Struggling Bucks up next for Cavaliers
The Milwaukee Bucks’ recent fall has almost certainly cost them a shot at home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
If it continues, they could play themselves into an unfavorable first-round matchup with Cleveland, Atlanta or worse, out of the postseason altogether.
Three of their final 13 games come against those top two teams in the Eastern Conference, with a date with the Cavaliers beginning that stretch Sunday in Milwaukee.
The Bucks (34-35), losers of five straight and 12 of 15, are situated in sixth place in the East and have fallen six games back of fifth-seeded Washington and seven behind the fourth spot. The greater concern should be the five teams within striking distance of them that could force their attention to the draft prematurely.
The extended slump has coincided with the acquisition of Michael Carter-Williams from Philadelphia. The Bucks are 4-12 since the deadline deal that also sent Brandon Knight to Phoenix, but their coach defends the move.
"Sometimes you’ve got to look in front of you and so I think the trade was a good thing, a positive thing no matter how our record shakes out," said Jason Kidd, whose team faces the Cavs (45-26), Miami, Indiana and NBA-leading Golden State on a four-game homestand. "We’re here to build something, not to do something in six months, right. This is a bigger picture and so we feel that we have a core here that will be around for a long time and have success."
Friday’s 129-127 triple-overtime loss in Brooklyn was the latest slip up after Milwaukee led by 10 at halftime, and it was an especially costly one since the Nets are one of the teams trailing the Bucks.
Carter-Williams, shooting 30.0 percent in his last five games, was the only starter not to reach 20 points, and the point guard’s 19 came on just 7 of 26 from the field. In two games against Cleveland this season, he’s averaged 10.0 points on 9 of 28 and 1 of 8 from beyond the arc.
Khris Middleton managed 29, but Carter-Williams’ fellow guard has shot 37.0 percent on the losing streak and is 4 of 14 for an average of 6.0 points in two games against Cleveland.
The Cavs, conversely, have a playoff spot secured after Friday’s 95-92 home victory over Indiana. It was their eighth win in 10 games, and they find themselves three games clear of Chicago at the top of the Central Division heading into a three-game road trip. They’re an NBA-best 26-6 dating to Jan. 15, but all of those losses have come on the road as part of a 7-6 away stretch.
It’s their first trip back to the playoffs since 2010 – the end of LeBron James’ first stint in Cleveland.
"It feels amazing," said Kyrie Irving, who along with teammates Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson hasn’t played an NBA playoff game. "It’s an awesome thing. I can’t wait for it."
Some of Irving’s best basketball has come against Milwaukee. Among teams he’s faced more than five times, his 25.3-point scoring average against the Bucks ranks third, and his 51.7 field-goal percentage is his best.
Love has also been strong against Milwaukee, averaging 23.4 points and 14.4 rebounds over his past eight games.
The Bucks have won eight of nine against the Cavs in Milwaukee, but all of those games have come with James either resting or wearing a Heat uniform.
The teams have split two games in Cleveland – James and Love both missed the second – with another meeting in Milwaukee coming on April 8.