- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

MILWAUKEE — The breathing room the Washington Wizards once had is almost gone, replaced now by a gasp.

After Milwaukee’s Michael Redd hit back-to-back big shots and diminutive Bucks’ guard T.J. Ford came up with a huge steal on Gilbert Arenas to secure a 100-97 victory over the Wizards last night, the team that once talked about controlling its own destiny — as well as the fifth seed in the conference — is walking tenuously to the end of the regular season.

“It’s just like last year,” Arenas said, thinking back to a five-game losing streak near the end of the season that almost cost the Wizards the fifth seed. “We’ve been down this road before with our backs against the wall, and we’ve fought through it. We’re in a predicament where we’ve actually got to fight now. We can’t look at it like we’re three games ahead. Now we’ve actually got to play basketball.”

The Wizards (39-39) saw their lead over both Indiana and the Bucks — whom they play again next week at Verizon Center — shrink to just one game with four remaining.

Washington has lost four games in a row, falling to .500 for the first time since March 8. And it won’t get any easier tomorrow, when the Wizards play at Chicago. The Bulls are fighting for a playoff spot as well.

Last night’s loss — which came without injured starting small forward Caron Butler (thumb) for a fourth-straight game — wasn’t the result of poor play, a hallmark in their previous three games.

The loss against the Bucks (38-40), who ended a four-game slide, came as a result of Redd’s and Ford’s huge plays.

Redd sandwiched a layup and a turnaround, left-handed jumper from the right side over Antonio Daniels to propel the Bucks to victory. The second score came with 19.7 seconds to play, and it came on the tail of a huge Antawn Jamison 3-pointer that gave the Wizards a 97-96 lead with 28 seconds to play.

With no timeouts left after Redd’s second bucket, the Wizards got the ball into Arenas’ hands, and he took off and penetrated to the basket, thinking he was going to draw a foul.

But Ford reached in and swiped the ball from Arenas, who had no other choice but to foul the 6-foot Ford. Ford sank both free throws for the final margin of victory.

“I knew he was going to try to get to the basket,” said Ford, who finished with 16 points, six assists and five steals. “I didn’t even think about playing his jumper.”

A wise decision.

“I thought I was going to get fouled,” said Arenas, who finished with 25 points, six assist and six turnovers.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said he believed he did the right thing by not running a double-team at Redd, who scored 21 of his team-high 24 points in the second half.

“We had one of our best defenders on him so you can second-guess it all you want,” Jordan said. “You put a bigger guy on him and they get an offensive rebound. You double him and you give somebody and open shot. So I think we did the right thing.”

Notes — Center Etan Thomas returned to the starting lineup after a two-game absence with a bad back. Thomas spent most of the night fighting the pain and is far from being at full strength

At the end of the first half, which ended with the Wizards trailing 47-42, Thomas limped back to the locker room.

Thomas, who finished with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks, returned at the start of the second half but he wasn’t 100 percent. Ultimately, he left the game for good with about four minutes left in the third quarter.

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