MILWAUKEE -- After a month of tough losses and missed opportunities to move up the Eastern Conference pecking order, the Milwaukee Bucks have been looking for an opportunity to break out of their shell and win a game handily.
So when the Charlotte Bobcats came to town Monday night, with the league's worst record in tow, the opportunity was perfect.
Milwaukee set a season high for points scored, running away with a 131-102 victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, behind a season-high 24 points from Larry Sanders and a 19-point, 14-assist performance by Monta Ellis.
Ellis had struggled with his shot the last few weeks but made 7 of 14 from the field while going 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
"You watch him play and his intensity level is extremely high," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "He's playing as hard as he can play. You can't really ask a guy to give you much more than he's giving you right now. When he's playing like that, it makes everyone around him better."
Especially Sanders, who continues to emerge as a dominant post player in his third NBA season. Sanders posted his team-leading 25th double-double of the season, though was held without a blocked shot in consecutive game for the first time this season.
"He's finding his game offensively," Boylan said, "Larry is trying to work on all aspects of his game. Defensively, his shot-blocking and protecting the goal -- even though he hasn't blocked a lot of shots lately, he's altered a whole bunch of them and he's been a factor around the rim."
Sanders chalks it up to progress.
"It's time that you should be playing your best basketball," Sanders said. "My teammates are just finding me and I'm trying to finish for them around the rim."
The Bobcats came into the game on a bit of an offensive hot streak, averaging 100.2 points per game in their last seven and they continued to produce, shooting 50.7 percent from the field and making 6 of 19 3-pointers.
But their offensive efforts were negated by 21 turnovers which led to 31 points for Milwaukee.
"We found ourselves offensively," Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap said. "Defensively, there were three things that hurt us. Their early transition for easy buckets hurt us. Their ability to rebound over the top of us became a problem. And lastly, we just gave them too many paint points. That's enough to win an NBA game."
Kemba Walker scored 27 points and Gerald Henderson added 17 to lead the Bobcats, who also got 14 points from Tyrus Thomas and 13 from Jannero Pargo.
"We just have to recharge the batteries," Henderson said. "We have been playing well. This is our first bad game. We had a couple weeks where we played some really good basketball."
Up 29-25, through one quarter, Milwaukee created some separation late in the second, outscoring Charlotte 17-8 over the final 3:44 to take a 69-60 lead into halftime. The Bobcats shot 62.9 percent in the half (22 of 35) but their nine turnovers led to nine points.
Milwaukee kept the pressure on to start the third and enjoyed its biggest lead to that point when Ersan Ilyasova's 3-pointer made it 76-63 with 9:41 to play in the quarter. Six straight from the Bobcats, including two Henderson free throws with 7:58 left, cut the Bucks' lead to six.
J.J. Redick hit a 3 from the left side to put Milwaukee back up by 11 with 2:40 remaining in the quarter and the Bucks were ahead 100-86 at the quarter's end.
Redick made it a 20-point game on a long jumper with 9:28 remaining and Charlotte never got closer than 16, losing for the third straight and fifth time in six games.
NOTES: Thomas made a career-high two 3-pointers ... The Bucks' 69 points in the first half were a season high ... Milwaukee moved within 1 1/2 games of Boston for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks hold a tiebreaker with the Celtics based on their 3-1 win in the season series ... The Bobcats are 1-15 all time against the Bucks in Milwaukee.