The Bucks played a relatively competitive game on the surface, but their secondary efforts on both ends of the court early in the game did them in, as they dropped their eighth game in a row in a 114-104 loss to the Houston Rockets. The Rockets, known for their fast-paced, three-heavy offense, only managed to shoot 7-27 (25.9 percent) from beyond the arc, but were paced consistently by 66 points in the paint and a career night from Terrence Jones (36p/11r).
Jones got hot early in the second quarter, due to timely moves on offense as well as wretched defense from whichever Bucks player was ''assigned'' to him. The biggest disparity came when Caron Butler checked in to man Jones on defense. The idea was okay, but Butler was either standing flat-footed or helping way too far down on someone else's man, allowing Jones to get a few easy baskets around the rim. And once Jones got comfortable finding holes in the Bucks ''defense,'' he got cooking.
The Bucks were forced to play up to Houston's tempo for much of the night but didn't look as overwhelmed or helpless as could be expected from a team that is 27th in pace. However, they fell victim to a handful of turnover clusters in the second and third quarters, enabling the Rockets to pile up 24 fast break points and 26 points off 20 Milwaukee turnovers. The Bucks did shoot well overall (50 percent on 40-80 shooting), but couldn't find as many easy baskets as Houston did all night in part because of a 19-11 deficit in turnovers.
On a brighter note, the Bucks shot 47.8 percent (11-23) from three and had good statistical performances from Brandon Knight, John Henson, and Larry Sanders. Knight was once again the Bucks' primary offensive threat with 26p/7a/4r on 9-16 shooting and looked very aggressive in pushing the ball when the Rockets' defense was on their heels. Operating much of the night from the shooting guard slot, Knight didn't have to worry about going to fetch the ball as much, giving him a little more freedom to streak down the wings and get himself available for transition baskets.
Henson had a pretty quiet 20p/15r effort on 8-12 shooting (off the bench). That isn't to say he wasn't impactful; it's just surprising that his box score numbers were that impressive. Both Henson and Sanders did most of their damage as garbage men, but Henson was a little more crafty offensively, driving down the lane and finishing strong for one or two of his buckets, as well as knocking down a mid-range jumper without making it look too painful.
Sanders did pick up a technical in the third quarter for arguing a foul call with the ref, but that shouldn't be a dark mark on his 12p/5r/5b performance. Technical aside, Sanders appeared to be pretty focused (or whatever the opposite of bad Larry is called) on both ends and competed at a decent level. He was still bullied around by Dwight Howard a bit (20p/14r), but not many players can handle Howard down low. Additionally, Sanders and the rest of the defense struggled for a large part of the night in finishing off plays--the Rockets got very easy second chance points as a result of the Bucks not boxing out or just over-pursuing the initial attack, leaving the basket basically unattended. It's definitely difficult to be consistently strong against a high-powered offense like Houston, but the fewer easy baskets you can give them, the better chance you have of pulling out a victory.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had a pretty meh game (4/10 fg, 2/4 threes, 10 pts, 4 rebs, 3 ast, 1 blk, 3 to), as he once again struggled to stay on the court due to foul trouble. When he was in, however, he was aggressive offensively and was probably the team's best facilitator, especially early on. The biggest problem with Giannis again was that there simply just wasn't enough of him, as he managed only 21 minutes.
So the story remains largely the same, as the Bucks continue to struggle through Januempty, and the road doesn't get any easier tomorrow as they face a San Antonio Spurs team waiting to take out some frustration from a late home loss against the Blazers Friday night.