MILWAUKEE — Thanks to the Detroit Pistons’ loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Milwaukee Bucks will take to the court Thursday against Brooklyn assured of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Where the Bucks will be seeded and ultimately who they’ll face when the postseason begins remains to be season, leaving plenty to play for over the final four games of the regular season.
Those four games also give forward Jabari Parker chances to build up his strength as he continues his return from ACL surgery in February.
Coach Joe Prunty has been using a gradual approach with Parker, who’s averaging 11.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in 27 games since making his season debut Feb. 2.
“We want fast food faster,” Prunty said. “Everybody wants it now. What he’s done in a very short amount of time is not easy. So his progression of minutes, he’s earned what he’s getting. We need him to be good. He’s a huge part of what we’re doing … and going forward he’s going to be a big part of that success.”
Parker scored 35 points on 14-of-23 shooting with 10 rebounds in the Bucks’ disappointing overtime loss last weekend at Denver and finished with 12 Tuesday night in Milwaukee’s victory over Boston, with seven of those coming during a 16-4 second-quarter run.
He’s admitted that coming off the bench to play often inconsistent minutes has been frustrating at times, but is happy just to be back on the floor and contributing after tearing the same ACL twice in the last three seasons.
“I’m just in that rhythm,” Parker said. “Right now, coming off the bench playing the last of the first quarter and then the beginning of the second, that’s my rhythm right now. I don’t have any negativity toward that as long as I play. That’s all I care about.”
Brooklyn will be watching the playoffs on television, playing out the string with little more than combinations of ping pong balls in its future.
The Nets bring a two-game losing streak to Milwaukee, falling to Detroit and Philadelphia, respectively, their last two times out and have dropped 12 of their last 17 overall.
They were dominated in all aspects of the game against the 76ers but were especially bad on the glass, getting outrebounded 56-36 by a Philadelphia squad playing without center Joel Embiid.
“When you don’t have physical engagement, or mental engagement, it just becomes a layupathon,” Atkinson said. “They just kept on laying it up on us and that’s just the reality of what it was.”
Jahlil Okafor hit 7 of 9 shots to finish with 15 points and added five rebounds in the 121-95 loss despite playing with a turned ankle.
He’s expected to be available Thursday night and is hoping the Nets can find a way to close out a disappointing season on a high note.
“The next four games, my teammates and I want to finish off on the right foot so that we can have a good offseason,” Okafor said.