MILWAUKEE (AP) – The Milwaukee Bucks are shooting their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Andrew Bogut scored 17 points and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had 14 points, 12 rebounds and five steals to lift the Bucks to a 102-74 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

“Our defense has always been kind of stable. On the offensive end, we’re moving the ball better, guys are shooting their shot with more confidence,” Mbah a Moute said. “We need to play that way for the rest of the season if we want to make the playoffs.”

The Bucks have been the worst-shooting, lowest-scoring team in the NBA, but were anything but for a third straight game to match their season-best winning streak.

Despite a trying season because of injuries to all five starters, the Bucks (26-38) are a half-game back of Indiana and Charlotte for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“It’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?” Bogut said. Brandon Jennings scored 15 points, Keyon Dooling 13 and Carlos Delfino 12 as the Bucks got contributions from all over and blew the game open in the first half. Philadelphia never got closer than 12 after halftime.

The Sixers (34-32) started off this five-game road trip with a dud despite 16 points from reserve Lou Williams in their fourth game in five nights. They remain comfortably in seventh place in the standings, but failed to gain ground on New York.

“We came out flat in the beginning. Tried to make a run in the third quarter but it just didn’t work for us,” said Jodie Meeks, who scored 13 points.  “We just have to forget about it.”

Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala had 10 apiece, but the Sixers never seemed in sync a night after beating Boston and coming in winners of eight of the last 10. It was obvious during one ugly stretch in the third quarter.

Bogut was able to corral an offensive rebound with only his left hand by tapping it twice to himself, and as Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes converged, they got tangled up and fell to the ground. It gave Bogut a clear path for an uncontested layup.

Less than a minute later, Jrue Holiday sent an alley-oop pass in the direction of Iguodala, but Iguodala would’ve needed to get about 13 feet up in the air to finish the play. He never got close as the ball ricocheted off the backboard into the hands of Bogut for a turnover, one of 21 the Sixers committed.

“This is one of those nights you say ‘thanks’ to the NBA schedule,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said. “When we start turning the ball over like we did, that’s a sign that we’re a pretty tired team. Five games in seven nights, we’ve had some really tough games.”

Bogut finished an alley-oop from John Salmons with a minute left in the third quarter that gave Milwaukee a 78-55 lead, and the 7-footer sat the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter as the Bucks’ lead reached 34.

“Everything clicked for everybody,” Bogut said.

In the last three games, the Bucks are averaging 102.3 points, more than 10 above their season average, and shooting 50.4 percent after coming in making just 42.5 percent of their shots this season.

Milwaukee had pointed to this game as key after easy wins over hapless Washington and Cleveland. But a more formidable opponent looms Sunday night when the Bucks face Boston, tops in the Eastern Conference.

“We haven’t played well against Philly the last couple of years and they’ve sort of had our number, so it was good to get a win,” Bogut said. “But, our real test is tomorrow obviously with one of the best teams in the league. Whatever happens after tomorrow night’s game, we’re going to know where we’re at.”

Notes: Milwaukee’s starting lineup of Bogut, Jennings, Mbah a Moute, Salmons and Delfino has missed a combined 77 games this season. The Bucks most recently have been without Drew Gooden (left foot plantar fasciitis) and Ersan Ilyasova (concussion). …
Ilyasova is expected to begin light physical activity on Monday.
He’s been out seven games so far. … Bucks G Michael Redd (left knee) is expected to return in the next seven to 10 days.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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