MILWAUKEE (AP) - Before Wednesday night's game, Bucks coach Jim Boylan stressed the importance of beating the Philadelphia 76ers, who are Milwaukee's closest challenger for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
After a shaky first-half performance in their final game before the All-Star break, Boylan lit into his team when they gathered in the locker room at halftime.
The Bucks responded with more inspired play in the second half, rallying for a 94-92 win over the Sixers.
``We didn't have too much energy. Coach came in here (at halftime) and told us off and we responded well to that,' said Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, who scored 21 points to go along with backcourt mate Monta Ellis' 27 points.
``I was in a shooting slump,' Jennings said. ``I was able to make a couple of shots tonight, finally. I got some shots to go down for us in the third quarter. Monta took care of business in the fourth quarter.'
Samuel Dalembert had 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Bucks, who ended a four-game losing streak. Milwaukee heads into the All-Star break with a four-game lead over the 76ers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
``We wanted to get that win and boost our confidence,' Dalembert said.
The Bucks ran their season record against the Sixers to 3-0, giving them the tie breaker in the playoff race.
``We put ourselves in a great position by winning this game. That's the message I sent to the team,' Boylan said.
Boylan is hoping that the All-Star break will allow his players to ``re-charge their batteries.'
``Our energy level still isn't where it needs to be,' he said.
Evan Turner had 20 points for Philadelphia, while Spencer Hawes added 19 points and nine rebounds. Jrue Holiday had 16 points and 12 assists for the Sixers.
``Turnovers were hurting us,' Hawes said. ``It is hard to win when you give away that many easy ones.'
Milwaukee didn't take its first lead until about 9:20 remained when Ellis converted a baseline floater to put the Bucks up 78-77.
After Philadelphia had taken an 81-80 lead, Ellis countered with a layup to put the Bucks back in front. Luc Mbah a Moute then made a driving layup, was fouled and converted the free throw to give the Bucks an 85-81 lead.
Dalembert hit a turnaround jumper as the shot clock expired to give the Bucks an 87-83 lead, then had a rebound and put-back to hand Milwaukee a seven-point cushion. But back-to-back baskets by Hawes and a layup by Turner cut the Bucks' lead to one.
A field goal by Ellis gave the Bucks a 93-90 advantage. After a Dalembert miss, Jennings stole the ball on the ensuing possession with less than one minute remaining. After Ellis missed a spinning layup attempt, Turner hit a lay-in with 20.2 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 93-92. Ellis then converted one of two free throws 11.2 seconds left for the final margin.
A scramble after a missed shot by Holiday led to a jump ball. Philadelphia gained possession but Mbah a Moute deflected a pass, saved the ball from going out of bounds and the clock expired as the ball bounced to the other end of the court.
``Their speed and quickness really bothers us,' Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said of the Bucks' second-half comeback. Milwaukee had 18 points off turnovers. That hurt us.'
The win marked the tenth time this season that the Bucks have won after rallying from a deficit of 10 or more.
After trailing throughout the first half, the Bucks cut the lead to one early in the third but the 76ers responded with an 8-0 run to take a 66-57 lead with 5:20 remaining in the period. However, an immediate 10-1 run by the Bucks, capped by a driving layup by Mike Dunleavy, tied the score at 67. Philadelphia held on for a 75-72 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The Bucks made only 35.6 percent of their shots in the first half, compared with 55.9 percent for the 76ers.
``This win would have felt great. It's very disappointing,' Young said. ``You just try to do your best over the All-Star break to get over it.'
With Larry Sanders, who leads the league with 3.2 blocked shots per game, still sidelined with a back injury, the Bucks failed to record a block in the first half for the second consecutive game. Milwaukee had 10 blocks in the second half.
``Everybody was block shots out there, and that's what we need,' Dalembert said.
In the locker room after the game, Jennings addressed media reports earlier Wednesday that he has ``irreconcilable differences' with the Bucks organization.
``People are going to say things. Stuff that was said earlier today wasn't out of my mouth,' Jennings said.
When asked if he expected to be with the Bucks following the trade deadline, Jennings said: ``To be honest, I don't know. I would love to be. Right now, everything is up to my agent. Whatever happens, before I leave I want to be able to accomplish something here in Milwaukee.'
Boylan said he didn't put much stock in the report.
``Brandon and I talk all the time. I talk to a lot of people around the league and a lot of people around Brandon,' Boyan said. ``I don't get that feeling from his people. He's here. He's a Milwaukee Buck. He's going to do whatever he can to help us win and all that other stuff will take care of itself.'
Notes: Bucks F Larry Sanders missed his fourth consecutive game with a lower back contusion. Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan said Sanders sought a second opinion on the injury and that the team was awaiting the results of the latest series of tests. An initial bone scan conducted after Sanders fell hard on Feb. 5 at Denver did not show any fracture. ``Hopefully in the next day or so we'll have a better idea of where we're at,' Boylan said. ... Philadelphia F Thaddeus Young sat out as his continues to nurse a hamstring injury. ... 76ers coach Doug Collins said he and his team are ready for some much needed time off during the All-Star break. ``We've been through a lot this year. It's been a tough year for us.'
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