FOX Sports North breaks down the biggest storylines of the stretch run, as the Milwaukee Bucks emerge from the All-Star break chasing a playoff spot in the tightly-contested Eastern Conference.
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The schedule can have an impact
Milwaukee enters the home stretch in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games behind Detroit for the final playoff spot (but having played three fewer games than the Pistons) and just three in back of Indiana at No. 6. So there's room to move. The Bucks have 27 games left, 13 at home. Twelve of Milwaukee's final 17 games are on the road -- this includes a six-game Western Conference swing in mid-March -- so a hot start after the All-Star break could be paramount. The Bucks also have two games at current two-seed Boston and another at top-seeded Cleveland. However, of the final 27 games, only 12 are against teams currently in top-eight of either conference (i.e. a playoff team). Again, there's room to move.
NBAE/Getty ImagesGary Dineen
Can Malcolm Brogdon win Rookie of the Year?
No other drafted rookie is having better season than Brodgon. He leads all drafted rookies in points per game (9.4) and leads all rookies in assists per game (4.2), steals per game (1.18) and 3-point field-goal percentage (41.7). Brogdon's main competition is likely Philadelphia's Joel Embiid, who is averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.45 blocks per game, but he has played in just 31 games -- none since Jan. 27 -- and is expected to be out at least four more games after the break.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
What will the Bucks do at the center position?
Milwaukee lessened its glut of big men by one after trading Roy Hibbert -- who never suited up for the Bucks after being acquired from Charlotte on Feb. 2 -- to Denver. Since that deal which sent Miles Plumlee to the Hornets, John Henson had four starts but then 3 DNPs. In those four games he averaged 24.2 minutes, 9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game with a defensive rating of 110. Rookie Thon Maker has played in six games since the trade -- seeing minimal action in two (a combined seven minutes), a DNP and then four straight starts. In those six games, he averaged 12.8 minutes, 5.8 points and 3.0 rebounds. In his four starts, he played under 20 minutes in all but one (21:41 at Indianapolis). Meanwhile, Greg Monroe has come off the bench in all seven games. In the first four games, he played 22 minutes or less; in the last three: 26:19, 31:15 and 33:51. In those seven games, Monroe has averaged 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals with an offensive rating of 133 and defensive rating of 109. Spencer Hawes remains on the roster, but will the 7-foot-1 veteran get a chance? Like Hibbert, he has yet to play since being acquired from Charlotte, although he is more of a stretch-4 than a center.
The Khris Middleton factor
After missing the majority of the season, Middleton is slowly getting his sea legs back and if his last game is any indication - 25 minutes, 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting with seven assists -- he's pretty close to making a big impact. Last season, Middleton averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 36.1 minutes. He also made 143 3-pointers (39.6 percent accuracy and 40.1 percent in his career). That's the one thing Middleton hasn't really done yet -- he's attempted only four 3s, making two. If he can get back to playing 30+ minutes, he offers an outside scoring threat, which could help Milwaukee's inside game even more, not to mention someone not afraid to take a big shot down the stretch. The Bucks didn't make any major moves at the trade deadline, but they didn't need to -- Middleton being back was just like acquiring a quality player.
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Can the bench keep up the offensive attack?
The Bucks know they will get 20+ points, eight rebounds and five assists every night from All-Star starter Giannis Antetokounmpo. But with Jabari Parker out for the year, Milwaukee will continue to rely on its bench for a spark. The Bucks’ reserves rank sixth in the league with 39 points per game. Greg Monroe led the way in the first half with 11.6 points per game off the bench, and teammates Michael Beasley and Brogdon followed up with eight points apiece.