Wizards 116, Bucks 103

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The congestion in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings cleared just a bit Tuesday night. The Washington Wizards moved a step closer to the coveted No. 5 seed, and the Milwaukee Bucks will have to settle for something lower.

Gilbert Arenas scored 31 of his 43 points in the second half, and the Wizards overcame a career-high 43 points from Michael Redd to beat the Bucks 116-103 on the next-to-last day of the regular season.

Redd and Arenas combined for 62 points in the second half as the two catalysts dueled with playoff intensity for the chance to avoid Detroit, Miami or New Jersey in the first round. Rarely has such a fuss been made over fifth place, but no one wants to face one of the top three seeds when Cleveland, returning to the playoffs after a long absence, is an available opponent at No. 4.

The victory gave the Wizards a one-game lead over Chicago and Indiana and a 11/2-game lead over Milwaukee. All four teams have clinched playoff berths, but their seeds won’t be decided until Wednesday.

Washington will take the No. 5 seed with a victory at Detroit on Wednesday – the Pistons will have little motivation with their No. 1 seed already secured – or with a Chicago loss at home to Toronto. The Wizards can finish no worse than seventh.

Indiana, the other team in the mix, finishes the season at home against Orlando.

The Bucks, who would have clinched the fifth seed by beating the Wizards, ended their regular season with a 40-42 record and at the mercy of Wednesday’s results to determine whether they will finish any higher than eighth.

Arenas turned the game by scoring 11 points in a 15-3 run early in the fourth quarter. The Bucks had opened the quarter with an 8-0 spurt to take a 90-87 lead – their first lead since early in the second quarter – but the Wizards emerged from a timeout determined to take back the momentum. Arenas made a driving layup, Caron Butler hit a short hook, and Redd was shut down for a vital 4 minutes.

Back-to-back turnovers led to two more baskets – Washington finished with 31 points off Milwaukee’s 16 turnovers – to make the score 102-93. The Wizards ended the game with a 12-4 run.

Antawn Jamison added 28 points, and Butler scored 22 for the Wizards, who have won two straight after a five-game losing streak. The two wins coincided with the return of Butler, who missed five games with a sprained right thumb.

T.J. Ford scored 26 points, and Bobby Simmons had 20 before fouling out with 4:40 to play after committing three fouls in less than a minute.

Milwaukee led 23-20 at the end of the first quarter, but the Bucks were sloppy after Ford left the game in the second. Toni Kukoc came off the bench and committed three turnovers in less than 3 minutes, including a strip by Arenas that led to a fast-break dunk by Antonio Daniels. The turnover differential was 6-0 in the quarter – points-off-turnovers was 12-0 – and the Wizards had runs of 8-2, 7-0 and 7-1 to take a 54-43 halftime lead.

Redd took over in the third quarter, scoring 12 straight Bucks points as Milwaukee methodically trimmed the deficit. The score stood at 83-79 Wizards when the quarter ended in bizarre fashion with two questionable calls in the final five seconds.

First, Daniels pushed Andrew Bogut into Redd as Redd was attempting a 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds left. Redd was awarded three shots and made them all to cut the lead to one. Arenas then drove the court and launched a running 3-pointer at the horn. Simmons was whistled for a foul, and coach Terry Stotts was given a technical for arguing the call. Arenas made four straight free throws to put Washington ahead 87-82 going into the fourth.

Notes: Bucks G Maurice Williams returned after missing one game with sprained left ankle. … Wizards F Etan Thomas sat out his second straight game with a sprained lower back. … Redd became the second player in franchise history to score 2,000 points in a season. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in five times. Redd also passed Jon McGlocklin to move into 11th place on the team all-time scoring list. … The Bucks would have clinched fifth with a win because they had beaten the Wizards twice earlier this season, both times by three points.

AP-ES-04-18-06 2152EDT

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