November 22, 2014

The first half has gone nothing like the Washington Wizards or Milwaukee Bucks hoped, but the Bucks think they may have found a lineup wrinkle that could help them make a second-half push.

It's no secret who the Wizards are hoping will carry them to the playoffs.

Washington looks to ride one of the best stretches of John Wall's career into the All-Star break Thursday night in Milwaukee, while the Bucks are thinking a boost to their bench could help them avoid a season sweep from the Wizards.

Playoff teams a year ago, both Washington (23-27) and Milwaukee (21-32) will head into the break outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

There seems to be more room for optimism that the Wizards can crawl back into contention thanks to Wall, who will go into his third straight All-Star appearance playing as well as any point guard in the league. Wall has averaged 27.5 points and 11.8 assists in his last four games after putting up 28 and 17 in Tuesday's 111-108 win at New York.

''I think I'm having a career year,'' Wall said. ''I can say I'm playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it's not equaling up to wins.''

If Wall can keep up his newfound shooting touch, it might. A 30.5 percent 3-point shooter heading into this season, Wall is at 41.9 percent over his last 18 games and has hit 11 of 17 over this dominant four-game spurt.

"When I'm making jump shots I'm a different player," Wall said. "And when we're making 3s it opens up the floor for me even more to be more aggressive.

"I'm taking more respectable (3s). Not the desperation, late-shot-clock ones. I'm getting ones in a rhythm where I want the ball and I'm able to make shots now."

Doing damage from beyond the arc has been a big reason why the Wizards have taken the first three meetings from Milwaukee, though Wall - averaging 19 points and nine assists while totaling 16 turnovers - hasn't stood out statistically.

Washington has shot 51.4 percent from long range in the series, hitting 12 3s in each game to the Bucks' 18 total, and it's attempted 109 free throws to Milwaukee's 86.

The Wizards have scored 79 points off 62 Bucks turnovers, totaling 64 fast-break points to Milwaukee's 29. Add in Washington's plus-33 margin in the fourth quarter - it's plus-6 in the other three - and it's easy to see why the Wizards are going for their first season sweep of the Bucks since 1974-75.

Fourth-quarter issues are nothing new for Milwaukee, which was outscored in the final 12 minutes in each of its five straight losses heading into Tuesday's visit from Boston. The Celtics nearly came from 19 down in the fourth, but the Bucks held on to win 112-111.

Aside from that collapse, there was reason for optimism. Miles Plumlee and O.J. Mayo shifted into the starting lineup in place of Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams, and while the two new starters totaled just six points, Monroe and Carter-Williams combined for 45.

"I think we just wanted to see something different," coach Jason Kidd said. "Sometimes we get caught up in starters or bench players, but at the end of the day it's about the team."

The Bucks are 14-8 at home, and the good news is they'll play 19 of their final 29 at the Bradley Center after playing an NBA-high 31 road games.

The Wizards have played the league's fewest on the road, though they're better away from the Verizon Center (12-11) than at home.

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