The Milwaukee Bucks are making sure their stretch run this season doesn’t mirror their late-season collapse from last year.
Milwaukee looks to clinch one of the final two remaining playoff berths in the Eastern Conference when it visits the Toronto Raptors.
The Bucks looked like they were on their way to the playoffs last season when they had a 36-27 record on March 12. Milwaukee, however, went on to lose 14 of its final 19 games to finish one game out of the eighth playoff spot.
Milwaukee has been hovering around the .500 mark this season, but has won five of its last six, and is on the verge of securing a postseason berth.
The Bucks lead Washington by 2 1/2 games for eighth place, and a win over Toronto or a Wizards loss to Miami on Friday will give Milwaukee a spot in the playoffs.
“You can’t scoreboard watch,” Milwaukee guard Gary Payton said. “If you win, you don’t have to scoreboard watch. If you lose, that’s when you’ve got to scoreboard watch because you’re hoping the other team loses. If you keep winning, you don’t have to worry.”
The Bucks are only 12-13 since Payton and Desmond Mason joined the team after being acquired from Seattle in February for Ray Allen, but Clippers coach Dennis Johnson was impressed with the guard tandem of Payton and Sam Cassell after Milwaukee routed Los Angeles 112-92 on Wednesday.
“I know the talk was when (Payton) got here, he and Cassell wouldn’t mesh,” Johnson said. “Either can play either position. I didn’t think the trade would be a problem for them, and it appears it isn’t.”
The Raptors lost their fourth in a row on Wednesday, falling 88-82 to the Orlando Magic. They dropped a season-worst 30 games below .500.
STANDINGS: Bucks - 4th place, 9 1/2 GB, Central Division. Raptors - 7th place, 24 GB, Central Division.
SEASON SERIES: Raptors, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 4; Raptors, 98-95. At Milwaukee, Carter scored 25 points and blocked the potential tying shot just ahead of the final buzzer to lead Toronto.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bucks - 16-24 on the road; Raptors - 15-24 at home.
INJURIES: Bucks - F Jamal Sampson (shoulder); F Anthony Mason (thigh); F Jason Caffey (back). Raptors - G Carter (ankle); C Davis (groin); G Lindsey Hunter (back); C Eric Montross (foot); F Lamond Murray (foot); G Lenard (knee).