Wizards can't cool off the surging Bucks

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010; D04

MILWAUKEE -- Andray Blatche caught the ball on the right baseline and pondered his move before he finally pump-faked and exploded toward the basket. After jumping into a crowd of Milwaukee Bucks and drawing contact, Blatche heard the whistle blow and was surprised to hear that the official called him for traveling. Blatche rolled his eyes and later picked up a technical foul for complaining about the call.

Moments later, forward Al Thornton was dribbling up the court when he flipped a behind-the-back pass intended for point guard Randy Foye. Foye jumped to the ground to recover the errant pass, but his tussle for the ball with Bucks guard Brandon Jennings eventually led to an eight-second violation. Foye irritably sat down the bench, when assistant coach Sam Cassell patted him on the knee with his clip board and encouraged him to "keep playing."

Frustration and sloppy play defined the Washington Wizards in the third quarter of their 100-87 loss to the Bucks at Bradley Center. After staying relatively close with the Bucks in the first half, the Wizards came unglued in the period, as they missed 11 of 16 shot attempts, had as many turnovers as points (12) and collected two technical fouls.

"We was just getting turnovers and missing shots," JaVale McGee said of the poor third-period performance. "Those two things together just messed us up."

Blatche and Foye both led the Wizards 18 points each, and McGee added 14 points and three blocked shots, but starters Thornton and Mike Miller combined to contribute just five points.

Newly acquired shooting guard John Salmons led five Bucks in double figures with 22 points, while Ersan Ilyasova came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds as the Bucks improved to 7-2 since the all-star break. The two teams will meet again on Friday at Verizon Center.

"I see a sense of urgency. They are feeling it," Foye said of the Bucks. "They got that taste of playoffs in their mouth, but we can't let that happen again. The good thing about this league, is that they come to our house on Friday and we're going to be ready."

The Wizards are now 4-4 since undergoing a dramatic roster overhaul at the trade deadline, but the Bucks have been one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference since adding former Wizard Jerry Stackhouse and Salmons. Stackhouse was working out with high school basketball players in suburban Atlanta when the Bucks signed him as a free agent on Jan. 18. The Bucks have gone 15-6 since adding Stackhouse, but their only loss since acquiring Salmons from Chicago at the trade deadline came on Sunday in Atlanta. Stackhouse came off the bench to score 13 points but also provided a highlight play when he blocked a shot by Quinton Ross, raced up the court and sent a pass to Ilyasova for a dunk that put the Bucks ahead 92-75 in the fourth period.

Andrew Bogut (15 points, five blocks) later gave the Bucks a 20-point lead when he caught a pass from Jennings and converted a three-point play. As Blatche sat for much of the fourth period, he covered his head with a towel and shook his head in disbelief.

The Wizards have managed to remain competitive the past two weeks, compensating for a lack of skill with will. But Coach Flip Saunders criticized his team for not being aggressive -- which contributed to 21 turnovers on the night -- and Blatche felt the team took a step backward on Wednesday. "We was just playing sloppy. We wasn't playing how Flip taught us, the way Flip coached us," Blatche said. "We worked too hard to let any team beat up on us like that. We're a good enough team that no team should have us down by 20."

The Wizards had their lowest scoring output since the break, with Thornton failing to reach double figures for the first time since he arrived from the Los Angeles Clippers. "I don't think I was aggressive enough. I only shot the ball four times," said Thornton, who matched his season low with just two points after averaging 15.8 points in his first six games. "It was one of those nights."

The Wizards had won the first two meetings this season against the Bucks, but most of that cast has been shipped out and Gilbert Arenas is serving a season-ending suspension. They still had Earl Boykins, who rescued the team with in the fourth quarter of the first two wins. But after scoring eight points in 14 minutes on Wednesday, Boykins didn't even play in the final period. The Wizards had already been done in by a miserable third period.

"Tonight was a game where we seemed out of sync," said Boykins, who had four turnovers. "We had way too many unforced turnovers."

Blatche led the team with five turnovers and took the blame for the loss. "I don't expect to go out every night and get 30 points or whatever, but I definitely feel like I let my teammates down," he said. "I don't feel that I was myself tonight, but I'm going to try to get them back Friday."

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