies snap Bucks win streak with 113-93 win

MEMPHIS — The Memphis Grizzlies ended a five-game losing streak, while halting the Milwaukee Bucks momentum of six straight wins with a 113-93 victory Monday night.

The struggling Grizzlies decided to put veteran Vince Carter in the starting lineup for the first time this season and were rewarded with a perfect performance — a career-high 24 points on 8-of-8 shooting, including 6-for-6 from beyond the arc.

”Hey, better late than never,” Carter said after the win. ”I didn’t realize it until [Chandler Parsons] said something to me. I’d rather not know. Just let me play.”

For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way with 18 points on 6-of-14 from the field. Malcolm Brogdon added 15 off the bench, but said “they came out with more urgency than we did.”

Khris Middleton made his eighth start of the season, but struggled to 11 points on 25 percent shooting. It was Milwaukee’s first loss this season with Middleton in the starting lineup.