We’re almost there. With only 10 games remaining in the 2017-18 season, the Milwaukee Bucks take on the San Antonio Spurs in a Milwaukee matinee matchup. While the Bucks (38-34) are a near-lock for the playoffs (9th-seeded Detroit is 5 games back), the Spurs (43-30) are actually at some risk to miss the postseason (9th-seeded Denver is a mere 2.5 games behind San Antonio, who is seeded 5th).
This is, to be clear, a recipe for disaster for the Bucks. Milwaukee has routinely played up (or down) to the level of their opponents, but doing so allows the other team to dictate terms. A San Antonio squad who is fighting to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since (checks watch) 1997?! Yeah, they have something to play for, even if the drama (or perhaps exaggerated drama) of the Kawhi Leonard situation rests heavy on the minds of Spurs fans.
The Bucks’ up-and-down season is right in line with their recent performance; with a 6-9 record following the NBA All Star Break and a 5-5 record in their last 10 games, the Bucks have been downright maddening. Fans have been having a hard time dealing with the final stretch of the season without seeing any significant improvements, but the sideshows that follow the organization like a traveling circus haven’t helped either.
Milwaukee might not drop out of the playoffs (they’re 98% likely to stay put, per FiveThirtyEight), but they also don’t feel likely to make a run at a higher seed. Miami (39-34, 0.5 games ahead) is in 7th place, but the Heat holds the tiebreaker advantage in an iron grip. Above them are the 6th-seeded Washington Wizards (40-32) and the 5th-seeded Indiana Pacers (42-31), meaning that it will take some dedicated scoreboard watching for the Bucks to escape the all-too-comfortable 8th seed.
Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova continue to be out with their respective injuries, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is reportedly a game-time decision with a sprained ankle.
Player to Watch: Brandon Jennings
The Bucks’ Friday night win against the Chicago Bulls was a weird game, in that Milwaukee was very much led by three guards off the bench: Tony Snell, Shabazz Muhammad, and Jennings. Jennings put up 16 points and 5 assists in 27 minutes, and with Eric Bledsoe as the only other point guard on the roster, it could be that Joe Prunty needs to lean on the new(ish) Buck again.
San Antonio enters today’s contest on a red-hot streak, winning six straight games. Gregg Popovich’s strategy of carefully managing minutes for his veterans seems to have paid off, with the injury report listing only Kawhi Leonard, who continues to work on a quadriceps injury.
That injury, though, has been a surprising storyline for San Antonio’s season. While Kawhi’s rehab has taken longer than expected and his return to the court undetermined, reports abound of the injury “dividing the team” and questions about the injury’s severity are raised by his own teammates. SB Nation’s Spurs affiliate Pounding The Rock doesn’t seem to show as much concern as national media outlets, but if there’s any chance that Kawhi’s relationship with the Spurs is on the rocks, expect all the teams (yes, all 29 of them) to inquire about Leonard’s availability.
Player to Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge
The last time these two teams met, the Bucks were at the very beginning of the Eric Bledsoe Era, but Aldridge was feasting on the low block. Scoring 20 points on 14 shots, and adding 12 boards, 4 dimes, and 2 blocks for good measure, the Spurs’ featured player paced his team in what ended up being a close loss in Texas. With Giannis possibly sidelined and the full burden of the NBA season weighing down Thon Maker and John Henson, it’s feasible that Aldridge could find easy looks and propel the Spurs to a comfortable lead.