Mon. Final: Bucks 98, Magic 80
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- With their loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Orlando Magic have dropped three straight games to teams that aren't going to the playoffs.
But their players aren't panicking, knowing that things should turn around in a hurry when the games become more meaningful and they're back at full strength.
"We'll be OK," forward Tony Battie said. "We got our starters some rest, we got our bench players some minutes. We'll be ready to go when it counts."
Richard Jefferson scored 24 points Monday as the Bucks beat a Magic team missing Dwight Howard and two other starters, 98-80.
Ramon Sessions added 19 points in the home finale for the Bucks, providing a late high note in what has otherwise been a disappointing season for Milwaukee.
The Bucks have won two straight. But coach Scott Skiles would have preferred to see such performances when the team was still in contention for a playoff berth a month ago.
"Nobody should be given a medal just because we don't bail out on the season," Skiles said. "The judgments are made when we really had big games."
Courtney Lee had 17 points for the Magic, who shot an ugly 31.8 percent from the field and went only 2-for-18 from 3-point range.
"We just couldn't find anybody to make a shot," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Add in a fashion foul by Howard, who was not on the bench after halftime because he apparently was in violation of the NBA's dress code, and it was a rough night all around for the slumping Magic.
Van Gundy sat Howard to get him some rest for the postseason, and Howard spent the first half cracking up teammates and fans with his running commentary from the end of the bench.
But he disappeared after halftime, apparently at the league's request.
Howard wasn't wearing a suit Monday night -- but he wasn't exactly slumming it, either, sporting a sweater and dress shirt, dress pants and shoes, and a sparkling diamond-studded watch.
"I was upset!" Howard said as he left the locker room after the game. "I wanted to go out there and support my team."
Van Gundy knew Howard was in the locker room in the second half, where Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis also were receiving treatment for injuries. But Van Gundy said he wasn't aware that a league official had called about his attire.
"He can afford the fine," Van Gundy cracked.
Dress code nitpicking aside, Orlando could have used Howard in a uniform.
"I'm not kicking myself on the decision," Van Gundy said. "I'm still convinced it was the best thing to do."
Milwaukee went into the fourth quarter leading 71-60. Orlando's Adonal Foyle powered a 6-0 run to begin the period, hitting shots on back-to-back possessions and then grabbing a pair of offensive rebounds to set up a running jumper by Lee.
But Milwaukee answered with a 7-2 run of its own, getting a 3-pointer by Jefferson and a pair of shots by Malik Allen. Orlando didn't mount a serious challenge the rest of the way.
After losses to New York and New Jersey, Orlando was without starters Turkoglu and Lewis because of nagging injuries. So Van Gundy figured it was a good time to rest Howard as well.
Lewis has right knee tendinitis and Turkoglu has a sprained left ankle. Van Gundy said Turkoglu would have played if Monday was a playoff game -- and Turkoglu voiced his agreement as he walked past Van Gundy's postgame news conference.
Magic G J.J. Redick also sat out with back spasms -- but he was wearing a suit, so he got to stay on the bench in the second half.
Milwaukee came into this season expecting improvement and stayed in playoff contention even after season-ending injuries to Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut. But the Bucks ran out of steam in the final month.
"It's very difficult to go home early," Jefferson said.
Notes: Bucks G Luke Ridnour missed the game after his wife gave birth to a boy, Traden Lukas, earlier in the day. ... Bucks C Francisco Elson returned after sitting out four games with a strained right hip flexor. ... Marquette basketball coach Buzz Williams attended Monday's game.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)