ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — As much talk as there has been about the Milwaukee Bucks avoiding the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the first-round meeting with the Miami Heat that would come with it, the Bucks are first focused on Step 1 of the process.
Milwaukee still hasn’t clinched a playoff spot, and losing six of its past eight games has delayed what had seemed inevitable. Still, the Bucks’ magic number for securing a spot in the postseason is at just five with 13 games to play after Philadelphia’s loss to Utah on Monday.
“It’s good people are talking about playoffs, but I hate to see people talking about it like we already made it,” Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. “That can come back and haunt us.
“We have to have the mindset that we’ve got to clinch. We’ve got to strive to play our best during these next two or three weeks and hopefully we’re playing our best walking into the playoffs.”
A win Wednesday at Philadelphia would go a long way toward getting Step 1 out of the way and reduce the magic number to three.
“It’s a big game,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “There’s no doubt it’s a big game for us and for Philadelphia. They are holding out some hope, which they should be, that a head-to-head game against the team you are chasing is important.
“Mathematics is an absolute thing. Until mathematically we are in, we aren’t in. We have to get there first. That’s Step 1, and once we get there we’ll figure out the rest of it.”
Though the math may not say the Bucks are in the playoffs yet, they are still in good shape to head back to the postseason for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Milwaukee (34-35) has been fortunate that the bottom half of the East has not taken advantage of its streakiness. Just when the Bucks seemed on track to jump out of the eighth spot after winning six of seven games, they have hit another skid, including two losses to a team ahead of them in Atlanta.
Six losses in eight games still haven’t crushed their chances of avoiding the Heat — Boston sits two games ahead of Milwaukee — but the Bucks certainly have to play better basketball as the regular season draws to a close.
The Bucks held a team meeting Monday, one Boylan found to be very productive.
“We talked a little bit about what we need to do and how we need to approach our job,” the coach said. “I think everybody is in the right frame of mind, which is important. …
“Practice was good. My coaches were great. Sometimes you just have to bring a level of positive feeling to the court. Players did that, coaches did that. We can’t hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to do what we need to do. We have to buckle up and get it done.”
The schedule doesn’t lighten for the Bucks. After playing in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Milwaukee hosts the Lakers and Thunder to close out the week. A trip to New York and a four-game road trip that includes stops in Miami and Atlanta looms in the season’s final two weeks.
“Anybody, I don’t care who we’re playing,” Mbah a Moute said. “Miami, Oklahoma City. We’ve got to go out in these games and try to get better as a team.
“Win as many games as we can, but we’ve got to play better. That’s going to translate into wins for us and give us some good momentum going into the playoffs.”