After a disheartening loss knocked them from the top of the Southeast Division, the Washington Wizards look to bounce back and reclaim first place when they visit the struggling Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

The Wizards (38-33) lost their hold on the division lead after a bizarre play helped send them to their fourth loss in five games Friday.

Leading Toronto by three points with less than four seconds remaining, Washington reserve forward Michael Ruffin intercepted the Raptors' full-court inbounds pass and tried to throw the ball in the air as time was about to run out. Ruffin, though, threw the ball too early, and Toronto's Morris Peterson retrieved it and hit a 31-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.

The Wizards were then outscored 14-9 in the extra period and fell 123-118, their seventh loss by six points or fewer in the last 12 games.

Meanwhile, Miami defeated Minnesota on Friday to take a half-game lead in the Southeast.

"Earlier, we were winning a lot of close games at the buzzer," Ruffin said. "Lately, we've been coming up on the short end with different mistakes. Giving up offensive rebounds, throwing the ball up in the air and having it go to the other team. All you can do is get stronger from it, build on it, and try to come out better the next time."

Gilbert Arenas had 34 points, but made only nine of his 29 field-goal attempts as the Wizards shot 39.8 percent. Washington has been held under 40 percent from the field in two of its last three games, but will look to rebound against one of the worst defensive clubs in the NBA.

The Bucks (25-46) are giving up 103.2 points per game, fifth-most in the NBA, while allowing opponents to shoot 47.7 percent from the floor, second-worst in the league.

That faulty defense has been especially ineffective lately, as Milwaukee is giving up 106.6 points per game during its current five-game losing streak.

Milwaukee's latest defeat was a 97-81 loss to Charlotte on Friday, the Bucks' first against the 3-year-old Bobcats. Milwaukee missed nine of 10 shots and committed eight turnovers during Charlotte's 21-3 run in a lopsided third quarter.

"Right now the game is hard enough without senseless stuff like that," said Larry Krystkowiak, 2-5 since replacing Terry Stotts as Milwaukee's coach. "I don't know exactly what it is, but we're certainly not clicking."

Injuries have been a major factor in the Bucks' struggles this season, and that will continue to be an issue as Milwaukee enters its final 11 games without three of its five projected starters. Center Andrew Bogut (foot), forward Charlie Villanueva (shoulder) and swingman Bobby Simmons (foot) will miss the rest of the season due to injury.

Despite the health issues, the Bucks will look to take advantage of a struggling Wizards club that is 12-23 on the road, including losses in nine of its last 11 away from home.

Washington, though, has won two of three against Milwaukee this season and is averaging 108.7 points per game in the series. Wisconsin native Caron Butler had 29 points, seven rebounds and nine assists to lead the Wizards to a 108-105 home victory in the last meeting Jan. 3.

Butler is averaging 24.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists against the Bucks in 2006-07.


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