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Bucks vs. Celtics Preview: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bucks begin last road trip of season in Boston

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Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, the Bucks and Celtics were battling for playoff positioning in the lower rung of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Next week, Boston could have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, while the Bucks will just be...well, home.

The Bucks' season has of course still had its share of major brights spots, but the last week of the Bucks' season figures to be very similar to the previous few: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker having ample opportunity to pile up big numbers, lots of young guys getting many more minutes than they otherwise would, and all the disarray and losing that comes with it.

Bucks Update

After missing the past two games with what's been called a sore thigh, Khris Middleton accompanied the team on its current three-game road trip and is listed as doubtful tonight. Via Charles Gardner:

"It was just something that happened over time," Middleton said of the injury. "I went out to shoot before the Chicago game and it just didn't feel right.

"I just felt like I couldn't play through it at that point."

While we can all appreciate Middleton's desire to play every night and the importance of players not thinking about lottery standings, it's also difficult to imagine a reason for trotting Khris out if he's anything short of 100% -- and even then there's a good case for not risking him further in the final week of the season. Middleton ranks seventh league-wide in total distance covered  (188 miles) and has played a career-high 2766 minutes this season, though he's also been remarkably durable over his career to date (knock on wood).

The absence of Middleton and Jerryd Bayless (out with a hyperextended knee) has resulted in some bizarre starting lineups over the past week, with rookie shooting guard Rashad Vaughn plugging in to defend point guards and Johnny O'Bryant and Damien Inglis each getting minutes in Middleton's stead. As a result, it's difficult to conclude much of anything from the past few games other than the importance of Middleton for the Bucks actually having a chance to win games; though they fought their way back into a competitive game against the Bulls on Sunday, the Bucks looked utterly helpless for most of their 109-80 loss to the Cavs on Tuesday. Tonight could bring some similarly weird matchups as Jabari Parker may start off the game defending the 6'3" Avery Bradley.

The silver lining of course is in the lottery standings, where the 10th seeded Bucks enter tonight's action a half game behind Denver (32-47) for the ninth slot and one game ahead of the 11th seeded Magic (33-45). While the Bucks will be long shots to win tonight, their game in Orlando this coming week figures to be a decisive one in determining whether the Bucks move up or down from their current slot. The only remaining game you'd expect the Bucks to definitely win is in Philly, as the regular season finale against Indiana could mean plenty to an Indiana team currently up just a half game on Detroit for the seventh spot.

Celtics Update

Boston has won three straight, including arguably the most impressive win of any non-Warrior team all season: a 109-106 win on Oakland that snapped the Warriors' 53-game home win streak. They were decidedly less impressive in dispatching the injury-riddled Pelicans 104-97 at home earlier this week, but whatever. Brad Stevens' club is the model for any team trying to win without superstar talent, finding success behind the diminutively dynamic Isaiah Thomas and a defense built around wings Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart.

That defense has been central to triggering an up-tempo offense that ranks third in points off turnovers and sixth in transition points per game. The Celtics rank third in forcing turnovers and second in three point defense, though they seen some bobbles on that end over the past two months. Boston's defensive efficiency has gone from 99.3 before the all-star break to 103.3 since, which goes a long way towards explaining the parallel reduction in their scoring differential from 3.9 to 1.2 points/100.

The Celtics aren't dealing with any major injuries, but a number of guys could be limited tonight in spite of Boston's obvious interest in winning its remaining games. Courtesy of our friends at Celtics Blog:

Evan Turner (eye abrasion) is expected to play but with goggles to protect the eye. He will likely be a game time decision. Marcus Smart received 4 stitches in his eye on Wednesday and is expected to play in this one. Jae Crowder will play but is still trying to get his conditioning back after coming back from the ankle injury. 

The Celtics are back in 4th place in the East. They are 1/2 game behind Atlanta (3) and are tied with Miami (5) but own the tie breaker between them. They are 1 game ahead of Charlotte (6). and 4 games ahead of Indiana (7). Milwaukee is 12th, 1.5 games ahead of New York and is playing for ping pong balls. Games to watch: BKN@CHA and MIA@ORL.

On the Celtics: Celtics Blog

15/16 NBA Season
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(32-46, 9-29 road)
Boston celtics.v67dcf1c
(46-32, 26-12 road)
April 8, 2016
TD Garden | Boston
6:30 CT
FSWI+ | 105.7 The Fan
Probable Starters
Rashad Vaughn PG Isaiah Thomas
Jabari Parker SG Avery Bradley
Johnny O'Bryant SF Jae Crowder
Giannis Antetokounmpo PF Amir Johnson
Greg Monroe C Jared Sullinger
2015/16 Advanced Stats
94.0 (23rd)
Pace 98.5 (3rd)
104.5 (24th)
ORtg 106.7 (11th)
108.8 (24th)
DRtg 103.3 (4th)