The Bucks hopes of finishing anywhere but 8th, it turned out, didn’t die last week in Denver, and neither did Denver’s hopes after the Bucks gave them new life (the Nuggets beat the T-Wolves and the Clippers last week to all but eliminate the Clippers and give themselves a shot at 8th in the West). The Bucks and Heat are tied with 43-37 records, the Heat holding the tie-breaker and 6th seed in the East. Both teams are in action tonight: The Bucks face Orlando in Milwaukee while the Heat host the Thunder in Miami. The Wizards are 8th at 42-38 after losing to the spoiler Atlanta Hawks Sunday. In the East, 8th means a Toronto series and is to be avoided.
The turning point in the Bucks outlook had nothing to do with the Bucks or their temporary coaching staff, and everything to do with Kyrie Irving‘s infected left knee and the news that his inaugural season in Boston was over.
With the injury news April 5, the Heat and the Wizards joined the 7th seed sweepstakes to play Kyrie-less Boston, locked in at No. 2 in the East. Both teams dumped games to lottery teams while the Bucks were doing the same in Milwaukee Thursday under a barrage of Brooklyn 3-pointers (19 makes, 19 misses by the Nets). Then the Wizards lost to the Hawks, and not on purpose. John Wall‘s back from knee surgery but his teammates had grown accustomed to playing without him. A Kobe-style drama may be playing out in D.C., with the immediate beneficiaries the Bucks and their playoff seeding.
In this race in the bottom rungs of the Eastern Conference playoff ladder, if you run too fast you could end up playing Lebron and the Cavs in the Round 1 — and nobody wants that with the possible exception of Giannis Antetokounmpo who would consider it an honor, a challenge, a learning experience and a chance to pull off an incredible upset. The rest of the Bucks? Let’s just say Giannis would be resting his knees and ankles and watching Toronto Raptors games had his teammates not had some fun winning in New York Saturday.
He is expected to play tonight against Orlando. (Not anymore – Giannis was a game time scratch).
So now the trick is to somehow wedge into 7th between Washington and Miami while avoiding the mistake of winning too much and becoming Round 1 fodder for Lebron and NBA refs. It’s better off said — the last thing the NBA wants is Lebron out of the playoffs after only a few games. If the Bucks were good enough to upset the Cavs (which they’re not), the refs would be sure to make said task so supremely difficult that only someone like Giannis could possibly succeed without help from one of the Avengers (preferably not “arrow guy” Clint, who’s No. 1 on the “will probably die in the next movie” list).
First up, the Bucks host the Orlando Magic tonight in the last regular season Bucks game that will ever be played at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a building that saw a lot of losing by the Bucks over the years and only two playoff series wins, yet houses two generations of nostalgia for those who came to know, love and routinely regret their uncharted fates as fans of the Milwaukee Bucks. We waited years for the criminal investigation into the crooked refereeing in Game 4 vs. the Sixers 2001, to no avail. All we got is Jim Rome yelling about it on TV, a Ray Allen trade only George Karl loved, and a bunch of fledgling bloggers invested in Michael Redd for no reason they could explain. It was weird, weirder even than the drama of this season — and that’s only the stuff that happened after the internet. The 1990s were often weirder but usually a lot more fun despite the Bucks needing the entire decade to build a winner in the BC, where once upon a time everyone knew how to stay on beat for the DEFENSE chant. Who let the dogs out, indeed!
What’s killing Bucks fandom now is the idea that the Bucks are supposed to win. It’s a pretty dumb idea, looking up and down the roster and the payroll. But there it is, this idea that the Bucks time has arrived with Giannis. Now that time is here, the fans tip-tap their smart phones and wonder when.
Bucks need a win tonight – Can the Bucks beat the 24-win Magic in this final Bradley Center game? The last time the Bucks played Orlando, Jonathon Simmons and D.J. Augustin rained 13-21 threes on the Bucks and the Magic held off the Bucks in the 4th to win 126-117 (funny, same thing the Nets did to the Bucks on Thursday). Simmons isn’t likely to play tonight due to a “right wrist contusion”, the Bucks are at home and the Magic closer to wrapping it up with a primo lottery pick. The Magic won’t be as tough as Brooklyn, and Malcolm Brogdon is expected to play (not sure if this sarcasm or not).
But who am I kidding? The Bucks will beat Orlando tonight because most folks around the NBA have little more than a vague awareness the game is being played at all, and — more importantly — because a win by the Bucks could quite possibly create a dilemma for the Bucks in Philly on Wednesday in the season finale. Dilemma, conundrum, Hobson’s choice — to win or not to win — a fitting way for the Bucks to end this rather Shakespearean season of theirs.
Dispense with the Magic, beat the Sixers and the Bucks could quite possibly find themselves in 6th. Unfortunately for the Bucks, handing the Sixers a loss will almost surely vault the Cavs into 3rd, which means the Bucks would head to Cleveland over the weekend to begin the playoffs. The Cavs finish their schedule with back-to-back games against the Knicks, who, as the Bucks found on Saturday, don’t have a lot to work with right now other than Michael Beasley (half the roster’s on the injury report). The Sixers are on a 14-game winning streak which should run to 15 games in Atlanta Tuesday, barring another spoiler win by the Hawks.
Meanwhile in Miami – The Heat tonight host a desperate OKC team that still hasn’t clinched a playoff birth in the West. Russell Westbrook cast as desperado in Miami, rocketing all over the court, raging at every injustice seen and unseen, demanding sublime efforts from Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to nail down the playoff berth. This will be great TV tonight, and there’s more ahead Tuesday and Wednesday in the West match-ups. Pity the Heat, who could be looking to avoid the 8th seed on Wednesday against 1st place Toronto. I don’t see how the Heat win the OKC game, with Hassan Whiteside and Erik Spoelstra warring again last week over Whiteside’s playing time and the wags talking off-season trade (attention: Jon Horst). OKC plays center Steven Adams full-time minutes, so Whiteside should get his PT tonight.
While the Thunder have yet to clinch a playoff spot, the Pacers, who traded Paul George for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo in the offseason, locked up the #5 seed over the weekend. Addition by subtraction and teamwork, a breakout year for Oladipo, and a few smart moves by the GM; “trust the process” in Philly — the Pacers and Sixers are where the Bucks thought they’d be this season.
Meanwhile in Washington – The Wizards host those shorthanded Celtics on Tuesday. There’s a lot of silver in the clouds for the Celtics, no matter what happens in the playoffs. The Celtics have nothing to play for in D.C., except to run offense for recent acquisition Greg Monroe — 17.7 pts, 7 rebs, 5.7 asts avg. for Monroe in his last three games, and a triple-double against the Bulls on Friday) — and build experience for their young forwards, 19-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown. A Bucks win over the Magic coupled with a loss to the Celtics Tuesday would lock the Wizards in 8th.
A Wizards win against the Celtics would mean the Wizards would have to lose in Orlando or the Heat would have to lose both of their remaining games for the Bucks to end up 7th. (Assuming the Bucks beat the Magic tonight.) Don’t ask me if Toronto will be resting players and taking the night off in Miami Wednesday.
And don’t ask whether the Bucks can beat the Sixers in Philly. Let’s see if the Bucks can take Orlando first.