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Bucks-Trail Blazers Preview
By JEFF MEZYDLO
(AP) -- For a stretch from early December into January, the Portland Trail Blazers were one of the hottest teams in the NBA, especially at home.
Now, they'll just settle for a victory anywhere.
The Trail Blazers look to avoid a season-high fifth consecutive loss overall and third straight to the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.
Portland (20-19) won 12 of 15 from Dec 10-Jan. 10, including the final four of that stretch, before dropping four in a row by a combined 19 points. After their nine-game home winning streak ended with an 87-83 loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday, the Trail Blazers fell 93-88 at home to lowly Cleveland on Wednesday.
Nicolas Batum had 23 points with 12 rebounds against the Cavaliers and was one of three Trail Blazers to post a double-double. Portland overcame a 19-point first-half deficit to take a brief lead but faltered down the stretch.
The Blazers lost 115-113 at Denver a night earlier, but they weren't about to use fatigue as an excuse.
"Sometimes we're tired and we still win, we can't use it when we lost the game," Batum told the team's official website. "We had a chance to win, we should win this game."
Portland averaged 99.7 points during the nine-game home win streak, but has shot 37.6 percent while failing to score 90 in back-to-back games at the Rose Garden for the first time this season. Rookie point guard Damian Lillard has averaged 10.7 points in the last three home contests - 7.4 below his season mark - while making 29.4 percent from the field in that span.
Lillard and the Trail Blazers could have a tough time getting back on track against Milwaukee (20-18), which won both meetings last season by a combined 51 points. The Bucks, who scored 116 points in each, snapped a five-game skid at Portland by shooting 57.8 percent in a 116-87 victory March 20.
Batum was held to a total of 21 points and seven rebounds in those games, but teammate LaMarcus Aldridge has averaged 23.7 points in his last three against the Bucks.
Monta Ellis scored 24 while Larry Sanders added a career-high 19 points and 15 rebounds to help Milwaukee end a 24-game losing streak at Phoenix with a 98-94 win Thursday. The Bucks, 2-1 on their four-game trip, held the Suns to 38.2 percent shooting and outscored them 28-19 in the fourth quarter.
"The fourth quarter is really important," said Sanders, who has recorded 26 rebounds in the last two games and at least one blocked shot in 25 straight contests. "You have to play 'D' and at that point it's about possessions. Whichever team gets the most stops is going to win the game."
The solid defensive effort helped Milwaukee improve to 4-2 since assistant Jim Boylan replaced the fired Scott Skiles as coach last week.
"We're winning," guard Brandon Jennings said. "We're two games over .500 and if we keep winning we'll be just fine."
Updated January 18, 2013