WASHINGTON -- Defensive lapses put the Milwaukee Bucks in a terrible position Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.
Then the Bucks went on a spirited third-quarter run to erase a 20-point in just over 7 minutes.
But it proved to be false hope.
Washington point guard John Wall and his teammates regained control in the fourth quarter as the Wizards grabbed a 106-93 victory and handed the Bucks their second loss in two nights.
The good vibrations from the California road trip, where the Bucks went 2-1, have vanished with the back-to-back losses to Dallas and Washington.
And next up?
Only the Miami Heat and its 20-game winning streak on Friday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
"I think in both cases the defense hasn't been good," Bucks guard J.J. Redick said of the two straight defeats. "And to start the game, really, we've got to get off to better defensive starts.
"That's on our group. We have to communicate better; we have to have each other's back. In this league there's multiple options on every play. Everybody is a capable player. You've got to do it as a team. That's the biggest thing."
The Bucks (32-31) allowed 60 points in the first half and gave up 30 or more points in three of the four quarters.
Wall led the Wizards (21-42) with 23 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and four steals and kept his team in a good rhythm throughout the game.
And the Wizards' interior tandem of Nene and Trevor Booker dominated the paint, with Nene contributing 13 points and 13 rebounds and Booker adding 13 points and 12 rebounds in 22 productive minutes off the bench.
Washington scored 58 points in the paint and shot 50 percent, hitting 43 of 86 attempts.
It was a costly loss for the Bucks, who dropped 21/2 games behind sixth-place Boston and seventh-place Atlanta (two in the loss column) in the Eastern Conference race. The Celtics beat Toronto and the Hawks beat the Los Angeles Lakers.
"We've had a tough stretch," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "Four in five (four games in five nights) all over the country and we split, 2-2. In the big picture it's not the end of the world.
"Disappointed in the last two games we've lost. Sometimes the schedule can catch up to you a little bit, and I think it showed in the fourth quarter. We were down at half and we got some real good leadership in the locker room at halftime. That was a real good sign for us."
Guard Monta Ellis was one of the vocal players who urged his teammates to respond after they trailed by 16 at intermission.
Washington led, 66-46, with 9 minutes 16 seconds left in the third quarter but the Bucks caught fire and took the lead at 73-72 on a jumper by Ersan Ilyasova with 2:12 remaining in the period. The Bucks extended the run to 32-9 to take a 78-75 lead into the final quarter.
But Booker had nine points and Wall eight as the Wizards outscored the Bucks, 31-15, in the fourth quarter.
The Bucks' frustrations boiled over as center Larry Sanders was ejected with 2:45 left in the game after being called for a charging foul. Sanders gave the thumbs-up sign to all three officials -- Bennie Adams, Kevin Cutler and Bennett Salvatore -- and was given the heave-ho by Salvatore.
"I really want to win," Sanders said of his response. "I want to gain some momentum going into the playoffs and seal our position. I felt like we fought hard but we didn't play our best.
"There were a lot of things I was frustrated with."
It was Sanders' third ejection of the season after being tossed out of games in Miami in November and in Portland in January.
Ellis led the Bucks with 26 points and added eight assists, and Ilyasova had 21 points and 12 rebounds. Redick scored 16 points while playing 28 minutes.
Point guard Brandon Jennings was in single-figures for the second straight night, scoring just eight points and picking up 10 assists. He took just one shot in the first half.
"Now all of a sudden it's a problem because I'm not shooting as much.," Jennings said
"But when I was shooting it was a problem. So, now that I'm not shooting it's like, 'Maybe he doesn't want to play basketball.' I do. I'm just looking for my teammates more.
"Maybe I fell in love with passing too much."
Jennings said the tough travel might have contributed to the Dallas loss.
"Not tonight, though," he said. "When we made that run in the second half, I felt like we had them.
"Usually teams like that, they kind of die down. But they just kept pushing."
(c)2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services