Bucks-Wizards Preview

The Associated Press

The Milwaukee Bucks know they can't afford any slip-ups against the NBA's worst teams if they want to make the playoffs.

The Bucks start a four-game stretch against losing opposition when they visit the Washington Wizards on Monday night.

Milwaukee (24-28) trails New York by 2 1/2 games for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. After traveling to Washington (12-40), the Bucks host Cleveland, Charlotte and Portland - they are a combined 7-1 against those four teams.

"This whole thing is there for the taking," forward Mike Dunleavy said. "It's are we going to be able to get it done?"

The Bucks have won nine of 13 but followed up Friday's 121-84 rout of the Cavaliers with a 99-95 home loss to Memphis one night later. The Grizzlies outrebounded Milwaukee 58-39.

"It was a huge factor,'' Bucks coach Scott Skiles said of the rebounding disparity. "It was a big point of emphasis and we just didn't get it done. When we're struggling offensively, that takes away clean rebounds, and outlets, and fast breaks, and hopefully getting some easy baskets.''

Brandon Jennings scored 24 points and Drew Gooden added 20 for Milwaukee, which shot 41.5 percent after connecting at a 56.8 percent clip in the win over the Cavs.

"We don't take the easy plays," Dunleavy said. "That's why we end up with 80 points against these good teams and 115 against the bad ones."

Milwaukee has won both meetings with Washington this season - both at home - and visit the Verizon Center twice during the regular season's final month. These teams don't usually play close games, with seven straight matchups decided by double digits before the Bucks won 119-118 on Feb. 28 when Ersan Ilyasova tipped in Jennings' miss with 2.2 seconds left.

This is the first meeting between these teams since the Bucks acquired Monta Ellis from Golden State on March 14. Ellis has struggled with Milwaukee, averaging 14.1 points on 38.3 percent shooting in nine games after leading the Warriors with 21.9 points per game on 43.3 percent shooting.

Jordan Crawford is averaging 21.5 points in the season series for Washington, which has lost six of seven overall after falling 99-92 at Toronto on Sunday.

The Wizards played without starters Nene and Trevor Booker, both sidelined with left foot injuries.

"I thought our guys fought hard being short-handed the way we were, we just couldn't get over the hump,'' coach Randy Wittman said.

Washington has shown recent improvement on defense, holding its last nine opponents below 100 points for the first time since Nov. 30-Dec. 17, 2002.

"You want the victories to come but time will tell with that,'' point guard John Wall said. "You've just got to be patient. Just know that you're working on your game and getting better and everything will work out fine.''

The injuries allowed younger players to receive more playing time Sunday. Rookie forward Jan Vesely made his first start since Feb. 3 and had 10 points, four assists and four rebounds in a season-high 34 minutes.

"Jan's gotta continue to be aggressive, look at the rim," Wittman said. "Right now he doesn't sometimes look at the rim at the offensive end."

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