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Wizards vs. Bucks final score: Washington no match for Milwaukee in 131-115 loss

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards made it clear in the first minute of Saturday’s game they would not let the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks intimidate them.

Trevor Ariza forced a turnover the Bucks’ first possession and turned it into a layup on the other end. Otto Porter Jr. got a steal on the ensuing possession and zipped the ball up ahead to Tomas Satoransky, who threw down a vicious and-one dunk on Brook Lopez.

In just 45 seconds, the Wizards had jumped out to a 5-0 lead and forced Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer to burn an early timeout.

After that, the Bucks made their own statement. Milwaukee showed Washington why they have the best point differential in the league and the best record in the Eastern Conference. They outscored them 38-20 over the final 11:15 of the quarter to take a convincing, double-digit lead.

Washington briefly cut the deficit to single digits early in the second quarter, but the Bucks responded with 15-0 run to make it clear the second half would not be a competitive affair. Then, just to be sure the message got through, the Bucks opened the third quarter on a 17-6 run to go up by 31 less than five minutes into the second half.

Washington came back with a 16-0 run to make the score look more respectable, but just when it looked like they could make it look interesting, Khris Middleton hit a circus shot to beat the shot clock and steal whatever last bit of hope Washington had left.

The Wizards didn’t lose because of a poor effort. In fact, they played the Bucks close in some key areas. They scored more points off turnovers than Milwaukee, they barely lost the rebounding battle, 46-45, and they nearly won the points in the paint battle 50-46. Problem was, Milwaukee obliterated at the free throw line and behind the arc.

The Bucks were 24-of-24 on free throws (including 17-of-17 from Giannis) and they went 17-for-39 on threes. The Wizards were 19-of-26 at the charity stripe and 10-of-33 from deep.

More than anything else, this game showed how wide the gap is between the Wizards and the league’s elite teams. Washington still might have the goods to make the playoffs if things break right, but there’s a big difference between a playoff contender and a title contender.

Next up: Washington hosts the Atlanta Hawks on Monday at 7 pm Eastern Time.