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Energetic second half gets Bucks back to .500 with victory over Trail Blazers


This news story was published on April 8, 2012.
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By Charles F. Gardner, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –

MILWAUKEE — A defensive turnaround was just what the Milwaukee Bucks needed to close out a perfect week.

And it happened in the second half Saturday night as the Bucks limited Portland to 31 points on the way to a 116-94 victory over the Trail Blazers at the Bradley Center.

The Bucks (28-28) reached the .500 mark for the first time since they were 2-2 on Jan. 2 as they moved within one-half game of eighth-place New York and within 11/2 games of seventh-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference race.

Backup guard Beno Udrih scored a season-high 21 points to pace the Bucks, who went 4-0 during the week, and starting point guard Brandon Jennings also scored 21 points after being limited to six in the first half.

“We played with a lot more urgency (in the second half),” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “We put the two big guys in the game — Larry (Sanders) and Ekpe (Udoh) — and they made a difference with their length.

“We got them off the offensive boards. I think they started to fatigue a little bit after last night’s overtime game (in Dallas), and we took advantage of it.

“We had a very, very energetic second half.”

Portland (27-30) shot 55 percent in the first half while piling up 63 points and grabbing a nine-point lead.

But the Bucks were a different team in the second half as the bench made a huge contribution to the victory.

Udrih hit 9 of 15 shots and added six assists and three rebounds, and he played so well Skiles left him in for the entire fourth quarter and gave some extra rest to starter Monta Ellis.

Sanders added 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. Starter Ersan Ilyasova had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Ellis contributed 17 points and seven assists.

“We outrebounded them and moved the ball well in the second half, too,” Udrih said. “With better defense comes some easy layups on the fast break, and that’s what helped us to get a win tonight.”

Udrih and Jennings connected with Sanders for some powerful dunks as Milwaukee outscored Portland, 62-31, in the second half.

“He was at the right spot at the right moment every time, and we found him,” Udrih said. “Basically he had to dunk the ball and that’s what he did. It was great.”

Skiles was worried before the game about the matchup with the Trail Blazers, who were coming off a hard-fought 99-97 overtime victory at Dallas on Friday.

But he was pleased to make up some ground on the Knicks and 76ers and fulfill the wish of team owner Herb Kohl, who said Monday when the Bucks beat Washington that the team needed a 4-0 week.

“That’s what happens,” Skiles said with tongue-in-cheek. “The Senator just says what he wants and then we go out and do it.

“That’s how it usually works. No, look, we’re glad to be 4-0. But it’s the NBA. Now we’ll reflect on this game and we have to get ready for Oklahoma City (on Monday).

“You just move on. We’ve got a great team coming in here. This team tonight is a much better team than when we played them in Portland.”

The Bucks beat Portland by 29 points at the Rose Garden on March 20, but the Trail Blazers signaled it would be difficult Saturday as Jamal Crawford and Luke Babbitt played well off the bench in the first half.

LaMarcus Aldridge paced the Trail Blazers with 21 points, while former Marquette University star Wesley Matthews added 14 points and Raymond Felton had 10 points and 10 assists.

The Trail Blazers shot 62 percent in the first quarter, hitting 13 of 21 shots, but still trailed, 33-31, at the end of the period.

Ilyasova had 16 points in the opening quarter on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4 of 4 from three-point range. Udrih had seven points off the bench.

The Trail Blazers slowed down the Bucks in the second quarter, using a zone defense to help limit Milwaukee to 21 points in the period.

“They were doing a lot of switching and they stood in a bit of a zone as well,” Skiles said.

Portland finished the half on an 8-2 run to grab a 63-54 lead, with center Joel Przybilla scoring a tip at the buzzer.

Portland scored the first basket of the second half before the Bucks went on a 10-0 run to cut their deficit to 65-64.

After Portland took a seven-point lead the Bucks countered with a 13-3 run, taking the lead at 84-83 on a Mike Dunleavy Jr. three-pointer with 1:03 left in the quarter. After a steal by Udrih, Dunleavy fed Sanders for a dunk and an 86-83 lead after three quarters.

CLOSING IN

The race for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference:

Team W-L GB Knicks28-27-Bucks28-281/2Bucks defense slams door on Trail BlazersA defensive turnaround was just what the Milwaukee Bucks needed to close out a perfect week. And it happened in the second half Saturday night as the Bucks limited Portland to 31 points on the way to a 116-94 victory over the Trail Blazers at the Bradley Center.

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