MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Milwaukee Bucks have finally evened their
record, and they hope they can ride this streak right back into the
middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Sam Cassell scored 26 points and Ray Allen added 21 Saturday night as Milwaukee beat the Denver Nuggets 88-75 to reach .500 for the first time in nearly two months. The Bucks (21-21) have won seven of eight, and had not been at .500 since they were 8-8 on Nov. 30.
Milwaukee's run started with the Jan. 10 return of Toni Kukoc, who missed 18 games after undergoing right thumb surgery. The Bucks are 15-9 with Kukoc and 6-12 without him.
"Our team has gotten healthy,'' Cassell said. "We have a lot of players on this team who fit specific roles. Now that we are healthy, those guys are beginning to be able to focus on the things they do best on the floor. We now have a chance to get back in this thing.''
"We were so far below .500, but it was early,'' Allen said. "Now, we're at the point where we want to win basketball games no matter how we get it done. Tonight, it was kind of ugly, but we won and we're not going to complain about that.''
The Bucks visit New Orleans on Monday, then have eight
consecutive home games.
"It's great to be back (to .500), but we still have a lot of work to do,'' Milwaukee coach George Karl said. "The schedule is friendly right now, but I'd still like to see us play better.''
Milwaukee used a 16-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to
pull away from Denver, which has lost four consecutive games and
seven straight on the road.
The Nuggets improved offensively from Friday night, when they
were held to 58 points by Boston. Denver scored 27 in the first
quarter but was limited to 48 points the rest of the way, missing
38 of 60 shots over the final three quarters.
"It seems to be our pattern, we play very well to a certain
point and then we melt,'' coach Jeff Bzdelik said.
Denver averages an NBA-low 80 points per game, and has averaged
only 33 second-half points in its last four games.
"We have to learn to win the game in the second half, too -- we can't not finish the second half,'' said leading scorer Juwon Howard, who missed the game against the Celtics due to a death in his family but returned against the Bucks.
Michael Redd, who had 18 points, started the decisive
fourth-quarter run with a baseline jumper to give Milwaukee a 70-65
lead with 8:04 left. Allen finished the streak, scoring on a
fast-break layup from Kukoc to give Milwaukee an 84-69 lead with
The Nuggets never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Milwaukee took the lead for good, 53-51, when Cassell found a
driving Ervin Johnson for a layin with 3:38 left in the third
quarter. Kukoc hit a 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left to give the
Bucks a 65-58 lead after three quarters.
Each team had key players missing. Denver C Marcus Camby
missed his fourth consecutive game with a sprained right ankle.
Bucks F Tim Thomas (sprained right shoulder) and F Jason Caffey
(flu) did not dress. Thomas had been the only Milwaukee player to
start every game this season. ... Allen has made 108 of his last
114 free throws. ... Denver is 0-10 on the road against Eastern
Conference teams. ... Bucks rookie F Jamal Sampson, a second-round
draft choice, made his NBA debut late in the fourth quarter. He had
been on the injured list during the team's first 40 games.