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“Juice” Recharges Bucks

As the Milwaukee Bucks entered the final four weeks of their 2014-15 regular season, they were in need of some juice, having lost five consecutive games and 11 of 15.

The Bucks’ bench, which ranked second in the NBA in scoring at 42.3 points per game entering the All-Star break, had been beset by injuries since, and was producing just 25.7 points over the first 21 games since All-Star Weekend.

Right on cue, O.J. Mayo stepped into the picture, and he has been befitting his nickname.

“Juice,” who missed 11 contests spanning Feb. 25 through March 22 with a troublesome hamstring, came off the bench to score 13 points – his highest total since Feb. 22 – in a 27-minute outing during Milwaukee’s 95-91 home victory over the Chicago Bulls on April 1.

Mayo followed that up with a 24-point outing in a 110-101 Bucks victory at Boston on April 3, hitting 9-of-13 shots – including 4-of-6 from 3-point range – and contributing five rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block.

Mayo considered his outing against the Bulls a significant step in the right direction, though his hamstring is still not where he wants it to be.

“I’m just trying to work it out,” he said. “It’s definitely not 100-percent, but whatever I can do to help the team, I definitely want to do.

“I’m getting better. I’m staying good with treatments, and the training staff is doing a great job helping me get better and ready to play and practice with the guys. I’m just going to continue working.”

Mayo provided Milwaukee with an enormous boost from the perimeter against the Bulls, draining 3-of-5 attempts from 3-point range. The Bucks offense began to resemble the one that gave opposing defenses fits during the first half of the season.

“I was just kind of reading the space,” Mayo said. “Guys were dropping back a little bit and giving me the opportunity to rise up and knock them down.”

Mayo also factored into one of Milwaukee’s better defensive efforts since the All-Star break. The Bucks limited the Bulls to 41.9 percent shooting, came up with 11 steals, blocked five shots and forced 20 turnovers.

“I thought defensively, we were really solid,” Mayo said. “Everyone made a pretty key play down the stretch, whether it was a defensive rebound, a shot or creating someone else’s shot. It was a great team win against a good team.”

“We just want to keep going out there and playing hard, with a lot of energy and trust. We’ve got to do whatever it takes to give our team a chance to win.”

Mayo came through with 20 first-half points in Milwaukee’s April 3 game at Boston, during which the Bucks faced a 52-50 halftime deficit before outscoring the Celtics 36-23 in the third quarter and holding them off to slam the brakes on an 11-game road tailspin.

Kidd noted the importance of the seventh-year pro’s contribution prior to the Bucks’ home contest against Orlando the following night.

“I think the injury … you could see last night he improved on the 27 minutes he played against Chicago,” Kidd said. “He was big for us in that first half, and he was big for us yesterday for pretty much that whole game.

“He was one of the first guys off the bench last night and he responded and got our offense going. He’s a guy that can put the ball in the basket inside and out. He was hot, and we found him and got him the ball. I thought the big thing is we played through him in the post, and he was making plays for his teammates, getting those guys shots, too. He’s not just a scorer; he can pass the ball, too.”

The victory at Boston was Milwaukee’s first on the road since the Feb. 19 deal in which the Bucks acquired Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee.

The Bucks not only got 50 points from their bench, but collected 10 steals, six blocks and outrebounded Boston 45-41.

“If you look at our bench having the output they had, they were being effective not just offensively, but defensively,” Kidd said. “We had seven guys in double figures against Boston. When we’re playing at a very high level, we’re getting six or seven guys in double figures. We’re in the high 20s or even in the 30s in assists.

“Hopefully we can continue that. We only had 18 turnovers, which is low for us. I think they’re starting to understand, because we’ve talked about it a lot of late, that we have to take care of the ball. They’re doing that.”

Mayo hopes he and the Bucks can replicate the caliber of their performances against Chicago and Boston into the homestretch of the regular season and beyond.

“We just want to keep going out there and playing hard, with a lot of energy and trust,” he said. “We’ve got to do whatever it takes to give our team a chance to win.”