What would appear to be a very winnable game for most NBA teams might prove to be a challenge for the struggling Brooklyn Nets.
They'll look to avoid falling into a tie with the Bucks for the Eastern Conference's worst record when they visit Milwaukee on Saturday night.
A game Thursday against the woeful New York Knicks -- who had lost nine in a row -- figured to be a prime opportunity for Brooklyn to snap a five-game home losing streak. Instead the Nets (5-14) matched their largest margin of defeat with a 113-83 loss and were outscored 34-16 in the third quarter. They've been outscored in the third period in all but one of their losses.
Brooklyn's frustrations seemed to show on the court late, with an altercation between Kevin Garnett and Andrea Bargnani leading to technical fouls for each.
The Nets have lost four of five, getting outscored by a total of 73 points in the last three defeats.
"We're struggling but we're going to come out of this, man, that's the only way to think," said Garnett, whose 6.5 points per game and 37.1 field goal percentage are both career lows.
Brook Lopez remained productive, posting 24 points and nine rebounds, but he hasn't had much help. Joe Johnson had 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting and his 15.8 scoring average is his lowest since 2002-03, his second season in the league.
Deron Williams is still sidelined by a sprained ankle and won't return until next week at the earliest, while Paul Pierce's broken hand is expected to be re-evaluated next week.
Besides the Nets' offensive woes -- they're averaging 92.0 points over the last eight games -- they're also still being exploited on the perimeter. New York was 16 of 27 on 3-pointers, the fourth time in Brooklyn's last six games an opponent hit 11 or more. The Nets' 3-point defense is the worst in the NBA, allowing opponents to hit 41.6 percent of their attempts.
"Teams come in with three wins and shooting lights out," Johnson told the team's website. "It's almost like there's no respect."
The Bucks (4-15) could easily take advantage as they're one of the league's better 3-point shooting teams with a 37.7 percent clip.
They were just 6 of 20 from beyond the arc Friday at Washington, but were led by Khris Middleton's career-high 29 points in a 109-105 overtime victory, just their second win in 15 contests.
"We've been struggling all season so far and just to gut out a win like this in overtime is good," said Middleton, who is averaging 19.0 points on 55.3 percent shooting in three December games after averaging 10.5 points at 46.9 percent last month.
John Henson helped compensate for the absences of Caron Butler (sore left knee) and Zaza Pachulia (sprained right foot), tallying 19 points and 17 rebounds. He's averaging 13.8 points and 11.0 rebounds while starting the last four contests.
It's not clear if either Butler or Pachulia will play Saturday. Butler has missed five straight games.
Johnson is averaging 12.4 points while shooting just 34.8 percent -- including 26.1 percent from 3-point range -- over his last five meetings with the Bucks.
Milwaukee had won 13 straight in the series before dropping last season's final two meetings by a combined five points, including one in overtime.
The Nets fell again last night and now own the 5th worst record in the NBA. Not good news for a team that has the league's highest payroll - and they are set to pay an estimated $87.2M in luxury taxes on top of that.