Yet again, the Milwaukee Bucks faced a big deficit. This time around, there would be no comeback.
For the third time in their last five games, the Bucks trailed by at least 20 points in the second half and that doesn't include Saturday when Milwaukee was down 17 points in the first quarter.
Last Monday, Milwaukee rallied from 27 down to beat Chicago. One week later, sloppy play wasn't going to allow it to happen again. Dominated by Robin Lopez, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith inside, the Bucks were held to a season-low 81 points in a 21-point loss in New Orleans, a place they haven't won since 2003.
"We weren't sharp, our focus wasn't sharp and they made us pay for it," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "They played with a lot of energy, they know the guys they are looking for and they make those looks and they find them. They did a good job."
Milwaukee has now lost six of eight, with both wins during that stretch of the comeback variety, rallying from 27 and 17 points down.
Monday's loss is the most disheartening. The Hornets entered losers of nine of their last 10 and playing without their two best players in Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon. Instead of building off a big home win against Boston, the Bucks lost the most winnable game of the three they'll play on the road this week.
Lopez and Hornets guard Greivis Vasquez carved up the Bucks off the pick-and-roll, something that has been a thorn in Milwaukee's side all year. Between Lopez, Anderson and Smith, New Orleans bigs combined for 55 points on 22 of 36 shooting.
"We generally don't give up a lot of points in the paint, so it's not like guys are just posting us up," Skiles said. "But our pick-and-roll coverage just has not been sharp for most of the season. We work on it all the time, we just have trouble bringing it out in the game and executing it. Just kind of awareness and focus, it's just something we'll work on."
Fresh off a team meeting, the Hornets took complete advantage of a Bucks team that was sloppy in all areas. On offense, the Bucks turned the ball over 16 times, leading to 27 points for the Hornets.
"We just played in a crowd too much," Skiles said. "We gave them 27 points off of turnovers. We were driving in and kind of taking some ill-advised shots off the backboard and then we had some people open and we couldn't pitch it out for shots. We just played in a crowd too much."
New Orleans entered 26th in the NBA allowing 99.6 points per game and Milwaukee torched them for 117 in a win on Nov. 18. While the Hornets were active and made it a focus to stop Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis from getting in the paint, it seemed as if the Bucks created their own offensive nightmares Monday night.
"Anybody that's seen us play knows that when we move the ball around, we are hard to guard," Skiles said. "When we start dribbling too much, we get in trouble. It seems like we dribbled into crowds tonight, had trouble getting out of crowds, turned it over, they went down and made shots."
Monday was the game the Bucks had to have this week in order to take the step they want to take this season. Dropping games to struggling teams is obviously not the way to do it. Now with road games against good teams in San Antonio and Brooklyn looming, with a home game with Charlotte in between, the Bucks have an uphill battle to make the week a successful one.
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