Would the Washington Wizards enter the All-Star break with a two-game winning streak or a ninth loss in 13 contests? Depending on when you checked in during the first three quarters of Thursday's matchup at the Milwaukee Bucks, the answer may have seemed clear. After a series of wild swings, the fourth quarter played even. Eventually one team pulled away late with a sequence of winning plays. That team was not the Wizards.
Bradley Beal scored 19 points and John Wall recorded yet another double-double, but the Wizards could not complete the season sweep over the Bucks, falling 99-92.
Wall had 15 points and 10 assists in 42 minutes for Washington (23-28), but struggled with his shot, finishing 5 of 19 from the field. When it came to clanking, the point guard had company as the Wizards shot 38.6 percent from the field and a dismal 6 of 32 on 3-point attempts. Despite those shooting struggles, Washington and Milwaukee (21-32) were tied at 81-81 with under six minutes remaining when Khris Middleton's 3-pointer started the decisive 8-2 run.
Hope remained as three straight free throws with 1:36 left cut the lead to 93-90. Following a Bucks turnover, Wall launched the potential game-tying 3-pointer. He missed, something Milwaukee didn't do on its next two shots to seal the win. One of those clinching buckets came from Middleton, who led all scorers with 27 points.
The Wizards lost their second straight games and sixth this season when leading by at least 10 points, though this time the cushion was wiped away early.
Washington enters the break 10th in the East, three games behind Charlotte (27-26) for the eighth and final playoff spot.
* Washington went from leading by 10 in the first quarter to trailing 55-46 at halftime as Milwaukee outscored them 37-19 in the second quarter. After rolling offensively early, the Wizards went 7:55 without a field goal, missing 12 straight shots. In that stretch, Washington went from leading 37-28 to trailing 53-42. During that span, Marcin Gortat picked up his third foul and sat out the final seven minutes. With the Polish Machine watching, Milwaukee hammered Washington on the boards. The Bucks overall outrebounded the Wizards 58-38 as Giannis Antetokounmpo grabbed 13 to go with 17 points. Gortat finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
* The Wizards ball movement was fluid and highly effective early with 11 assists on their first 11 baskets leading to a 27-18 advantage after one period. Wall's pass-first vibe fueled the sharing-is-caring start, but Dudley's crafty feeds inside really stood out. Then the good times slowed and the Bucks roared back.
* Another game and another round of aches and pains. Wall hit the deck after banging knees in the first half. He remained in the game, played the entire second half and was walking without obvious strain postgame. The break couldn't come at a better time for the beat up point guard, who is slated to play in Sunday's All-Star game.
Otto Porter, who missed time recently with a right hip injury, landed hard on his right side after the slender forward was fouled going for a fast break layup. He also stayed in the game, finishing with 14 points. Porter continued his streaky trend of generating most of his points in one stretch. In this case, those buckets primarily came when the offense flowed early. He finished 6 of 15.
* Gary Neal (leg) missed his second straight game, but Washington also played without Kris Humphries (illness). Those absences led to first quarter minutes for Kelly Oubre Jr. Most interesting, coach Randy Wittman paired the rookie with Porter playing the four. The lengthy pair provided positive activity, but Washington decisively lost the battle of the boards in that stretch and throughout the second quarter. How much Oubre plays and how much Porter plays the four are two interesting post All-Star break story lines.
* The Wizards were one win shy of sweeping the Bucks for only the second time in 47 years (1974-75). Wall needed 14 points and 13 assists to become first player in franchise history to average 20-10 at All-Star break.
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