Four steps forward, one giant step back.
Each time the Milwaukee Bucks have gone four games over .500 this season, a team with a losing record has awaited on the schedule, presenting them with a tremendous opportunity to go five games over for the first time since 2010.
After a 113-108 loss Friday night to a Cleveland team that entered the game with an 11-32 record, Milwaukee has now suffered three bad losses immediately after reaching four games over. 500.
Friday's loss hurt the most. Leading, 79-59, in the third quarter, the Bucks were playing one of their best stretches of basketball of the season. Moving the ball beautifully and knocking down open jump shots, Milwaukee was on its way to an easy but important victory. Then the wheels fell off and the Bucks started leaking oil while the Cavaliers began to look like a team far superior to their record.
Though Milwaukee was not good on the defensive end after the first quarter, the Bucks built their big lead because their three-pointers were falling a season-high 14 - and turnovers were limited.
"Second, third, fourth quarters we gave them 30-plus points," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "If you are going to do that, you are playing with fire. That's what we talked about at halftime. We needed to tighten up our defense."
It never happened.
Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving almost single-handedly brought Cleveland to within nine by the end of the third quarter, shaving 11 points off Milwaukee's lead in the final 6:11 of the period.
But when Cleveland eventually took the lead in the fourth quarter, Irving and his fellow starters were on the bench. Newly acquired center Marreese Speights, former Bucks guard Shaun Livingston and the Cavaliers bench whipped the Bucks for most of the fourth quarter.
And with Milwaukee having little threat of an inside game, its chances of preventing a crushing loss died as the jump shots fell short and turnovers led to easy transition baskets on the other end.
"I told the guys during a timeout that we are going to fight for it," Boylan said. "If we wanted it, we were going to have to really, really fight for it. We tried. We had some opportunities and it didn't go in for us. A couple bounced around the rim.
"You live by the jump shot, you die by the jump shot. It was a little bit of a struggle making them in the fourth."
If the Bucks want to become anything more than an average basketball team this season, they are going to have to figure out a way to take care of business against teams like Cleveland especially when they enter the matchup riding a wave of momentum.
Milwaukee has now lost a combined four games to Cleveland, Charlotte and New Orleans three of the NBA's four worst teams.
Be it mindset, mental approach or effort in games against inferior opponents, the Bucks have to figure out what's ailing them. If they don't, there will be no serious momentum gained and the season will continue to be small steps forward before a giant step back.
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