Bucks, Thunder both have playoff goals in sights

Field Level Media

April 11, 2024 at 10:41 pm.

The Milwaukee Bucks had a rough stretch in the wake of their dominating win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 24.

The Bucks went 1-6 in their next seven games to put themselves in danger of dropping out of the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.

But heading into Friday’s matchup with the Thunder in Oklahoma City, Milwaukee has won back-to-back games and is on the brink of clinching the second spot behind Boston.

The Bucks (49-31) need one win in their last two — or losses by the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers — to secure the position.

Friday’s game is critical not only for Milwaukee, but also for the Thunder. Oklahoma City (55-25) comes into the game tied for second in the Western Conference with Minnesota, one game behind Denver.

The Thunder own the tiebreaker over the Nuggets but would likely lose out on a tiebreaker with the Timberwolves thanks to conference records.

The Bucks won that first meeting of the season, 118-93, in Milwaukee. In that game, Oklahoma City star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored just 12 points, his second-lowest output of the season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 19 rebounds in that game and played a big role in clogging the paint to make life difficult on the cutting Gilgeous-Alexander.

“You see guys that average 30, 35, but he’s also a willing passer,” Antetokounmpo said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “So that kind of helps you sometimes, because he’s gonna try to make the right play, he’s not gonna force it.”

But Antetokounmpo won’t be playing Friday after suffering a strained left calf in Tuesday’s win over Boston.

Antetokounmpo won’t return in the regular season, and his status for the first round of the playoffs is unclear.

“No timeline or anything like that, but we’ve got the best team working with him,” Bucks coach Doc Rivers said of Antetokounmpo. “There’s no one who’s going to work harder than him. You know that. He’ll be back when he should be back. We’ll find out when that is.”

Milwaukee is 4-3 without Antetokounmpo this season.

“Obviously, Giannis is the head of the snake,” Damian Lillard said. “When he’s out there, we’re at our best. But we’ve got a lot of guys in our locker room. We’ve got vets.”

The Bucks figure to bring Khris Middleton back after Middleton sat on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday.

Oklahoma City should have its full complement of players available after Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams returned this week and Luguentz Dort missed Wednesday’s blowout win over San Antonio due to rest.

Though the Thunder have the chance to better their playoff position with a strong finish between Friday’s game against Milwaukee and the Sunday finale against Dallas, Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said his team isn’t going to get too wrapped up in possibilities.

“We’re not going to white knuckle the last week of the season and watch the standings because we haven’t done that all year,” Daigneault said. “We’ve just really focused on being the best team we can be, and that’s what we’ll continue to do all the way through to 82 (games).”

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