Bucks-Wizards Preview

The Associated Press

A matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards would normally see two of the league's most promising young point guards go head-to-head in John Wall and Brandon Jennings.

Instead, two of the biggest surprises in the frontcourt could be in the spotlight in Friday night's matchup in the nation's capital.

Wall still hasn't played because of a stress injury in his right knee and currently has no target date for his season debut. Washington is 0-3 without him, including a 100-94 overtime loss at Boston on Wednesday - four days after an 89-86 home loss to the Celtics.

Both defeats to the perennial Eastern Conference contender were close, but represented missed opportunities.

"We know that the Celtics are a great team and we know that we have the potential to be a great team as well," rookie Bradley Beal told the team's official website.

"We are not going to back down from anybody," added the No. 3 overall pick, who had 16 points Wednesday after combining for 10 in his first two games. "We are just going to keep competing."

Milwaukee (2-1) missed out on a chance at its first 3-0 start since 2005 with a 108-90 loss at Memphis on Wednesday.

Jennings, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, struggled, scoring 19 on 6 of 20 shooting. Backcourt mate Monta Ellis didn't provide much help either, shooting 5 of 18 to score 15.

The Bucks shot 38.5 percent, no match for a Grizzlies team that hit 53.0 percent of its shots.

"We had a bad shooting night," said Jennings, who averaged 17.0 points and 13.0 assists in the first two games. "We missed a lot of layups, especially myself. They were layups that I usually make."

Milwaukee's frontcourt hasn't done much with the exception of the surprising Larry Sanders. The third-year forward is averaging 12.3 points and 8.3 rebounds after averaging 3.6 points and 3.1 boards last season. His scoring improvement of 8.7 points per game is fifth-best in the NBA for those that have played in at least half of their team's games since the start of last season.

"I think my teammates are trusting me out there, and I trust them," the 6-foot-11 Sanders told the Bucks' official website. "It feels good to get opportunities. We just have to keep working together and getting the continuity right."

Washington has its own frontcourt surprise in 6-foot-9 Kevin Seraphin, who is averaging team highs of 17.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in his third year. He averaged 7.9 points and 4.9 boards last season, and his scoring improvement of 9.6 points ranks third-best.

Despite the strong play from Seraphin, Washington has been plagued by slow starts - a big reason for its early struggles. The Wizards have been outscored by an average of 8.7 points in the first quarter. They did erase an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit Wednesday, but shot 3 of 10 in the overtime period.

"We gotta learn to play down the stretch," coach Randy Wittman said. "It's a learning process."

Washington's Jordan Crawford is averaging 21.8 points in six career games against Milwaukee - his highest average against any East team - but he sprained his ankle Saturday and wasn't at full strength Wednesday, scoring two points in 15 minutes.

Although Crawford has been on top of his game against the Bucks, it hasn't led to many victories for the Wizards, with Milwaukee winning seven of the last nine meetings.