The Bucks struggled through another bout of late game jitters on Tuesday night, as they hung on to beat the severely undermanned Boston Celtics at home. They now face the languishing Brooklyn Nets in what will be the second to last regular season game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. It will be the third and final match up between the two teams this season, with the Bucks taking out the first two contests by an average of 20 points.
With the Bucks latest win, they moved to 42-36 on the season, bringing them to a tie with the Washington Wizards for 7th, and within a half game of the Miami Heat in 6th. With just four games remaining on the schedule, the Bucks face both playoff and draft implications down the stretch.
As a part of the Eric Bledsoe trade, if the Bucks record leaves them holding between the 11-16 draft pick, they will lose their first rounder. According to tankathon.com they currently sit in the 16th position right now, meaning every game is critical to retaining that selection.
The difference between winning and losing against Boston was as simple as Giannis Antetokounmpo staying out of foul trouble. Unlike the game in Denver, the Bucks had their weapon in the final few minutes, and he ensured victory was theirs. A mammoth chase down block off the glass with 53.4 seconds remaining on Jaylen Brown bringing the BC to their feet. The Greek Freak finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal, in a brilliant all-round performance. The win also ensured the Bucks were able to clinch a playoff spot with the Pistons losing to Philadelphia yesterday.
The Nets are looking towards the seasons end, with playoffs out of reach weeks ago, they have endured yet another long campaign. After starting the season 11-15, it has all fell apart for Brookyn, who have won just 14 of their last 52 games. Their latest loss, a 26 point beat down at the hands of the Sixers. The Nets defense has dropped right off, as they have now allowed the opposition to top 100 points in the last 17 games.
On the injury front, the Bucks remain without Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova, as their return from quad and ankle injuries respectively continues to get closer. Thon Maker was listed as probable before the Celtics game and was expected to play, but he didn’t see court time as Tyler Zeller and John Henson took the center duties. Maker is expected to be available tonight if required. DeMarre Carroll (hip) will miss for the Nets, while Allen Crabbe will be a game day decision after missing the last game with illness.
As mentioned earlier, there is a whole lot on the line for the Bucks tonight, a win is vital in importance heading towards the playoffs. The Nets have been easy picking for Milwaukee so far this season, they will look to continue that trend this time around.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- No time for complacency: Unfortunately for the Bucks, they enter the final week of the regular season with plenty on the line. At a time where playoff teams may look to rest their stars, the Bucks simply cannot afford to do so. With higher playoff seeding still up for grabs, every game is a must win. Milwaukee have had some shaky moments over the last week, especially in fourth quarters and must not allow this one to get to a position where they could slip up. Giannis, Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker need to take over this game early, and ensure they are getting their rest in the fourth quarter.
- Be aware the Nets will let fly: Brooklyn haven’t been a strong shooting team from the outside this season. They rank 24th league wide for three-point percentage at 35.3. Part of this is due to their willingness to let fly from behind the arc. They shoot the second most triples per game in the NBA as a team, and pose a legitimate threat to a Bucks defense that is prone to giving opposition offenses open looks. Across the first two games in the series, the Nets have shot 17-for-63 from deep, just 26 percent. Tonight is not the night to tempt fate and allow them to get hot. Be aware.
- Build the big four’s chemistry: Until the Boston game, Joe Prunty has largely kept an ace up his sleeve. That is, playing Giannis, Bledsoe, Middleton and Parker all at the same time. We’ve seen it in spurts, but against the Celtics, we seen the quartet play key minutes together in an exciting glimpse into the future. Due to various injuries to Parker and Middleton, we have rarely seen these guys on the floor together. There will be some chemistry issues, but now is the time to work through that and find out just how damaging these guys can be. Offensively, it’s a powerful lineup, it’s time to unleash these guys as a unit.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus