By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 3, 2007
As the Milwaukee Bucks ran away from the Wizards with a 37-point fourth quarter in a 119-102 win in Milwaukee on Saturday night, several Bucks reveled in the victory with fist pumps and other celebrations.
Wizards forward Caron Butler noted the enthusiasm and said he'll have it on his mind tonight when the teams meet again at Verizon Center.
"They were celebrating, bumping chests, doing a lot of things and I was feeling pretty bad after that game," said Butler, whose 29-point, 13-rebound effort was squandered. "That's what we talked about on the flight home, just getting a chance to get back at them. This is our chance [tonight]. They're a good team and you tip your hat off to them, but that extra celebrating wasn't called for."
Losing at Milwaukee was especially painful for Butler because he grew up in nearby Racine and had several family members and friends in attendance, but the loss also snapped Washington's five-game winning streak. The Bucks (16-15) have won seven of their last eight and are part of a very competitive Central Division, in which all five teams have a winning record.
Both teams are trying to put themselves in position to make a run in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards gained confidence by going 12-4 in December -- the most wins in a single month for the franchise since January 1977 -- while the Bucks finished the month 11-6.
"I think the East is wide open, other than Detroit," Bucks Coach Terry Stotts said. "We're only a third of the way through and a lot can happen. I think there are a lot of teams that feel that not only are they in the thick of things, but they can move up the ladder."
One of the keys to Saturday's game was Milwaukee's use of a zone defense, a strategy that seemed to take Gilbert Arenas out of his comfort zone. Arenas finished with 19 points on 7-of-22 shooting and attempted only six free throws.
Butler was the only Wizard who established an offensive rhythm, while Arenas and Antawn Jamison (17 points on 7-of-15 shooting) struggled.
For most of the game, Arenas appeared to be focused on finding open teammates rather than attacking with the dribble, and in the fourth quarter the Wizards were unable to match Milwaukee's offensive aggressiveness.
Arenas said he'll be ready for what the Bucks do tonight.
"They've been throwing up that junk defense all season," Arenas said. "We just have to attack it. We were settling for jump shots and this time we have to penetrate that zone, make them get out of it and back into man-to-man."
The Wizards worked against a zone defense in practice yesterday and expect to see a lot of it tonight.
"You have to be really confident in your zone offense," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "You have to make shots and you have to attack the middle and not just settle for jump shots though you do have to make some of them."
Two positives to come out of Saturday's loss were the play of reserves Andray Blatche and Calvin Booth. Blatche has been trying to crack Jordan's rotation since training camp and has helped himself recently with aggressive rebounding and improved defense.
On a night when the Wizards were playing for the fourth time in five days, Blatche provided a much-needed bolt of energy in the first half when he grabbed seven rebounds and scored seven points during an eight-minute stretch.
The second-year forward made 4 of 6 shots and finished with a season-high nine points and eight rebounds.
"We talked about spot duty minutes getting you some quality minutes, and it's getting to that for him," Jordan said.
Booth, who finished with two points, seven rebounds and four blocks Saturday, could start at center tonight if Brendan Haywood misses his second straight game with a sprained right ankle. Haywood will be a game-time decision.
The Wizards are 8-1 with Haywood in the starting lineup. They missed his defensive presence in the lane during the fourth quarter Saturday.
"It's better than the last time we got ready to play Milwaukee, so hopefully I can be ready to play," Haywood said. "I'm going to do my best and see how it feels."