Preview: Bucks vs. Jazz

Rookie Thon Maker and his Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Utah Jazz 104-88 on Feb. 1.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports/Russell Isabella

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks will begin their playoff push Friday night when they play host to the Utah Jazz at the Bradley Center.

Despite losing forward Jabari Parker to a season-ending ACL injury for the second time in three seasons, Milwaukee finished the first half on a high note, winning three in a row to move within a game of Detroit for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

“Before the break we won three games in a row and we built momentum,” Antetokounmpo said. “We were playing great team basketball.

“Now coming back from the break, we’ve got to get there. It’s hard because we had six days off. You’ve got to get your legs going again.

“Jabari went down. Thank God Khris (Middleton) came back. We can’t think Khris is going to pick us up and we’re going to win 20 games out of 27. It’s just great having him back.

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“Game by game, he’s going to help us more and more. Everybody knows Khris is a great player.”

With 27 games remaining, the Bucks are focused on returning to the postseason.

Helping their cause is the schedule. Eight of Milwaukee’s next 10 games will be played at the Bradley Center

“It’s kind of like the beginning of the season; we were home a lot,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “For us to make this push to make the playoffs, we’ve got to protect home.”

Kidd plans to keep his lineup the same, with rookie Thon Maker remaining in the starting group while Middleton, who returned from an ACL injury suffered before training camp, will continue to have his minutes restricted.

“We’re very comfortable with Khris having the ball in a two-man game with Moose (Greg Monroe) or finding the open guy,” Kidd said. “That’s who Khris is. To be out of the game for so long and in his third game, we’re playing through him.”

The Jazz are looking to get back on track after slumping into the break. Utah had lost three in a row before wrapping up the first half with a 111-88 victory and currently sit fifth in the West.

Utah was the subject of multiple trade rumors leading up to the Thursday deadline but ultimately, the Jazz remained silent and chose to see what a healthy roster can accomplish as the team tries to return to the playoffs for the first time in five years.

Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, George Hill, Derrick Favors and Dante Exum all missed time during the first half but are healthy now — with the exception of Hood, who missed the last seven games with a right bone bruise — and ready to make an impact, leaving head coach Quin Snyder intrigued at the possibility of a full complement of players.

“I’d like to see that for a more extended period of time with Dante healthy, Alec healthy, Rodney healthy,” Snyder said. “We can go through all that, but I think we know who we are, more individually, and we are finding out more and more collectively. I like our group.”

The Jazz have won five in a row against the Bucks, including the last two meetings in Milwaukee.