MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Milwaukee Bucks realize they will make the
playoffs if they refuse to lose over the remainder of the season.
Gary Payton had 24 points and Sam Cassell, who scored just two
points in a loss to Utah two days earlier, had 23 points and nine
assists as the Bucks snapped a three-game losing streak by
defeating the Miami Heat 109-87 Sunday.
"We've got to win all our games,'' Payton said. "It's not like
back-to-back is going to be a big difference. We'll have to win all
of them for us to get into the playoffs. We can't take any game
lightly. We've got to come back and try to win tomorrow night.''
Rookie Caron Butler led the Heat with 24 points, Mike James
added 15 and Eddie House 12, but it wasn't enough to keep the Heat
from losing their 12th game in the last 16.
The Bucks pulled away early, using a 24-2 that started midway
through the first quarter. Redd hit a pair of 3-pointers and Kukoc
added a three-point play and two free throws.
The Bucks pushed the lead to 25 on Ervin Johnson's free throw
with 3:15 left in the second, but the Heat stayed in it with a 10-0
run keyed by 3-pointers from House and James that pulled Miami to
61-48 at the half.
"If somebody's going to get 61 points on us in a half, we're
not going to beat anybody playing that kind of game,'' Heat coach
Pat Riley said.
Miami got as close as nine points twice in the third quarter.
The last time was when Butler's free throw pulled the Heat to 76-67
with 2:54 left in the third.
The Heat would get no closer as Payton and Redd stopped the
comeback attempt by scoring five points apiece. Redd's fourth
3-pointer gave the Bucks an 86-67 lead heading into the fourth
The Bucks (35-39) were coming off an 0-3 road trip and had lost
eight of the last 10. The slide has left them in a virtual tie with
the Washington Wizards for the final playoff spot in the Eastern
Conference. The Bucks own the tiebreaker over the Wizards, who
played later Sunday at Denver.
Payton said there is no mistaking how important the team's eight
remaining games are.
"If we're not (in playoff mode), we should be,'' Payton said.
"Eight games left to start playing like we are in the playoffs, or
we won't get there.''
Tim Thomas entered the game late
in the first quarter to a chorus of boos.
On Saturday, Milwaukee fined Thomas an unspecified amount for
failing to re-enter a game. Thomas had been upset about playing
power forward instead of small forward since the acquisition of
Desmond Mason from Seattle.
But when Thomas grabbed an offensive rebound and scored with 1.7
seconds left in the first quarter, it was all cheers from the fifth
sellout (18,717) of the season. His 14-ft jumper capped a 24-2 run
and put Milwaukee up 36-18.
Bucks coach George Karl has said that Thomas will have to earn
his way back into the starting lineup.
Thomas finished with three rebounds, a blocked shot, a steal and
three turnovers in 21 minutes.
Bucks forward Anthony Mason left the game early in the
second quarter with a sore left thigh. He is day-to-day. ... Bucks
sixth man Michael Redd qualified for the NBA's career 3-point
accuracy leaders. His 3-pointer with 2:27 left in the first quarter
put him in the record book. He came into the game at .441, trailing
only Steve Kerr (.454) and Hubert Davis (.442). ... Butler, from
Racine, Wis., arranged for more than 60 tickets to the game. ...
The Bucks outrebounded Miami 48-28.