Reporting Byron Kerr
Washington, D.C. – All it took was a big first quarter to set the tone against a depleted and taxed Wizards team. Milwaukee used a 22-8 run to sprint out to a 28-19 lead after one. The Wizards came close a couple of times after that, but did not have enough firepower to challenge the Bucks and fell 112-98 at Verizon Center before 16,234.
The Wizards were coming off a hard fought 99-92 loss at Toronto Sunday night, and the back-to-back games seemed to show in those crucial first 12 minutes Monday.
“I thought tonight our legs looked heavy,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman admitted. “In the stretch we are going through, not to make excuses, but that is going to happen. So, we got to get ourselves back energized with a day off (Tuesday), leading into three in a row coming up.”
The Bucks also began the second half on fire thanks to Brandon Jennings. Held to one field goal on 1-for-7 in the first half, the Oak Hill Academy product erupted for 17 of his team-high 19 points in the third quarter to extend Milwaukee to an 83-69 advantage.
But to start the fourth frame, the Wizards grabbed a 9-2 spurt to cut the Bucks advantage to 85-78 on a Roger Mason Jr.’s 25-foot three pointer with 9:41 remaining. Mason knew that was a big moment, similar to when Washington cut the lead to 55-53 to start the third quarter. But each time Milwaukee had the answer.
“It was (a big moment),” Mason Jr. said. “We hit a three there and got it to seven. They called a good timeout. They went on a spree there and they extended the lead. Every time we got (close) to the lead … they came back.”
The Wizards have lost seven of their last eight games, and have won just one game at home since March 7. The defensive streak of holding opponents under triple digits ended at nine games. It was the most points that Washington had yielded at home since the March 5 120-100 loss to Golden State.
Wizards guard John Wall, who tallied 14 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out nine assists, said it is never easy to go through a stretch like this, even with big men Nene and Trevor Booker nursing plantar fasciitis injuries.
“It is tough right now,” Wall said. “You can’t say any excuses for anybody being injured. Guys have been stepping up. They have been playing good. Tonight, we didn’t have the energy. They outplayed us.”
Jennings’ seven field goals marked one of six Milwaukee players who scored in double figures, pulling the Bucks within three wins of the .500 mark (25-28), and within two games of the New York Knicks for the final playoff spot. Monta Ellis and Mike Dunleavy each poured in 17, but the most surprising line for Bucks’ followers might have been the 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and one block from former Baylor forward Ekpe Udoh.
But in the end, more often than not, Wizards guards Wall and Jordan Crawford (game-high 23 points) drove in the lane and found very few options and their shots were misdirected, blocked or altered, derailing any chance this team on this night would stop a hot Milwaukee squad.