The Milwaukee Bucks have squared off against potential first-round playoff opponents in each of their last two games, and neither outcome was particularly encouraging.
In Wednesday's regular-season finale, the Bucks and Boston Celtics play for the second time in five days, and depending on a few results they could be meeting at least four more times over the next few weeks in an Eastern Conference first-round series.
If Milwaukee (45-36) beats the Celtics and Miami loses at home to New Jersey on Wednesday, the Bucks will capture the fifth seed and play fourth-place Boston (50-31) in the playoffs. If the Heat win, though, Milwaukee will remain in the sixth spot and open the playoffs against third-seeded Atlanta.
"It's either Atlanta or Boston,'' Bucks guard Brandon Jennings said. "I think they are both beatable for us. We've been hanging with them the whole year. But, like they say, the playoffs are going to be a different level, so we'll see.''
Milwaukee and the Celtics met Saturday in game that had a playoff feel.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles was ejected, Boston forward Glen Davis squared off with Kurt Thomas, and Jennings was inadvertently kicked between the legs in the fourth quarter. Milwaukee trailed by three points heading into the fourth quarter, but the Celtics pulled away in the final 12 minutes and went on to win 105-90, snapping the Bucks' four-game winning streak. John Salmons led Milwaukee with 21 points, while Boston's Paul Pierce scored a game-high 24.
The Bucks had another possible playoff preview Monday against Atlanta, but again came out on the short end, losing 104-96. Salmons had a team-high 28 points, and Jennings added 21, but the rookie missed 9 of 11 from 3-point range.
The loss dropped the Bucks to 3-2 since center Andrew Bogut broke his hand, dislocated his elbow and sprained his wrist in a hard fall to the court that wrenched his right arm in an April 3 win over Phoenix. Bogut, who had 25 points and 17 rebounds in Milwaukee's only win over the Celtics this season - an 86-84 home victory March 9 - will miss the rest of the season after having hand surgery.
It was a tough loss for the Bucks, who were 16-3 when Bogut scored at least 20 points.
"That goes without saying,'' Jerry Stackhouse said. "We lost an All-Star center last week, and you don't just replace him. You try to make up ground.''
Bogut's absence was certainly felt down the stretch against the Celtics on Saturday, as Milwaukee's defense has no answers for Boston, which scored 37 points on 10 of 19 shooting in the final period.
The Celtics' win over the Bucks this past weekend was one of the few bright spots for the sputtering team over the past few weeks.
Boston could have stayed in the mix for the third seed in the East with a win in Chicago on Tuesday, but lost 101-93, its sixth defeat in nine games.
The Celtics' normally formidable defense isn't playing up to its standards, as seven of eight opponents have scored in triple digits. Only one of their previous eight opponents reached the century mark.
Pierce, who finished with 28 points Tuesday, isn't too concerned about Boston's recent slide, though.
"One game left and we've got everyone healthy going into the playoffs, which was the No. 1 goal of the season,'' Pierce said.