The Milwaukee Bucks have proved the doubters wrong all season. They're starting to prove to themselves they can win without injured center Andrew Bogut.
The Bucks look for a fourth straight victory Friday night while trying to end a four-game road losing streak against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Milwaukee (44-34) has been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA, clinching its first winning season in seven years and first playoff berth in four. It took a turn for the worse, though, when Bogut - the team's leading scorer at 15.9 points per game - was lost for the season in Saturday's 107-98 win over Phoenix with a dislocated right elbow.
The Bucks have won both games since learning the news about their center, topping Chicago 79-74 on Tuesday and beating New Jersey 108-89 on Wednesday. Though both wins came against losing teams, the Bucks remain encouraged.
"It's two good wins for us," guard John Salmons said. "We've got to continue to learn how to play without Bogues (Bogut). These first few games is a good step for us and hopefully we can continue doing that."
Salmons has stepped up to average 24.0 points the last two games, and he's averaging 20.3 in 26 contests since being acquired from the Bulls on Feb. 18.
Without Bogut, the Bucks are also counting on more from their bench. The reserves came through Wednesday as Jerry Stackhouse scored 18 points and Ersan Ilyasova added 15.
"Everybody has to step up and do a little bit more than they did before," Ilyasova said. "He (Bogut) was really a key player for us. Everybody has to play more aggressive and play better defense and we can win the games."
Milwaukee is tied with Miami for the No. 5 seed, and the Bucks own the tiebreaker.
Philadelphia (26-52) has won seven of its last eight against Milwaukee, including a 99-86 home victory that spoiled the Bucks' season opener Oct. 30.
The 76ers seemed to have plenty of promise at that time after losing in the first round of the playoffs the two previous seasons. It's turned out much differently, with Philadelphia recording its most losses since going 22-60 in 1996-97.
Philadelphia has lost five straight overall after falling 99-95 at Miami on Wednesday. Samuel Dalembert had 19 points and 16 rebounds while going 8 of 9 from the field.
The 76ers, though, could get back on track against the Bucks. They were missing injured starters Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young and led by double digits the entire second half in a 101-86 road win March 24 in the last matchup.
"They really have our number and we just don't play well against them and they play well against us," Bogut said after the loss.