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Bucks clinging to East's final playoff spot

4/1/2003

MIAMI (AP) -- With an important game with playoff implications on
the line, the Milwaukee Bucks turned to Sam Cassell.

Smart move.

Cassell scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, and
the Bucks closed with a 17-6 run over the final 4 1/2 minutes to beat
the Miami Heat 91-86 Monday night.

Gary Payton also scored 20 points as the Bucks opened a one-game
lead over the Washington Wizards for the eighth and final playoff
spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We're going to get the eighth spot -- we're not fighting for
it,'' Cassell said. "We have it right now. It isn't going to be
easy, but nothing worth having does come easy.''

The Bucks, who blew out the Heat 109-87 on Sunday, didn't have
it so easy this time.

"We had to fight from behind tonight and win it in the fourth
quarter,'' Bucks coach George Karl said.

Milwaukee had trouble stopping Eddie House, who came off the
bench to score a season-high 21 points, and trailed 80-74 with less
than five minutes to play.

That's when Cassell stepped up, knocking down back-to-back
3-pointers to tie the game at 80 with 3:24 left.

Desmond Mason's jumper put the Bucks ahead 83-82 with 1:04 to
go. Cassell scored again to open an 85-82 lead, and after Travis
Best cut it to one point with a driving layup, Cassell made two
free throws for an 87-84 lead with 21 seconds remaining.

The Heat couldn't convert, and Cassell added two more free
throws to clinch it for Milwaukee.

"We did what we had to do,'' Cassell said. "Down the stretch,
I'm supposed to make big shots. I hit big shots everywhere. This is
something I have become accustomed to doing. I'm not afraid to be
the goat.''

Miami trailed 71-62 early in the final quarter but tied it at 71
when Best hit a 3-pointer with 8:10 left.

Brian Grant scored 15 points and had 17 rebounds, and rookie
Rasual Butler added 15 points for the Heat. Vladimir Stepania had
11 points and 13 rebounds in just his fourth start of the season.

Payton also had nine assists and six rebounds for the Bucks, and
reserve Michael Redd added 14 points.

The Heat used a zone defense for much of the game, forcing the
Bucks to shoot from the outside. The strategy worked for part of
the game, until Cassell and others hit open jumpers down the
stretch.

"We were a little late on Cassell's 3s when we were ahead,''
Heat coach Pat Riley said. "We got sucked into the penetration. It
wasn't that threatening, and we left him wide open and he made
them.''

Miami has lost five of six and 13 of 17.

"We played well enough to win,'' Grant said. "We had
opportunities. They did a good job of stretching our zone, and Sam
stepped up and made big 3s for them. What's why he and Payton are
great players.''

Game notes
Heat rookie Caron Butler, who scored 59 points in his last
two games, missed the game with a sore left knee. ... House has
scored in double figures six straight games. ... The Bucks were
without starting forward Anthony Mason (left thigh) and backup
Jason Caffey (back) to injuries. ... Karl coached his 1,200th NBA
game. ... With the loss, the Heat finished with their worst month
of the year, winding up 4-13 in March.