Milwaukee • Before the game, Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar held a press conference at the Bradley Center, fielding questions about whether an NBA franchise was even viable in the city he demanded to be traded out of nearly 40 years ago.
At tipoff, the upper bowl of the arena was almost completely empty and the lower bowl was filled in sparsely enough that it seemed at least somewhat plausible that most fans would be able to grab a T-shirt thrown out by one of the Bucks dancers before the end of the game.
The Bucks, the league’s bottom dwellers, were supposed to be the laughingstock.
On the court Monday, however, the Jazz would be the butt of the joke.
“The play hard. They put their heart in and they fight,” Utah center Enes Kanter said, after the 114-88 beatdown. “Worst team, best team. [Sunday night] we played the best team in the NBA and did pretty good. Tonight, we play the worst team in the NBA and they beat us.
“They embarrassed us.”
Perhaps Sunday’s game against the East Confernce leading Pacers was to blame. The Jazz fought All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert to the end, coming up just short at the buzzer.
Playing back-to-back against an 11-win team may not have been as enticing.
“It’s frustrating,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said after watching his team hand the Bucks’ their 12th win of the season. “I don’t know if it’s the most frustrating [game of the year]. It’s just a frustrating loss after the performance [Sunday]. The things we talked about, the growth we showed, we just didn’t get it back tonight.”
The Jazz and Bucks were tied at 46 after a Gordon Hayward 3-pointer with 3:12 left in the first half. But Utah closed out the half with three costly turnovers, while Milwaukee went on a 9-2 run.
The third quarter started with a 8-0 Bucks spurt.
“It was just downhill from there,” Corbin said.
The Jazz struggled defensively all night, giving up 46 points in the paint. Milwaukee ran its offense cleanly, creating plenty of open looks for forward Ersan Ilyasova, who hit on 13 of his 14 attempts for a season-high 31 points.
“I found myself open and when those first couple shots went in, we kind of found a rhythm and it just kept going,” said Ilyasova, one of five Bucks to finish in double-digits. “Sometimes you get those nights when whatever you shoot keeps falling down.”
Kanter was one of the few bright spots for the Jazz. The Turkish big man scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in defeat.
For the Jazz, Hayward scored 20 points, while grabbing four rebounds and handing out three assists. Backup guard Alec Burks had 12 points off the bench.
The loss dropped the Jazz to 21-39 on the season. It was the third in a row for Utah as it hit the halfway point of a six-game road trip. With games in Washington, New York and Philadelphia left before the return flight home, Corbin and his players said they believe there’s time to salvage the trip.
“We just have to forget about this game and look forward,” Kanter said.
Storylines Kanter’s career night is no help
R Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova hits 13 of his 14 attempts from the field. His first miss didn’t come until the second half.
• Enes Kanter’s 27 points were a new career high.