The trip to the mountains didn’t go according to plan.
Splitting back-to-back games in Denver and Utah would have left the Milwaukee Bucks in good shape heading into a three-game homestand before the All-Star break. Instead, the Bucks suffered two different but equally painful losses leaving them just two games over .500 and now tied with Boston for the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.
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With Philadelphia slowly creeping up and trying to knock Milwaukee out of the playoffs, the three games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center prior to the break have gone from important to critical. Why? Because two of the three opponents coming to Milwaukee are teams the Bucks should beat and the third is the team chasing them.
Anything short of winning all three games will continue to raise questions as to whether this team has a chance to do postseason damage or will have to fight just to make the playoffs. Losing to either Detroit or Washington would be deemed a bad loss, and losing to the 76ers would only help Philadelphia’s hopes of catching the Bucks.
The schedule gets tougher after the break, and the trade deadline looms on Feb. 21, just two games after the All-Star Game. Those two games are an odd back-to-back against the same team, Feb. 19 in Brooklyn and then the next night against the Nets in Milwaukee.
Though the Bucks are going to have players tossed around in trade rumors simply because their contracts are up in the air after this season, general manager John Hammond’s strategy for this season likely is going to be impacted by how his team finishes these three games.
Going into the break 28-23 with a legitimate chance to catch Atlanta, Brooklyn or Chicago to move up in the playoff seeding is drastically different than limping in at 26-25 or 25-26.
With the worst home record among playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks must use their second-longest homestand of the season to not only build momentum in their own building but to head into the second half’s grueling schedule with a chance to make noise.