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Bucks execute down the stretch to knock off Lakers

Eric Bledsoe celebrated a new contract in perfect style.

Bledsoe scored 31 points, with his 3-point play starting a decisive 13-0 run in the final 2:25, as the Milwaukee Bucks pulled away for a 131-120 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night at the Staples Center.

Bledsoe agreed to a four-year, $70-million contract extension earlier in the day, then led the Bucks to their 10th straight road victory, one off the franchise record set in 1971.

With their seventh straight victory overall, the Bucks matched their season-opening streak and improved to a league-best 48-14. The Bucks also became the first team to clinch a playoff spot with the victory

Bledsoe added nine rebounds and five assists to his big day and night.

Malcolm Brogdon added 21 points, Khris Middleton finished with 18 and Giannis Antetokounmpo chipped in 16 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in a “quiet” night for him.

LeBron James and Brandon Ingram each scored 31 for the Lakers, but the game seemed to turn on two key defensive plays against James in the closing minutes.

After Bledsoe’s 3-point play gave the Bucks a 119-118 lead with 2:25 left, James lost control of a drive and got pinned under the basket by Antetokounmpo and Ersan Ilyasova. Trying to muscle Ilyasova out of his way, James was called for an offensive foul with 2:10 left.

Brogdon added two free throws with 1:54 left to give the Bucks a 121-118 lead, prompting a Lakers timeout. Instead of taking the ball in the front court, the Lakers chose to inbound full-court. The Bucks pressured, with Brogdon and Ilyasova sandwiching James. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tried to feather a pass between the defenders, but Ilyasova tapped the ball to Khris Middleton, who found Brogdon alone in the corner for a 3-pointer with 1:48.

The Lakers panicked from there. James missed a long 3-pointer, leading to a Bledsoe triple that made it 127-118, and the Lakers were finished.

Ilyasova added 12 points, and Nikola Mirotic chipped in 11 as the Bucks bench outscored the Lakers’ bench, 34-21.

Where the Lakers had their way offensively through the first three quarters, the Bucks clamped down in the final four minutes.

After James’ 3-pointer gave the Lakers a 118-116 lead with 3:11 left, the Lakers committed turnovers on their next three possessions, leading to Bledsoe’s 3-point play, Brogdon’s two free throws and Brogdon’s 3-pointer.

By the time the Lakers got their next shot up with 1:34 left, they were down by six.

Simply put, the Bucks executed, the Lakers didn’t. Milwaukee went 3 for 4 from the field (2 for 3 on 3-pointers) and 7 for 7 from the line in the final 2:25. The Lakers went 1 for 5 with three turnovers in that span.

The Bucks reached 34 games over .500 for the first time since finishing the 1984-85 season at 59-23.

Milwaukee also made some news off the court in addition to Bledsoe’s contract. ESPN reported first that the Bucks will sign veteran center Pau Gasol for the stretch run when he clears waivers Sunday. Gasol has reached a buyout agreement with the San Antonio Spurs.

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