ST. FRANCIS, Wis. The dreaded back-to-back in the NBA. Nobody likes them, but everybody has to play them.
And they haven't been kind to the Milwaukee Bucks over the course of the last three seasons. Since making the playoffs in 2009-10, the Bucks are just 19-33 in second games of back-to-backs, including a 2-5 mark this season.
The numbers don't lie and make it clear to see why Milwaukee has struggled when it has to play on consecutive nights. The Bucks are averaging 95.6 points per game this season, but that number drops to 89.9 on the second leg of back-to-backs and every other statistical category aside from turnovers takes a negative turn, as well.
With two back-to-backs coming in the next week, the Bucks know they need to figure something out.
"If you want to somehow get some pretty good distance from .500, you can't play every back-to-back .500," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "You can't win the first game and lose the second game, things like that. You have to make up ground somewhere."
When the Bucks made the playoffs following the 2009-10 season, Milwaukee was 14-8 in second games of back-to-backs and scored 99.6 points per game in those 22 contests.
Performance in back-to-backs is just one of three statistical trends Skiles is worried about. The others are the team's point differential and Milwaukee's record against the Western Conference.
Bucks' opponents average 0.4 points per game more than Milwaukee, making its point differential negative. It's very rare that a team makes the playoffs with a negative point differential.
Only three teams have done it in the last three years and none of the three have been higher than the fifth seed. All three have come from the Eastern Conference, with the last Western Conference playoff team with a negative point differential coming in the 2006-07 season.
As far as the third concern, Milwaukee is just 2-7 against the Western Conference. While the Bucks have the second most conference wins in the league, they have not fared well against the other half of the NBA.
"When you put those (three) in your hand and look at them, those are not great trends you want to be a part of," Skiles said. "We have a lot of those things coming up that we have to deal with. It's something we have to solve.
"Our point differential is not where it should be. We've been in negative quite a bit of the year even though we've had a winning record. Generally that's not a great sign."
Similar challenge: The last time the Bucks played the Houston Rockets, Andrew Bogut fractured his ankle stepping on the foot of Rockets center Samuel Dalembert.
As it turns out, that was the last time Bogut took the floor in a Bucks uniform, as he was traded to Golden State two months later. Now the two teams look drastically different. Dalembert was traded to the Bucks this past offseason and the Rockets have built their franchise around James Harden and Jeremy Lin.
This year's Rockets team presents a similar challenge as San Antonio did Wednesday night. The Bucks were unable to keep the Spurs' guards out of the paint, and the Rockets mainly Harden and Lin are going to attack them the exact same way.
"We didn't do a very good job of that the other night, we have to do a much better job," Skiles said. "It's those guys breaking defenses down and getting into the paint and taking shots or dishing to other people. Maybe we are fortunate to play these two games back-to-back, it's a little bit similar."
A familiar face will return to the BMO Harris Bradley Center with Houston, as former Bucks forward Carlos Delfino is a key cog off the Rockets' bench.
With a logjam of players on the wing, Delfino was the odd man out in Milwaukee.
"We liked Carlos a lot, still do," Skiles said. "I miss Carlos. He's an easy guy to coach. He brings some toughness and defense. Then on a given night, he can get it going and score points as well."
Injury update: Monta Ellis (ankle), Beno Udrih (ankle) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (knee) all missed Thursday's practice with injuries.
Ellis and Mbah a Moute are expected to play Friday, while Udrih will not play in both weekend games. Even though they lack depth at guard, the Bucks are going to take their time with Udrih this time around. Friday will mark his 14th game missed with a sprained right ankle suffered Nov. 30 in Minnesota.
"When Beno is healthy, he does a good job out there," Skiles said. "You just miss another shooter, another ball handler, a guy with some size. A guy that finishes well. He's trying to get healthy and as quick as we can, try to get him back."
All-Star voting: The NBA released the third All-Star balloting update Thursday with Ellis and Brandon Jennings remaining in sixth and 10th place respectively among the Eastern Conference backcourt.
Ellis' vote total rose to 84,609, but is still 147,832 votes behind Boston's Ray Allen for fifth place.