WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards stumbled at home against the cellar-dwelling Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season. For one half in the series finale Saturday, the chance for another setback remained alive.
But in the third quarter, with a chance to clinch a rare winning record, the playoff-bound Wizards made clear they had no intention of a repeat performance.
Guard Bradley Beal scored 26 points and the Wizards ran away from the Bucks in the second half for a 104-91 victory.
Guard John Wall had 15 points and eight assists while center Marcin Gortat added 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Wizards (42-38), who have won two straight.
Washington maintained its one-game lead over the Charlotte Bobcats for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, with two games remaining. The Bobcats defeated the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. Washington moved within 1 1/2 games of the fifth-place Brooklyn Nets.
The victory also guaranteed Washington’s first winning record since the 2007-08 season.
“We knew that we could be an above-.500 team,” Beal said. “We knew we could be a playoff team. And we accomplished those two goals. Now it’s up to us to just finish out this regular season, keep our sixth seed and move on into the playoffs.”
Forward Khris Middleton and guard Ramon Sessions each had 20 points for the shorthanded Bucks (15-65), who have lost 15 of 17 games.
Milwaukee will finish the season at least tied for the NBA’s worst record. Philadelphia remains two games ahead at 17-63.
The Wizards regained sole possession of sixth place on Friday. Washington won 96-86 at the Orlando Magic while the Bobcats fell to the Boston Celtics.
“Back and forth. We’ve got to try and win the last two games,” Wall said before acknowledging Monday’s formidable foe in Washington’s home finale.
“Next game is Miami. That’s going to be a tough one. That’s how you set destiny.”
The Wizards helped their fate against the Bucks by forcing 14 of Milwaukee’s 20 turnovers in the second half.
Beal scored 15 points in the first half and sank his first three jumpers in the third quarter. Ahead 71-69 with 4:54 left in the period, the Wizards took command with a 12-1 run for an 84-70 lead. The margin never dipped back into single digits over the final 15 minutes while the lead ballooned to 21 at 97-76 on Al Harrington’s 3-pointer with 9:01 remaining.
The Wizards made eight 3-pointers after shooting 6 of 50 (12 percent) from beyond the arc over their last three games. Forward Trevor Ariza had missed all 11 of his tries in that span, but he went 2-for-4 against Milwaukee and scored 13 points.
Milwaukee had just eight available players against Washington. Guard Brandon Knight (sore right hip) was a last-second scratch one night after scoring 24 points and taking a spill in a 119-116 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Without Knight, Bucks coach Larry Drew often used 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmp at point guard. How did the 6-foot-9 swingman do?
“Eh, I thought he did OK,” Drew said. “He was the only ballhandler we had after Ramon, so we just had to try to improvise once we got word that Brandon was not gonna be able to play.”
Antetokounmp finished with eight points, two assists and four turnovers.
“The last time I got to play point guard was like three years ago,” Milwaukee’s 2013 first-round pick said. “Coach was ready to talk to us and told me, ‘Giannis, you’re starting.’ So I was shocked a little bit.”
Forward Trevor Booker scored 11 for the Wizards. Harrington tacked on 12 points off the bench.
Washington committed only two turnovers in the first half and entered halftime leading 55-52 before the crowd of 17,278.
Washington owns wins this season over the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors. Any of the four could be the Wizards’ first-round opponent.
“We’ve beaten anybody that we’re going to have to face this year,” coach Randy Wittman said. “I’m not worried about that. We’re in the sixth spot right now. If we just take care of ourselves and worry about ourselves then we’re going to stay in the sixth spot.”
NOTES: The Wizards won the season series 3-1. Milwaukee’s lone victory, 109-105 in overtime at Washington, came Dec. 6. … Washington rested PF Nene, who scored a team-high 17 points Friday in a victory over the Orlando Magic. Nene played in two games since returning from a knee injury that caused him to miss 21 games. … Forward Jeff Adrien had 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Bucks. … Milwaukee last won consecutive games on March 17-19, 2013. … Wes Unseld, Moses Malone, Christian Laettner and Dave Bing were among the former Bullets and Wizards to return for fan appreciation night. … Milwaukee stays on the road to face the Toronto Raptors on Monday.
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