Keys to the Game: Bulls at Bucks (03.26.17)

MILWAUKEE -- The surging Milwaukee Bucks will try to continue their charge up the Eastern Conference ladder on Sunday when they host the Central Division rival Chicago Bulls at the Bradley Center.

Milwaukee moved into a tie for fifth place in the East on Friday with a 100-97 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. That came on the heels of a 4-2 Western trip for the Bucks, who have won 11 of their last 13 to jump into the thick of the playoff race.

"Everybody is fighting for pole position," Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said. "We're trying to climb up the ladder."

To keep on track, the Bucks will need a bounce-back game from Khris Middleton, who made only 1 of 13 shots from the field, missed all four of his 3-point attempts and finished with six points against Atlanta.

With Middleton slumping, Giannis Antetokounmpo put up a monster game, scoring 34 points with 13 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and two steals. He also got his teammates involved, especially Greg Monroe and Malcolm Brogdon.

When Antetokounmpo produces and facilitates, Milwaukee's offense is hard to stop.

"Giannis is selfless and that's why this team has been able to come together and make the run we're making," Brogdon said. "We follow his lead every night and it just speaks to his character and his leadership."

The Bucks are an NBA-best 11-3 this month and two games over .500 for the first time since Jan. 13, when they were 20-18.

At the very least, Milwaukee would like to maintain or extend its lead over seventh-place Indiana and eighth-place Miami, which trail the Bucks by one and two games, respectively, while Chicago sits on the outside looking in, tied for ninth place with Detroit.

The Bulls know their chances are running out.

"We know we belong there," Chicago center Robin Lopez told the Chicago Tribune. "We've beaten some of the best teams in the league."

But not lately, which is a pressing concern.

The Bulls have lost nine of their last 12 games. After picking up a big win over the Pistons on Wednesday that kept their slim playoff hopes alive, the Bulls were flat-out embarrassed Friday night in a 117-107 loss to Philadelphia at the United Center.

The 76ers had only 10 available players, but shot 55 percent from the floor

"For us to come out and play with that type of effort at this time of year, it's maddening," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Especially after the (win Wednesday over the Pistons), you would have hoped that it would have carried over. We still have an opportunity, but if we come out with this type of effort, we don't have a chance."

The loss spoiled a chance to gain ground on the Pacers and Pistons, who both lost Friday, but the Bulls still come to Milwaukee only 1 1/2 games out of a playoff berth.

"We do enough talking around here as it is," Jimmy Butler said. "I think everybody knows where we stand right now -- on the outside looking in. Everybody knows where we want to be. Ain't too much to say.

"Nine more, right? Nine? We gotta have 'em. As we said before the game, as we'll say tomorrow, and the day after that, probably the day after that. We gotta have 'em."

The Bucks have won the first three meetings with Chicago and are going for their first season sweep of the Bulls since the 2000-01 season.

Copyright 2017 by STATS/TSX. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS/TSX is strictly prohibited