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Celtics/Bucks: Playoff preview in Milwaukee?

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The Celtics have always loved Milwaukee

2009/2010 NBA Season

Bos_medium

vs.
Mil_2_medium
49-30 (25-14 road) 45-34 (28-11 home)
April 10, 2010
Bradley Center
7:30 PM
Radio: 620 WTMJ TV: FSN Wisconsin
Probable starters:
Rajon Rondo PG Brandon Jennings
Ray Allen SG John Salmons
Paul Pierce SF Carlos Delfino
Kevin Garnett PF Luc Mbah a Moute
Kendrick Perkins C Kurt Thomas

(15th) 107.6 - OFFENSE -  104.6 (23rd)
(4th) 103.4 - DEFENSE - 102.6 (1st)
(20th) 91.8  - PACE -  91.9 (18th)
Linkage

CelticsBlog / Celtics Hub / Red's Army / Loy's Place

Playoff Positioning
It was a perfect Friday for the Bucks: a win in Philly combined with Charlotte's loss in Houston and Miami's surprise home loss to the Pistons means the Bucks moved a game clear of Miami for the 5th spot and three games clear of the Bobs with just three to play. So some very good news: because the Bucks own the tiebreaker with Charlotte, Milwaukee is now guaranteed no worse than the sixth seed, meaning they avoid Dwight Howard and the Magic in the first round. [cue collective sigh of relief]

The Bucks also own the tiebreaker with Miami, so winning at least two of the final three games would guarantee the Bucks the fifth spot.  Unfortunately, the scheduling gods aren't doing the Bucks any favors on that front.  While Miami closes out its season against the bottom-feeders of the East (@Phi, @NY, NJ), the Bucks are caught in the crossfire of the Atlanta/Boston fight for the third spot--home to Boston tonight, home against Atlanta on Monday, and closing out the season Wednesday in Boston.  So while the Celtics and Bucks would face off in the first round if they played today, a lot can change between now and next Wednesday. 

On the bright side, there's probably never been a better time to face the C's.  Doc Rivers' gang have dropped five of seven and trail Atlanta by a game, though they also own the all-important tiebreaker by virtue of being a division winner.  Aside from the two games against the Bucks, they also play in Chicago on Tuesday--meaning the Bucks at least get the benefit of seeing them on the second night of a back-to-back in the finale.  Ideally the Celtics would have nothing to play for at that point and rest their aging stars, but don't hold your breath.  The Hawks play in Washington tonight and finish in Cleveland (which may be resting key guys) on Wednesday.  

Since we started debating this a couple months ago, I've always preferred a matchup with Atlanta simply because of the experience factor, but at this point it's becoming tougher and tougher to ignore the Celtics' limp to the finish line.  That's also carrying the popular sentiment, as our featured poll (see down and the left) has 63% of us preferring a matchup with Boston.  The loss of Bogut will likely make it all academic anyway, but the Bucks' success over the last week suggests they could certainly take a couple games off either team.  

JS: Jennings Enjoying the Ride
Some great quotes from Brandon Jennings yesterday, courtesy of Charles Gardner:

"Now I have to go into the playoffs and make my fame, as they say," Jennings said. "Your name is made in the regular season; your fame is made in the playoffs.

"It will be great for a lot of people to actually see the Milwaukee Bucks play. You see highlights, but a lot of people will be able to see how good and selfless we are as a team.

"I'm just excited. This is what we live for, to make it to the playoffs and see what happens. A lot of people like to predict, just like they predicted us not even making the playoffs this year. But when you get between those lines, it's up in the air."

Jennings' sense of the moment--and his youthful, fearless willingness to embrace it--is something we've seen all season, and I thought Mitchell captured a small microcosm of it in his recap of the Sixers game as well:

Brandon Jennings loves this game. Not only does he just love the sport of basketball, but he loves the NBA game; the spectacle, the camaraderie, and the attention. A group of pre-teen Philly fans was inching as close to the court as the ushers would allow, and the moment they recognized Jennings, they excitedly pointed and addressed him. With a smile on his face, he greeted them back and asked how they were doing. He then exhibited a series of impressively-quick dribble moves, punctuating the show with a gorgeous step-back 3. He turned back and winked at the kids, who were understandably slack-jawed. When's the last time the Bucks had a player that drew that kind of reaction?

We saw some of that youthful exuberance spilling over when the Bucks edged the Celtics 86-84 in Milwaukee a month ago, as Jennings didn't hesitate to trash-talk Kevin Garnett all the way down the tunnel as the teams exited the court.  You can bet Garnett will remember that when he steps on the court tonight, but that just makes it more fun, doesn't it?

Award Watch
Ian Thomsen's NBA award picks are littered with Bucks, most notably his against-the-grain selection of Jennings as his rookie of the year.  

With no help from the Bucks' best player, Olympian Michael Redd, Jennings has driven Milwaukee into playoff certainty while integrating February acquisition Salmons and bringing out the best in Andrew Bogut (before the center's season ended last weekend). I assumed Evans had run away with this award going into March, but point guards are judged according to team success, and the Bucks' winning record makes Jennings the choice here. For a point guard nothing is more important than the ability to play with, and get the most out of, teammates, and Jennings' leadership qualities were -- for this year, at least -- without peer while leading his team to the playoffs.

Thomsen also has Skiles second for coach of the year and Hammond second for executive of the year, while Bogut is on his All-NBA Second Team.  Personally, I'm having a harder and harder time seeing how Skiles shouldn't be coach of the year--honestly, is it more surprising the Bucks have won 45 games or that the Thunder have won 48? Given the Redd/Bogut injuries and all the talent (however young) in OKC, it's an easy call for me.  Hopefully voters see things the same way.    

Draft Pick Watch
It's now obvious that the Bucks will be making use of their right to swap first round picks with the Bulls--another awesome feature of the John Salmons trade, aka "the gift that keeps on giving"--but how high the pick ends up will depend a lot on whether the Bulls can sneak past Toronto for the final playoff spot.  As things stand today, the Bulls have the 12th overall pick, though they could move into the top three (which would negate the Bucks' option to trade picks) or drop a couple spots (not likely) depending on the outcome of the lottery.  

However, if they can nip Toronto for the 8th spot, the Bulls would be guaranteed the first pick outside the lottery, 15th overall. The reason for the three pick difference is that both Memphis and Houston have better records than the Bulls but are already locked into the lottery because they play in the deeper West.  There could be some movement in all these scenarios between now and next Wednesday, but overall the interests of Bucks fans are still fairly simple: keep rooting against the Bulls.