Preview: Bucks at Nuggets
Entering the final days of the regular season, it would take a monumental collapse for the Milwaukee Bucks to not reach the postseason.
It would take the Denver Nuggets a near monumental finish to reach the playoffs.
The teams square off Sunday night in what is a more critical game for the Nuggets, who are two games back of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference with six games remaining. Denver (41-35) resurrected its fledgling hopes with an overtime win in Oklahoma City on Friday night to finish a seven-game road trip 3-4.
The Nuggets finish their season with four of six at home, starting with Milwaukee (41-35). They will have to make this final push without second-leading scorer Gary Harris, who has missed seven games with a sprained right knee. Coach Michael Malone said toward the end of the road trip that Harris was getting close, but then announced Friday that he will be out at least another week.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to see him for a while,” Malone told reporters before the 126-125 victory over the Thunder. “Just being completely honest. Obviously, I’m not a doctor but, in talking to our training staff, Gary has been working hard to get back but I think he is still a ways away.”
Denver has dealt with significant injuries all season. Forward Paul Millsap, the big free-agent signing of last summer, missed 44 games with a left wrist injury and is just rounding into form. He had a season-high 36 points to go with nine rebounds Friday.
The good news for the Nuggets is they have three games against teams they are battling for one of the last two playoff spots — at the Los Angeles Clippers next weekend and a home-and-home with Minnesota, including one at the Timberwolves to end the regular season.
The Bucks aren’t facing as much drama despite having the same record as Denver. They are five games ahead of ninth-place Detroit and are on the verge of clinching after wins over the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers on consecutive nights.
Milwaukee also has one of the most dynamic players in the NBA in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak, as he is affectionately known, is fourth in the NBA in scoring at 27.3 points per game and is averaging a double-double with 10 rebounds.
But the Bucks don’t need him to carry them every night as they proved in Friday’s overtime win in L.A. Guard Eric Bledsoe had 39 points and outscored the Lakers by himself 11-10 in overtime to lead Milwaukee to its second straight win.
“I think Bled did what he does well — the Bled show,” Antetokounmpo told reporters after the win. “He took over the game and gave us the win.”
A win Sunday will give the Bucks a spot in the playoffs, but that’s not all they can accomplish. With six games left they can finish as high as sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Denver wishes it had such problems. A win Sunday will simply extend its hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time in five years. A loss could put the Nuggets back to the lottery.