After entering the season with ambitions of competing in their conferences, the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves come into the new year simply trying to climb out of the basement in their divisions.
The last-place teams are hoping they can start wiping the slate clean from a disappointing 2015 when the Bucks visit the Timberwolves on Saturday night.
Milwaukee (13-21) will close a four-game trip after earning its first win on the swing with Thursday's 120-116 victory at Indiana -- a rare road triumph for a team that is 2-14 away from home since Nov. 11.
Even while winning for the first time in their last four, the Bucks looked sloppy and were outscored 21-9 in the final 4:35. They had five of their 17 turnovers and at one point missed 4 of 6 free throws in those final minutes. One violation was an eight-second count in the back court, and Khris Middleton also earned a technical foul.
"We survived," said interim coach Joe Prunty, who has gone 2-3 while Jason Kidd recovers from hip surgery. "Down the stretch, we have to keep our composure and make our free throws. At the end of the day we were able to get a win."
It was one of just nine for Milwaukee in 27 games since Nov. 10. The Bucks suffered through four three-game skids in that span and won back-to-back games only twice.
"We need any win we can get right now," said Greg Monroe, who combined for 12 points in Milwaukee's previous two losses before scoring 23 against the Pacers. "We know we need to come out and clean some things up from this game."
Middleton has been a bright spot in the last two games, following a career-high 36 points in Tuesday's 131-123 loss at Oklahoma City with 33 more against Indiana. He made 62.5 percent of his shots in those two, including 10 of 15 from 3-point range.
The Bucks, however, allowed four 30-point quarters between the two contests, including two of 39. Against their previous five opponents, they haven't gone a full game without allowing 30 or more in at least one quarter.
Minnesota has been struggling to score, failing to reach 100 points during a 1-5 stretch. The Timberwolves (12-21) have averaged 95.5 in 11 games since Dec. 13 -- better than only Utah and Cleveland in that span.
The issue, though, in Thursday's 115-90 loss at Detroit fell mostly on defense. The Pistons shot 47.7 percent, made 14 of 35 attempts from 3-point range, finished with 44 points in the paint and won the rebounding battle 52-36 one day after one of Minnesota's best defensive efforts in a 94-80 win over Utah.
Minnesota outscored Detroit 22-15 in the opening quarter but surrendered at least 30 points in the final three.
"We tried to start the game focused and get off to a good start, but we just didn't have a lot of energy after the first quarter," point guard Ricky Rubio said. "It just went downhill after the first quarter, and they started hitting shots. We couldn't get a stop, and they really hurt us."
The Timberwolves seek back-to-back home wins for just the second time this season, while the Bucks go for two straight road wins for only the second time. Minnesota is 5-12 at Target Center.
The Bucks swept last season's two-game series, holding the Timberwolves to an average of 85.0 points, but Minnesota won all four the previous two seasons.
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