MILWAUKEE (AP) — A little veteran leadership got the young Milwaukee Bucks back on the winning track.
Caron Butler scored 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out four assists in his return to the lineup after missing 12 games with a swollen left knee, leading the Bucks to a 106-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night.
"The thing this team has desperately missed from him is his leadership," Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said of the 12-year NBA veteran. "Throughout the game he was on the court talking, pumping his teammates up. We had a couple of bad stretches, but he kept the guys positive. That's something we've missed with him being gone."
The hot-shooting Bucks recovered from consecutive overtime losses to pick up just their sixth win of the season. Khris Middleton scored 27 points and Brandon Knight added 21 points and six assists for the Bucks (6-21).
Butler played nearly 40 minutes in his return, something that Drew said wasn't part of the game plan for the chronically short-handed Bucks.
"Coach stayed in my ear consistently the whole game asking me how I felt," Butler said. "I got a rhythm early. We had the game under control from the beginning."
Milwaukee, owner of the league's worst record, led most of the game and built a 19-point cushion early in the fourth quarter, matching its largest lead in any game this season. The 76ers pulled within seven with about one minute remaining, but the Bucks converted 10 consecutive free throws to secure the win.
Butler praised Middleton, a second-year player, and rookies Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 12 points and seven rebounds, and Miroslav Raduljica, who contributed a season-high 14 points.
"(Middleton) did a great job of loosening up everything. He was finding pockets and getting in the paint and hitting floaters. I thought Giannis did a great job continuing to run the floor. (Raduljica) was huge. He was banging down there and making good decisions and keeping the ball high and not turning it over."
The injury-depleted Bucks played without starting center John Henson, who bruised his knee in a collision with the Cavalier's Anderson Varejao in the loss at Cleveland Friday night. Henson's absence left Middleton as the lone Milwaukee player to appear in all 27 games this season.
Raduljica, who has played sparingly at times this season, filled in nicely in Henson's absence.
"I'm here to help and I think I'm doing that every time I get a chance," Raduljica said. "We had two really unlucky losses and we had Caron back with great energy and he gathered us around him and everybody took part of his energy and that allowed us to win."