MILWAUKEE, Jan. 5 (Ticker) -- Mike James and the Milwaukee Bucks made Jermaine O'Neal a distant memory.

James scored eight of his 17 points in a decisive second-quarter run and the Bucks shot 61 percent from the field in the final three quarters en route to a 97-74 victory over the New Jersey Nets.

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One day earlier, the Bucks were victimized by O'Neal, who scored a league season-high 55 points as Indiana handed Milwaukee its third straight loss.

But after allowing Indiana to shoot 52 percent, Milwaukee responded with one of its best defensive efforts of the season, surrendering a season low in points while holding New Jersey to 35 percent (29-of-83) shooting.

"You've got to take away the easy baskets," James said. "We played some defense. Someone didn't score 40 points tonight, that's why we won."

The Bucks never trailed and pulled away with a 16-2 run to open the second quarter. James ignited the spurt with an assist on Zaza Pachulia's jumper.

After Jabari Smith and Erick Strickland traded jumpers, James scored eight consecutive points before Toni Kukoc, activated from the injured list before the game, capped the burst with a follow shot of Strickland's 3-pointer to make it 38-23 with 7½ minutes left in the half.

"We had some good looks and we were knocking them down," said James, whose team shot 54 percent (35-of-65). "It's hard to lose when you shoot that well."

"It wasn't a good night," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "We were unable to put some stops together. We were trading baskets for a while and then our offense died out. We've got a lot of work to do."

Smith scored a career-high 19 points for the Nets, who got no closer than seven points thereafter.

"One positive was Jabari," Frank said. "He stepped up and had a nice game."

New Jersey remained within striking distance at 74-63 entering the fourth period before Milwaukee broke open the game with an 18-4 run.

Reserves Strickland and Marcus Fizer combined for 10 points in the spurt as the Bucks pushed their lead to as much as 26.

"We had our bench guys bring a whole lot of energy," swingman Desmond Mason said. "Once we turned it on, we kept it on. Guys like Zaza are still diving on the floor when we're up 20 points in the fourth quarter."

Joe Smith scored 17 points and Mason added 16 for Milwaukee, which snapped a three-game losing streak.

"That's how we win games," Strickland said of the balanced attack. "That's how we have to play to win."

"Guys are starting to understand what we're trying to do," James said. "We put together four good quarters, something we haven't done a lot of this year."

Even when the Nets had the chance to score easy baskets, they couldn't. Early in the fourth quarter, Richard Jefferson missed an uncontested dunk, got the offensive rebound, then was called for an offensive foul.

"It was bad all around," New Jersey point guard Jason Kidd said. "We have to play defense or we're going to lose a lot of ballgames."

Frank pulled his three stars -- Jefferson, Kidd and Vince Carter -- with six minutes remaining but said he wasn't trying to make a statement.

"I think we're all upset," Frank said. "As a whole, we didn't get it done. It wasn't to single out those guys. The game was out of reach."