MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks are officially headed back to the playoffs, having clinched their first postseason berth in two years over the weekend. But with two regular-season games left, they still have plenty to play for, starting Monday night when they face the Charlotte Hornets at the Bradley Center.
Milwaukee will begin the day sixth in a tight race at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff field.
The Bucks (41-39) trail the fifth-place Atlanta Hawks by a game but only lead the seventh-place Indiana Pacers (40-40) by a game and lead the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat , tied for eighth place at 39-41, by two games.
Helping the Bucks’ cause will be the return of point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who missed the past four games while dealing with back issues. The second-round pick out of Virginia has been a major component of Milwaukee’s resurgence over the past six weeks and has thrust himself into Rookie of the Year consideration by averaging 10.3 points on 45.7 percent shooting, 2.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 73 games.
“Malcolm’s body of work speaks for itself and that’s what makes Malcolm special,” said Bucks coach Jason Kidd, himself the league’s Rookie of the Year back in 1995. “He didn’t let his dream get spoiled by being a second-round pick.
“He should win it. It’s a great story as a second-round pick.”
Proving Brogdon’s value, the Bucks went 1-3 in his absence.
“Honestly, my only goal was to help this team make the playoffs,” Brogdon said. “There weren’t specific stats or anything I wanted to average. There was just wanting to play as well as I could.”
He also provided a much-needed boost after Milwaukee lost Jabari Parker for the season and has emerged to form a formidable playmaking tandem with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“I’ll be glad to see Malcolm (return),” Antetokounmpo said. “It just makes the game a lot easier for us. We definitely need him. He’s been great all season.”
The Hornets (36-44) are out of playoff contention. They were officially eliminated Saturday after a 121-114 loss against the Boston Celtics.
“We’re disappointed for sure,” Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum said. “We wanted to be in a playoff spot like we did last year, but we weren’t that far away.”
Batum has emerged as a bright spot for Charlotte and is finishing on a high note. He has averaged 19.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists in four April games, including 31 points Saturday against the Celtics on 11-of-23 shooting, including four 3-pointers.
But as has often been the case too often, the Hornets couldn’t hold on down the stretch.
“Really, the story of our season has been we haven’t been able to defend in the fourth quarter,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “They had 29 (points) in the fourth, so that part of it has some symbolism.”
The two teams have spilt the first two meetings this season, with each winning on the other’s home court. The Hornets are 7-3 in their past 10 meetings with the Bucks overall and have won six straight contests at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.