May 21, 2024

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The Bucks got a “good burn” against the Thunder for a playoff spot, and the opponent is still undecided

The Bucks got a “good burn” against the Thunder for a playoff spot, and the opponent is still undecided

OKLAHOMA CITY — On Friday, before the Milwaukee Bucks took the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder in their penultimate game of the regular season, head coach Doc Rivers outlined the remainder of the team's season in relatively simple terms.

“Listen, we'd love to get the No. 2 seed, we've got to win the game,” Rivers said. “So, that's the play. But let's just say on Sunday, if (Dem) isn't right, we won't play him. Otherwise, something will happen there and you'll be in big trouble. We want the two seeds. There's no doubt about that. But we want to Be healthy too.

So, with Damian Lillard missing Friday's game with a left adductor muscle strain and Giannis Antetokounmpo still out with a left soleus strain, the Bucks tried to secure the No. 2 seed without their best player. At the start of the day, Khris Middleton (left ankle injury management), Brook Lopez (rest) and Bobby Portis (rest) also found themselves on the injury report, but all three ended up playing.

With 8:29 remaining in the second quarter, Middleton capped a 7-0 run for the Bucks with a shot off the glass off a fake punt to put them within four points of the Thunder and trigger a timeout from OKC coach Mark Daigneault, but that was the final stretch of the game that seemed to indicate Until the Bucks can win.

The Thunder ended the first half with a 22-9 lead to take a 17-point lead before eventually defeating the Bucks 125-107 to advance to the top of the Western Conference with one game remaining for each team on Sunday.

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“In the first quarter, I thought the ball movement (was good), we played downhill a lot, we played big, we moved the ball, and it was good basketball,” Rivers said. “Then after that, it seemed like everyone was trying to make plays, and it wasn't a matter of who it was most of. But, you know, we got a good burn. We loved winning, but we wanted to burn some minutes and we did.”

Without their key players, the Bucks committed 12 turnovers in the first half. That was a tough one to overcome against one of the best teams in the Western Conference. Middleton scored 11 points in the first three minutes of the third quarter to briefly give the Thunder a scare, but Rivers moved into his deep reserves with two minutes left in the period.

Middleton finished the night with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 23 minutes to lead the Bucks. Brook Lopez also added 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting, while Malik Beasley scored 17 points, including hitting three of his five attempts from the 3-point line.

With the loss, the Bucks now turn their attention to Sunday. At 49-32, they have the same record as the New York Knicks, but the Bucks own the tiebreaker. So, right now, they are the No. 2 seed and will stay there if they beat Orlando.

“I have to win it, simple,” Middleton said. “We came trying to win this game, even though we were messed up. It's the same on Sunday, try to win.”

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A loss would not only leave the Bucks vulnerable to falling to the No. 3 seed, but they could also fall to No. 4 due to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers (48-33) are one game behind the Bucks, but own the tiebreaker because of their record in the division.

If the Bucks lose, here are the outcomes that could happen:

  • If the Knicks and Cavaliers also lose, the Bucks will still be the No. 2 seed.
  • If the Knicks win and the Cavaliers lose, the Bucks will fall to the No. 3 seed.
  • If the Knicks lose and the Cavaliers win, the Bucks will fall to the No. 3 seed.
  • If the Knicks and Cavaliers win, the Bucks will fall to the No. 4 seed.

That's just the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Entering the final day of the season, four teams — the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat — could fill any of the No. 5-8 seeds, meaning the Bucks have no idea which team will advance to the first round. It will be a discount.

“A scouting nightmare,” Rivers said after the game. “We know we'll be between two and four. We know that. That's for sure. Other than that, we don't know anything… The good news is we'll be home for Game 1. That's what we know.”

After watching the Bucks lose a first-round series to the Miami Heat as the No. 1 seed last season, a portion of Bucks fans will find themselves anxious about the Bucks' first-round matchup and wondering whether or not the Bucks should try to win. Lose on Sunday to try to set up a match against a specific opponent. Match-up hunting doesn't really seem possible, considering anything can happen with the No. 5-8 seeds.

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“You're going to play someone good in the playoffs, no matter what,” Middleton said. “It doesn't matter if it's the first round, the second round, the Eastern Conference Finals, or the NBA Finals. There's no easy path. We've learned that in the past before, we've won it and we've lost it too, so we have to be prepared for whoever we face.”

(Photo of Kris Middleton and Lou Dort: Zach Baker/NBAE via Getty Images)