Slumping Nets sunk by streaking Bucks
Nets fades late as Milwaukee wins 15th in a row
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks passed the Brooklyn Nets by on the way to continuing the longest winning streak in the NBA this season and establishing the league’s best overall record.
Antetokounmpo poured in 33 points and grabbed 15 rebounds Tuesday night, but wasn’t on the floor when the Nets lost the lead for good en route to their third consecutive defeat, a 118-105 setback to the Bucks in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
“Right now we’re playing great basketball,” said Antetokounmpo, who missed Milwaukee’s game vs. Phoenix Sunday with a bruised right quadriceps.
“We’re playing together, guys are making shots, we’re defending, we’re out there competing, we’re doing whatever it takes to win, we’re building good habits. So it’s fun. It’s fun right now.”
Milwaukee (44-17) trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half and 10 at halftime before rallying for its 15th consecutive victory.
Brooklyn (34-27) managed only 42 second-half points, most of which came before a late third-quarter collapse, which saw the Bucks go on a decisive 18-7 run over the final five minutes of the period while Antetokounmpo sat on the bench with four fouls.
“Our approach at the beginning of the game was really good, gave ourselves a chance at halftime,” said Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn.
“I think overall that’s the message for us to be able to sustain this thing and be able to do it in the third quarter, fourth quarter against an elite team when we’re not shooting well,”
Khris Middleton scored 18 points off the bench, Jrue Holiday added 14 and former Net Brook Lopez finished with 13 and 10 boards for Milwaukee, which hasn’t lost since a 114-102 defeat at Cleveland on Jan. 21.
By completing a perfect 10-0 February, the Bucks moved one-half game in front of Boston for the NBA’s best record.
As for the Nets, Tuesday’s humbling loss dropped them a full game behind the East River rival New York Knicks into sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, leaving them 1 1/2 lengths in front of seventh-place Miami.
Only the top six teams in each conference will automatically qualify for a first-round playoff series while the No. 7-10 seeds will participate in the play-in tournament.
Mikal Bridges scored 31 points and Spencer Dinwiddie added 26 for the Nets, who have dropped seven of their last nine contests overall.
Cam Johnson had 19 points for Brooklyn, which will visit the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night hoping to draw even for the No. 5 seed in the East.
Brooklyn boasted the longest win streak in the league this season at 12 games before Milwaukee’s recent run, but that’s when the Nets still had Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the fold.
Durant is scheduled to make his season debut for Phoenix Wednesday against Charlotte after suffering a sprained right medial collateral ligament in January as a member of the Nets.
Irving is averaging 26.2 points per contest for Dallas since leaving Brooklyn prior to the NBA trade deadline along with Durant.
The dynamic duo combined to win a single playoff series during its tenure here on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush, losing in seven games to Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals two seasons ago.
The Nets will have to rebound from their recent malaise if they hope to have a posteseason series at all this year.
“We don’t have time to make excuses,” said Dinwiddie, who buried 5-of-10 3-pointers but went stone cold with the rest of his teammates during the third quarter, when the Bucks outscored Brooklyn, 39-23.
“We don’t have time for fatigue, we have to try to come together as quickly as possible and make this thing happen.”
NOTHNG BUT NET: After visiting the Knicks, the Nets will be in Boston on Friday night before returning to Barclays Center Sunday to host the Hornets. … Ben Simmons missed his third straight game for Brooklyn with left-knee soreness. … Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale and Cam Thomas went a combined 1-for-12 from 3-point range for the Nets in Tuesday’s loss.
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