After the coronation that was an enthralling victory over the Philadelphia 76ers to clinch the best record in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks are back home for their final three games of the regular season.
The win in Philly looked like it just might not be in the cards for the Bucks most of the night. Then Giannis Antetokounmpo said, “nah”, and the rest is history. He put the Bucks on his back, going for 45 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks in a masterful two-way performance that led to a 128-122 victory. Whenever the Sixers nailed another triple to keep their lead, Giannis was there to ensure the Bucks stayed close. With strong backup performance from George Hill (20 points) and Sterling Brown (12), there was just enough juice for the win. After notching a victory against Brooklyn earlier this week, they have another shot to shove the Nets further down the playoff picture. And about the topic of rest: Coach Mike Budenholzer isn’t having any of it, at least where the opening minutes are concerned. Expect the Bucks to roll out a near-full strength starting unit and probably adjust minute loads as the game wears on.
As for injuries, Tony Snell has been listed as out with an ankle issue and Ersan Ilyasova is listed as probable with “nasal fracture” as his apparent ailment.
Player to Watch: Eric Bledsoe
Following his outburst against Joel Embiid that led to an ejection just three minutes into the game, I’m sure Bledsoe will be looking to stretch his legs offensively. He did a fine job shutting down D’Angelo Russell last time too, so if he plays, look for another attempt at a defensive shutdown performance.
Not much has changed for the Nets since these teams last met. They’re still clinging to the 7th seed in the Eastern conference standings, but it’s tenuous. They’re just a half game ahead of the 9th ranked Heat and could find themselves in the outside looking in if these last few games don’t go their way. Since losing to Milwaukee, they also dropped a 115-105 game against the Raptors. Given the Nets’ death-spiral of the last four seasons, nabbing a playoff berth would be a consequential vindication of the sojourn Brooklyn has been on. Players are always motivated to win, but the Bucks don’t need a W and the Nets absolutely do. Coach Kenny Atkinson should run his top guys for significant chunks of the game while the Bucks stay content to give Bonzie Colson another 42 minutes.
Unfortunately for Brooklyn, they’ve determined that Allen Crabbe will need an arthroscopic procedure done on his knee which will keep him out for the remainder of the season.
Player to Watch: Caris LaVert
LaVert has had to live in Russell’s spotlight since returning from injury, but he was having a spectacular season before that. Against the Bucks earlier this week, he went for 24 on just 15 shots. That type of efficiency from a supplemental piece is what the Nets would need to be able to topple the Bucks tonight.
Game 80: Against the Nets the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)