A two-game streak between the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks could prove to be a playoff preview – even if both teams’ superstars aren’t close to 100%.
Two NBA Finals contenders are due to meet on Sunday afternoon, when the Nets look to hang on to the top spot in the Eastern Conference and the Bucks look to move closer to a seed in the first of. two games between the Milwaukee teams.
Both teams were absent on Saturday. On Friday, the Nets enjoyed a four-game winning streak with a 128-109 loss to the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, and the Bucks wrapped up a four-game road trip by beating the Chicago Bulls 108-98.
The Nets (43-21), who were without Kevin Durant, Bruce Brown, Nic Claxton and James Harden in the second straight game, couldn’t get through another big game from Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard (32 points, including 11 in an 18-6 run to complete the third quarter) as their lead over the second-place Philadelphia 76ers was reduced to half a game. The 76ers (42-21) are due to visit the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night.
“I’m not the type to make excuses, man,” said Nets forward Jeff Green. “They just upgraded us. Lady turned them on, did some 3s in a row and gave everyone confidence and they ran.”
Durant (left hamstrings) and Brown (right knee) are expected to return on Sunday, although Claxton (health and safety protocols) will likely miss an eighth game in a row and Harden (right hamstring) remains out indefinitely.
Nets head coach Steve Nash admitted he was uncomfortable trying to determine if Harden, who last played on April 5, would return before the end of the season regular.
“I don’t know if I want to give an opinion here,” Nash said. “I’m not sure that helps us. Let me dodge the question and say we’ll see.”
The Bucks (39-24), who seeded the East in each of the past two seasons, recovered from a disheartening loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday to defeat the Bulls and move closer to the Nets and 76ers despite the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The good news is that the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year is listed as probable for Sunday’s game.
The two-time reigning NBA most valuable player sat out on Friday with a sprained right ankle suffered early Thursday when the Rockets, owners of the league’s worst record, upset Milwaukee 143-136.
“You have to find ways to have wins,” said head coach Mike Budenholzer of the Bucks, who called once, 2-0 on Friday night. “It was good and I think it’s important to have this game tonight.”
Budenholzer was in standby mode to see if Antetokounmpo could play or not.
“Get another day of rehab and work on it and we’ll see with the start of the game on Sunday what it looks like, what it looks like,” Budenholzer said.
The Bucks are set to host the Nets again on Tuesday night.