The Bucks hold the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, four games ahead of the Detroit Pistons, who’ve stayed in the hunt with a five-game winning streak.
Milwaukee will need a strong finish to hold off Detroit and set a tone for the playoffs. The Bucks will get a chance to do just that Tuesday night when they host the Boston Celtics at the Bradley Center.
Milwaukee melted down late its last time out. The Bucks led the Denver Nuggets by 18 points with 7 1/2 minutes to play Sunday night but lost 128-125 in overtime.
“That slipped away from us,” Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We just have to do a better job taking care of the ball late. Keep our composure, for sure.”
Bad fourth quarters were a common theme on Milwaukee’s 2-2 swing through the west. The Bucks were outscored 123-74 in games against Denver, the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers.
“We got to learn how to close teams out,” Bucks center John Henson said. “Every game on the road trip we were up double digits and we lost two of those games. So it’s just a matter of time, clock management, and not letting up and making the right plays down the stretch.”
The Bucks will have their work cut out for them against the Celtics, who own a six-game winning streak and have won 13 of their last 17 despite playing the last nine — and 10 of the last 12 — without point guard Kyrie Irving. He has been out since March 11 and underwent knee surgery March 24.
Even without their star, the Celtics are still in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the East thanks to encouraging performances from younger players on coach Brad Stevens’ roster.
Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye and Jaylen Brown have all seen their roles increase with injuries to Irving, Gordon Heyward and Marcus Smart.
“(This will) certainly be the group that starts (the postseason),” Brad Stevens said. “So we’ll see when those timelines — when those guys are able to possibly be back out on the court. But we’re focused on this group on the court right now. This is the group that’s going to have to do that.”
Like the Bucks, the Celtics are also hoping to use the final stretch of regular-season games to get into playoff shape.
“The playoffs are inching and inching closer and closer as every day goes by,” Brown said. “We want to prepare as much as possible for that. We want to continue to win games.
“This series (against Milwaukee and Toronto) is super important. We’re not worried about who we play against or anything like that, but we don’t want to beat ourselves. So we just need to get better in these games, don’t take anyone lightly, and follow the game plan.”