Updated: March 16, 2011, 5:33 PM ET

1. Blowout Not Helping Bucks' Case For No. 8

Hollinger By John Hollinger
ESPN.com
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ATLANTA -- There's a race going on for the final playoff spot in the East, and at least somebody is playing like it. But it wasn't the team here.

While Indiana's Danny Granger was hitting a tough game winner to beat the Knicks for a second straight game, the Milwaukee Bucks sleepwalked through a 110-85 defeat to the Hawks. Milwaukee, which looked to be in the catbird's seat in the three-way race for the final spot three days ago, now is in danger of losing contact with the Pacers and Bobcats.

"Tonight's game doesn't put us out of anything," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said, in a statement that neatly encapsulates how pathetic the Eastern Conference playoff race has become.

His club is 26-40, has the league's worst offense and has lost its past two games by a combined 56 points. But no, the Bucks aren't out of it.

They are teetering on the brink, though. Milwaukee now sits two and a half games behind Indiana and two behind Charlotte, with only one of the three teams able to claim the final spot. The Bucks aren't out of it because they play the Pacers again and, with a win, will own tiebreaks against both Charlotte and Indiana. And it's not like their two rivals are blowing away the field, either.

But to get back in it, they'll have to play more the way they did in three double-digit wins last week and less like they did Tuesday night. Milwaukee gave up a 20-0 run bridging the first and second quarters, and never got within 12 points the rest of the night, trailing by as many as 33.

As per usual, the Bucks struggled to score; they had only 55 through the first three quarters after netting a pathetic total of 56 in Boston on Sunday. Unusually, the Bucks' third-ranked defense also let them down. Joe Johnson scored 36 points in just three quarters of work, including a string of five 3-pointers in the second quarter that blew open the game, and Atlanta shot 63 percent for the night.

"I think we focused too much on scoring today and not enough on defense," said Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut, leaving one to shudder at how little the Bucks might have scored if they weren't focusing on scoring.

Said Skiles: "Defensively, we weren't up and into them and aggressive and weren't dictating to them; they were dictating to us."

While the defensive struggles can be partly ascribed to some unusually torrid 3-point shooting from the Hawks -- Atlanta earned only eight free throws and committed 21 turnovers but was 11-of-19 on 3s and shot 64.8 percent on 2s -- it's the consistent offensive struggles that remain the worrisome trend in Brewtown.

If the Bucks don't make the playoffs, an attack that has trouble creating decent shots will be the reason. Once again, the perimeter players struggled to beat defenders and get to the rim, leaving the Bucks shooting long, contested jump shots or relying on Bogut to flip in contested turnarounds.

"It's been one of our issues," Skiles said. "Most of the year, really. We've had trouble getting in [the paint], and when we've got in there, we've had trouble converting and making decisions. No question, tonight and against Boston, too much lateral and not enough getting in the paint and making whatever decision the game dictates."

The inability of the guards to make plays also puts a focus on second-year guard Brandon Jennings, who played well earlier in the season but has had a rocky return since missing 18 games with a broken foot. In particular, the left-hander needs to improve his weak hand to stop opponents from overplaying him.

"He's having some trouble out there," Skiles said. "Some of it revolves around just being able to beat the other team's bigs when they show on pick-and-rolls, and getting to his right and beating people with his right hand. He's still working on it."

The Bucks' flagging offense could get a lift. Sharpshooter Michael Redd worked out hard before the game and could be back in action in a week or so. While his minutes will be tightly rationed, even brief doses of his scoring could provide a boost on this team. Forward Drew Gooden also might be back soon as he recovers from a plantar fascia injury that has swallowed nearly his entire season.

However, they're running out of time. The Pacers and Bobcats left the door wide open for the Bucks to salvage an incredibly disappointing season, but the Bucks have shown no inclination to charge through it. Even now, merely finishing the season 9-7 in their final 16 games might get them into the postseason.

"We've been saying for a couple of months now," Skiles said, "that at some point we're going to have to string together some wins."

Unfortunately, that point appeared no closer Tuesday.

Dimes past: Feb. 24 | 25 | 28| March 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 4-6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 11-13 | 14 | 15

2. Play By The Rule: Pacers Sink Knicks

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN.com


INDIANAPOLIS -- Carmelo Anthony and Jared Jeffries were not aware of the history or the application of the "Trent Tucker Rule."

Had they known it, the New York Knicks might have -- emphasis on the word might -- had a chance to win this one at the buzzer.

After Danny Granger sank a 17-foot jumper over both Shawne Williams and Jeffries with 0.3 seconds left Tuesday night, the Knicks called timeout and had one last chance to go for the tie or the win.

Except they didn't know it.

With Anthony left wide open outside the 3-point line and calling for the ball as Jeffries prepared to inbound it, Jeffries ignored him and went for a lob pass to Landry Fields near the basket. Fields barely got a fingertip on the ball, the horn sounded, and the Knicks went down to a 119-117 defeat against the Indiana Pacers that stretched their losing streak to three games.

"I definitely would have tried, I definitely wanted to try. As the referee was holding the ball I was yelling at him to let him know how far my [defender] is back in the paint, but it's over with," said Anthony, who gave an earful to Jeffries as the two walked off the court, but admitted he was oblivious to the intricacies of the Tucker Rule.

Read the rest from Sheridan at ESPN New York »

3. Daily Dime Live

Zach Harper, TrueHoop bloggers, ESPN.com's NBA crew and DDL regulars held forth and gave their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Tuesday's slate in Daily Dime Live.

4. NCAA Tourney Watch: Best Of The Bracket

By Chad Ford
ESPN.com

NAME
Sullinger

Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State

The good: Sullinger has been the most productive freshman in the country. He's a monster in the paint -- both as a scorer and rebounder. He has long arms, boasts a very high basketball IQ and will surprise you with his play on the perimeter.

The bad: He's undersized. If Sullinger were 6-foot-11, he would be, hands down, the No. 1 pick in the draft. He's a solid athlete, but not as explosive as scouts would like.

The upside: Sullinger has drawn comparisons to everyone from Elton Brand to Paul Millsap. He has led Ohio State to a No. 1 ranking in the country and does it without flash. If he has a huge tournament, he could end up going No. 1 overall -- especially if a team such as the Sacramento Kings, Washington Wizards or Detroit Pistons gets the No. 1 pick.

Check out more of the East Region's best pro prospects at our NBA Draft Blog Insider

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