Bucks look to bounce back against Wizards

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks‘ overtime loss last weekend to New Orleans was disappointing, but they are looking at that setback as a blip on their radar.

The Bucks see it as a proverbial bump in the road as they continue their quest to not just secure a playoff berth but gain potential home-court advantage in the opening round.

That journey continues Tuesday night against the Washington Wizards, who visit the Bradley Center clinging to the fourth spot in the East, 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Bucks.

Jason Terry’s desperation 3-pointer was just a half-second short of beating the buzzer on Sunday against New Orleans, but Milwaukee was burned less by timing than it was lackadaisical play.

The Bucks led by 18 less than 30 seconds into the second half, but the Pelicans responded with eight straight points to kick off a 23-5 run and go into the fourth quarter with a two-point lead.

“First half, we were running it down their throats, sprinting back on defense,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “In that third quarter, we just didn’t do anything. We let them right back in the game instead of putting our foot on their throat and ending the game right there.”

Letdowns like that have been a problem for the Bucks all season, though they seemed to have moved past it during the last month, winning 10 of 13 games.

Interim coach Joe Prunty plans to put an emphasis coming out of halftime with more authority.

“I think the biggest part of the game is the third quarter,” Prunty said. “That’s pretty clear. We need to do a better job making sure we come out to start the third quarter with the right mindset.”

The date with Milwaukee is Washington’s second in a 13-game stretch against teams currently in position to make the playoffs.

The Wizards have gone 9-3 since losing John Wall to a knee injury, including a 109-94 victory Sunday over Philadelphia, snapping the Sixers’ seven-game winning streak.

It was Washington’s first test in what’s shaping up to be a challenging run; the Wizards will play 13 consecutive games against teams currently in playoff position and Tuesday at Milwaukee is the front end of a back-to-back set with the Warriors awaiting Wednesday night in Washington.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 19 points as the Wizards produced at least 100 points for the 13th consecutive game. But neither Oubre nor the team are focusing on their opponents during this stretch, choosing instead to look within.

“I don’t personally look at things like that because it’s added pressure,” Oubre told The Washington Post. “We just got to continue to come out and play good basketball every night so we can get to where we want to get to at the end of the season.”

And the end of the season could very well match the Wizards against the Bucks again. They’re projected to finish with the same record by FiveThiryEight.com and Milwaukee currently holds the tiebreaker thanks to a 2-1 lead in the season series.

A victory Tuesday would tie it up — and keep the Wizards a leg up on the teams chasing them in the conference race.