After a rare loss to one of the league's worst clubs, the Milwaukee Bucks can't afford another slip-up with a red-hot Miami Heat team just behind them in the standings coming to town.
Defeating the Heat, however, hasn't been a problem lately for the Bucks.
Milwaukee is in position to sweep the season series from Miami for the first time in nearly two decades when they meet Friday night at the Bradley Center.
The fifth-place Bucks (39-31) and sixth-place Heat (38-34) are separated by two games in the East and have been two of the league's hottest teams recently.
Milwaukee entered Wednesday's game against sagging Philadelphia having won 15 of 17, but missed a season-high 23 3-point attempts and fell behind by as many as 22 points in a 101-86 defeat. The Sixers, owners of the fourth-worst record in the East, were an unlikely candidate to snap the Bucks' eight-game home winning streak that was highlighted by victories over Cleveland, Boston, Utah and Atlanta.
"We're (not) past that point where we look at teams that are below us and expect an easy win. We're not that good yet. Definitely not," said Bucks center Andrew Bogut, who finished with eight points.
Bogut has been held to single digits in each of his last three games after averaging 17.8 points over the previous nine.
John Salmons also struggled against the Sixers, finishing with four points on 2 of 12 shooting. He'd averaged 20.5 points in 17 games since a Feb. 18 trade to the Bucks, who haven't been to the playoffs since 2006.
"We've got to understand, we haven't clinched anything yet," Milwaukee forward Jerry Stackhouse said. "We've still got to win games to make sure we secure ourselves a spot."
Winning has come easy for the Bucks against the Heat this season.
Milwaukee has outscored Miami by an average of 16.6 points in taking the first three meetings, holding the Heat to 78.7 points on 36.5 percent shooting. The Bucks -- 19-47 against Miami over the previous 18 seasons -- haven't swept a season set from the Heat since winning all four games in 1990-91, Miami's third season in the NBA.
Dwyane Wade didn't play in the last meeting, a 94-71 home loss on Feb. 27, because of a strained left calf. Even when the six-time All-Star has suited up against the Bucks lately, though, he hasn't been much of a factor. In five games since the start of last season, Wade is averaging 20.6 points on 34.8 percent shooting, his lowest in both categories against any team in that span.
Wade was hardly needed in Thursday's 103-74 win over Chicago, the Heat's ninth in 12 games. Wade, who was averaging 28.6 points in his previous five games, finished with 12 points and 10 assists in 29 minutes.
"Right now we're playing some of our best basketball," Wade said. "March is a great time of the year for that. Everyone is understanding and settling into their role now."
A sudden offensive surge has spurred Miami's solid play this month. The Heat have scored at least 100 points in eight of their last 12 games after reaching the century mark three times in the previous 15.
Continuing this turnaround won't be easy. The Bucks have held eight of their last 11 opponents to double digits.