Milwaukee 100, Miami 91

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MIAMI (TICKER) Sam Cassell and Gary Payton are starting to click for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Cassell scored 25 points and Payton had seven of his 17 in the fourth quarter to lead the Bucks to a 100-91 victory over the Miami Heat.

“When Sam is on a roll like that, you just have to tighten up the defense,” Miami guard Travis Best said. “Anytime he’s playing like that is tough.”

“(Payton) makes people better,” Milwaukee coach George Karl added. “He makes people better passing the ball, he makes people better reading the game, and he makes people play defense.”

Milwaukee has won back-to-back games for the first time since acquiring Payton and Desmond Mason from Seattle at the trading deadline. Mason scored 17 points and made a very athletic play to tap home his own miss with 2:43 left, giving the Bucks a 92-84 lead.

Cassell did not score in the fourth quarter, but did have two of his four assists and two of his six rebounds. Payton finished with four assists and seven rebounds.

The guard duo shot 52 percent (16-of-31) from the field. The rest of the Bucks shot 43 percent (19-of-44).

With the win and Washington’s loss to Toronto, Milwaukee took sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“We just gotta play ball,” Cassell said. “It’s going pretty good right now, so we’ll see what happens.”

Miami got within five points on Best’s jump shot, but Milwaukee’s Tim Thomas hit a 3-pointer with 54 seconds left to seal the victory.

“We didn’t get stops when we needed to,” Best said. “We let their backcourt control the game.”

The Heat were within 73-70 at the start of the fourth quarter but did not score for nearly four minutes, allowing the Bucks to expand their lead to eight points. Milwaukee led by as many as 12 after Ervin Johnson’s free throw with 6:18 left, and it was at least a two-possession game thereafter.

“We started playing defense in the fourth quarter,” Payton said. “We didn’t play any defense in the third quarter. We then started playing defense, which made rebounding the ball easier for us. We crowded them a lot, stayed man-to-man and forced them into taking some tough shots.”

Brian Grant posted his fourth straight double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Heat, who have lost seven of their last nine games.

Malik Allen also had a double-double, adding 14 points and 12 rebounds. Eddie House was strong off the bench for Miami, collecting 14 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Rookie Caron Butler scored 15 points but made just 5-of-20 shots.

“He has to play better than that,” Miami coach Pat Riley said. “He has 50, 60 games under his belt. I don’t think he read the situation well. His intentions are right.”

Fellow rookie Rasual Butler scored four points on 1-of-8 shooting off the bench.

“The Butlers are the Butlers, but sometimes they are like butlers,” Riley said. “They’re serving everybody up the wrong stuff. That’s the trouble. I’m not trying to be funny, but when you get 6 out of 28 from two guys you depend on, I think they have to understand that it’s not OK (just) because they’re young.”

The Heat missed all seven of their 3-point attempts, while the Bucks shot 42 percent (5-of-12) from long range. Thomas, who scored 12 points, was 2-of-5 on 3-pointers.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Milwaukee
S. Cassell S. Cassell
9-14,  25 Pts
6 Rebs, 4 Assists
 Miami
B. Grant B. Grant
8-14,  20 Pts
12 Rebs, 2 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists