Bucks clinch .500 or better finish to season for first time in six years

MILWAUKEE -- Andrew Bogut believes the Milwaukee Bucks have just started seeing the rough play that marks the end of the season and the beginning of the playoffs.

If so, rookie Brandon Jennings appears to be ready to step into any situation.

Jennings scored 17 points and went the extra distance to protect Bogut, leading Milwaukee past the Los Angeles Clippers 107-89 on Tuesday night to secure a .500 record for the Bucks for the first time in six years.

"There's a time and place for that," Bogut said of Jennings' swagger and actions. "Tonight was one of them."

It was a tension-filled scene late in the third quarter that had its moments of humor, too. After a pair of hard picks between Clippers guard Steve Blake and Bogut, the two stood toe-to-toe near center court jawing.

While Bogut had a huge height and weight advantage on Blake, Jennings rushed in and received a technical for escalating the situation.

"I'm going to protect my teammate," said Jennings, who got into the face of Boston Celtics center Glen Davis earlier this month after the 6-foot-1 point guard was fouled hard. "Don't run up on my big man like that, I had to tell [Blake], chill out and make sure everything was all right."

Bogut appreciated the gesture with a smile.

"That's the way he is," the former No. 1 pick said. "He's a guy with a chip on his shoulder, too, and I stick up for him, he sticks up for me and I think we have a team that's pretty good with that."

It'll be more of the same once the postseason begins in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are sitting in fifth place with nine games left and their magic number to clinch a postseason berth is three over the Chicago Bulls.

"Once the playoffs come and there's little skirmishes and scuffles, it's not one guy on the court, it's five guys and we need to understand that's what we need to do in the playoffs to even be competitive in a series," Bogut said.

These Bucks won't be pushed around by anyone, turning into just the type of scrappy, hardscrabble group that coach Scott Skiles envisioned when he took over in 2008.

Jennings, who had six assists and five rebounds, was 14 the last time Milwaukee (41-32) finished with a winning record.

"I'm happy about it because everybody said we couldn't do it and everybody probably didn't have us winning 40-something games this year, just to say we proved everybody wrong -- just for right now -- it's pretty good," he said.

Though the Clippers beat Milwaukee on March 17 in L.A., this one wasn't close despite double-doubles from Chris Kaman (17 points and 10 rebounds), Drew Gooden (20 and 11) and DeAndre Jordan (11 and 13).

Milwaukee, which led by double digits most of the game, turned the pressure up late in the third quarter.

John Salmons found Bogut for a one-handed alley-oop slam and moments later Bogut swatted a layup by Eric Gordon to Jennings, who flipped a soft touch pass downcourt to Jerry Stackhouse for a dunk that gave Milwaukee a 77-61 lead.

Moments later, Bogut stripped Blake, who then ripped the ball away from Ersan Ilyasova for a layup. Bogut followed with a hard screen on Blake on the other end and both men squared off.

"There's no need to talk about that. That play is over," Blake said. "We'll just leave that on the court."

The teams congregated near center court and Jennings got in Blake's face, but no punches were thrown. Blake and Bogut received double technical fouls and Jennings got a technical of his own.

But it sparked Jennings, who got an outlet pass on a two-on-one break with Stackhouse and froze the defender by faking a behind-the-back pass for a layup that made it 81-66 and brought the crowd to its feet.

Milwaukee cruised from there for its 17th win in the last 21 games. Barring a complete collapse, the Bucks will finish only behind the Cleveland Cavaliers this year in the division after five straight years of finishing last in the Central.

"We were picked to finish last by every so-called expert in the United States," Bogut said. "That's an accomplishment in itself. We've had a successful season to this point. There's a lot of room for improvement, no doubt."

Game notes
Ilyasova scored 20 points, Stackhouse had 16 and Charlie Bell 10 for the Bucks. ... Bucks forward Carlos Delfino (jaw, neck pain) was inactive for the second straight game since Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem landed on the back of Delfino's head on Friday. Delfino hasn't spoken to the media since the incident and the coaching staff says he still has lingering headaches after workouts but haven't labeled his injury as a concussion.

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