Bucks get ‘a good burn’ against Thunder as playoff position, opponent still undetermined

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 previewed the rest of the season’s the team in relatively simple terms.

“Listen, we’d like to have both seeds — we have to win a game,” Rivers said. “So, it’s in play. But let’s say on Sunday, if Dame wasn’t right, we’re not going to play him. Otherwise, something is going on there and you’ll be in a lot of trouble. We want both seeds. There is no doubt about it. But we also want to be healthy.

So, with Damian Lillard out for Friday’s game due to a left adductor strain and Giannis Antetokounmpo still out with a left soleus strain, the Bucks tried to secure the No. 2 seed without their two best players. Earlier in 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 left in the second quarter, Middleton capped a 7-0 run for the Bucks with a floater out of a pseudo-post-up to bring them within four points of the Thunder and trigger an OKC timeout . coach Mark Daigneault, but it was the final play of the game that seemed to suggest the Bucks could win.

The Thunder closed the first half on a 22-9 run to take a 17-point lead before ultimately beating the Bucks, 125-107, to move into first place in the Western Conference with one game to play for each team on Sunday.

“In the first quarter I thought the ball movement (was good), we played downhill a lot, we played through our bigs, we moved the ball, it was good basketball,” said Rivers. “Then after that, it seemed like the guys, everyone was trying to make plays and it just wasn’t who most of them were. But, you know, we had a good burn. We had loved winning, but we wanted to lose a few minutes and we did.

Without their two primary ball handlers, the Bucks committed 12 turnovers in the first half. It was just too much 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 give the Thunder a scare, but Rivers moved to his team’s 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 three of his five attempts from the 3-point line.

With this 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 have the tiebreaker. So right now, they are the No. 2 seed and would stay there with a win against Orlando.

“I have to win it, it’s that simple,” Middleton said. “We tried to win this game, even though we were shorthanded. It’s the same on Sunday: try to win.

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

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

  • If the Knicks and Cavaliers also lose, the Bucks remain the No. 2 seed.
  • If the Knicks win and the Cavaliers lose, the Bucks fall to the No. 3 seed.
  • If the Knicks lose and the Cavaliers win, the Bucks fall to third.
  • If the Knicks and Cavaliers both win, the Bucks fall to fourth.

And that’s just the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

Heading into the final day of the season, four teams — Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat — could fill any of the Nos. 5 through 8 seeds, meaning the Bucks ‘have no idea who their first turn will be. the opponent will be.

“A scouting nightmare,” Rivers said after the game. “We know we will be between two and four. We know it. It’s a certainty. Other than that, we don’t know anything… The good news is that whatever happens, we’ll be home for the first game. We know that.

After watching the Bucks drop a first-round series against the Miami Heat as a No. 1 seed last season, a portion of Bucks fans will find themselves worrying about the Bucks’ first-round matchup and worrying asking whether the Bucks should try to win or lose on Sunday to try to set up a game against a specific opponent. The hunt for matchups doesn’t really seem possible, considering anything could happen with seeds No. 5-8.

“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 is no easy path. We’ve learned it in the past, winning it and losing it, so we just have to prepare ourselves to face everyone we face.

(Photo by Khris Middleton and Lu Dort: Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)

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