The Milwaukee Bucks have quietly become a scary playoff sleeper
Unless you live in Wisconsin or subscribe to NBA League Pass, it’s unlikely that you’ve watched much of the Milwaukee Bucks this season. Despite boasting one of the NBA’s most exciting players in All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks just haven’t gotten a lot of national exposure when compared to teams like the Warriors, Cavs, Celtics, Spurs and Thunder.
That will likely change next month.
After holding off the Clippers 97-96 in a rare nationally televised game Wednesday night, Milwaukee improved to 8-2 in March and vaulted themselves from outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture into the seventh seed, just a half game ahead of both the Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons.
If the Cavs or Celtics are hoping for an easy first-round series, they should probably start rooting to land one of those other two squads.
Even without third-year star Jabari Parker, who’s tore his ACL last month, the Bucks have rounded into form to go 11-5 since the injury. In Antetokounmpo, you have not just an offensive star averaging 23 points and 5.5. assists per game, but a defensive matchup nightmare who can shut out opponents both inside and outside and is on pace to be one of only two players in the last decade to finish the season in the Top 10 in both blocks and steals per game.
But it’s not just the Greek Freak contributing to the team’s success. Six players scored in double figures against the Clippers on Wednesday, with talented 6’8″ wing Khris Middleton finally looking recovered from a hamstring injury that kept him out most of the season.
The Bucks have size in center Greg Monroe and rookie Thon Maker and the Cavs certainly know all about guard Matthew Dellavedova.
In their four matchups with Cleveland this season, the Bucks won the first game in November by 17 thanks to a then career-high 34 points by Antetokounmpo. They took the Cavs to overtime in Milwaukee in a 114-108 loss in December before losing by 11 in Cleveland the next night in a back to back. Already missing Parker, the Bucks were also without Middleton in their final regular season game against the Cavs on February 27 which resulted in a 102-95 loss. The Cavs won the regular season series, as they would likely do in a playoff one, but it wasn’t exactly easily earned.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 30, 2016
The Celtics have only faced Milwaukee once, escaping with a 112-108 overtime win in late January. They’ll see them two more times in the final month of the season and likely get a more accurate read on what kind of team could be waiting in the first round.
Coach Jason Kidd’s Bucks may not have enough depth to topple whichever top team they meet in mid-April (if they somehow get enough momentum to snatch the sixth seed from Indiana, that may become another conversation), but they’re certainly not going to make it easy either … and if you’re the Celtics or Cavaliers, they’re probably the last 7 or 8-seed they would ever want to see.