Sunday, March 1, 2009

MILWAUKEE | The Milwaukee Bucks finally have something to play for in March.

Charlie Villanueva scored 25 points and Richard Jefferson added 22 to lift the Bucks to an easy 109-93 victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.

With a month and a half left in the season, Milwaukee (29-33) surpassed its win total in each of the last two years and has the most victories since going 40-42 in 2005-06 and reaching the postseason.

“We’re pulling it together and guys are picking it up,” said Charlie Bell, who had 12 points and is one of the few players remaining from the previous squads. “Right now, we feel like there’s a lot of new players, new coaching staff, a whole new regime. We’ve put the other years behind us.”

While the Bucks remain four games under .500, they hold the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a one-game lead over New Jersey and Chicago - despite missing key starters Michael Redd (knee) and Andrew Bogut (back).

“This will be one of the bigger stories in the league with all the injuries and all the trades, new faces, to weather that storm, and to make it would be pretty amazing,” said Jefferson, who came to Milwaukee from New Jersey in a draft day trade for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons. “But it’s not story-writing time right now.”

Milwaukee never trailed against the Wizards, built a double-digit lead in the opening minutes and was never seriously threatened in winning its fourth straight over Washington.

Milwaukee also avoided losing three in a row for the first time since early December.

“I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it was very convincing,” Ramon Sessions said. “It was a win we felt like we needed to have after losing two in a row against Dallas and New Orleans.”

Sessions had 12 points and 10 assists, reserve Dan Gadzuric added 10 points and 11 rebounds, and rookie Luc Richard Mbah a Moute scored 13 points.

Washington never looked interested in defense, allowing Milwaukee to shoot 52 percent, including 11-for-19 from 3-point range.

After the Wizards cut the lead to 83-74 early in the fourth quarter, Luke Ridnour and Keith Bogans hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push it back to 15 and coast from there.

On Friday night, the Bucks trailed by 17 with four minutes left against the Hornets and rallied to take a lead, but lost by one when Tyson Chandler tipped in a missed shot in the closing seconds.

Washington would mount no such challenge despite getting 21 points and 14 rebounds from Antawn Jamison. Caron Butler scored 19 and Nick Young added 13 for the Wizards, who had an inspired 113-90 victory over Chicago on Friday night.

But without President Barack Obama in the crowd, the Wizards disappeared like they’ve done all season, languishing in the cellar of the Eastern Conference.

“You can’t match that energy,” Butler said. “That’s the president of the United States.”

Maybe they couldn’t, but Mike James thought there was no excuse for their pitiful performance.

“It isn’t about the energy of playing in front of the president. It was the energy that we played with [Friday] night period that helped us win that game,” James said. “We had to at least come out tonight and play with a sense of urgency. We didn’t.”

Notes - Interim coach Ed Tapscott joked that he’d tell the Wizards in his pregame talk that the president thought so highly of their win over the Bulls that he was planning to watch them on TV. …

While the president wasn’t in Milwaukee, U.S. Senator and Bucks owner Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat, was in the crowd in his usual seat about five rows behind the scorer’s table.

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