NBA Basketball

Nets look to solidify postseason berth in matchup vs. Bucks

When the NBA playoffs start next week, the Milwaukee Bucks know they will have home-court advantage throughout. Whether the Brooklyn Nets are joining Milwaukee in the postseason remains unknown.

While the Bucks can rest up and get ready to potentially make their first finals appearance since 1974, the Nets are in a wild scramble to get one of the last three seeds and make the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Heading into Saturday's visit to Milwaukee, the Nets are jostling with the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and Miami Heat for the sixth, seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets (39-40) are 31-22 since losing 18 of their first 26 games this season but also are 3-7 in their last 10 games and 12-17 since a six-game winning streak Jan. 14-25.

Brooklyn's performance of late has left it in seventh place. The Nets are tied with Detroit, a half-game behind Orlando and one game up on Miami. Brooklyn owns head-to-head tiebreakers with Detroit and Orlando but not with Miami, which it hosts on Wednesday.

"In a lot of ways, we control our destiny," Brooklyn guard Spencer Dinwiddie recently told the media. "This isn't a situation where even if we win, we've still got to watch the scores and hope for this team or that team to lose. Our body of work has put (the Nets in a) position to where, if we win games, we'll be fine."

Besides the slow start being a reason why the Nets are dueling for the last few playoff spots, another is their showings against the Bucks. The Bucks have won all three meetings by double digits and have won 15 of the last 17.

The most recent meeting was Monday in Brooklyn when the Bucks led by 15 after the first quarter and posted a 131-121 win. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points Monday and is averaging 29.7 points, 12 rebounds and shooting 57.6 percent against the Nets this season.

"He's dominated the league this whole season," Nets guard D'Angelo Russell said. "It's a tough matchup. But we know what we gotta do. It's going to take five of us to stop him, it's not just individual."

Besides trying to stop Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Bucks, the Nets are hoping to turn in a better showing than Wednesday when they trailed most of the way in a 115-105 home loss to second-seeded Toronto.

Milwaukee is 11-6 in its last 17 games since winning seven in a row Feb. 11-March 1. The Bucks clinched the top seed in the postseason for the first time since 1974 with a 128-122 win at Philadelphia on Thursday.

"I mean, it's very important," Milwaukee guard George Hill said. "As a ballclub, you want to have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and things like that, but I think it's more important to keep a rhythm while getting healthy at the same time."

Antetokounmpo helped enhance his MVP chances with a dominant performance of 45 points, 13 rebounds and six assists on Thursday. He shot 13 of 22 from the floor, hit 16 free throws and also registered four of his five blocks on Joel Embiid.

"It's amazing, man," said Antetokounmpo, who won 15 games as a rookie in 2013-2014. "It's been six years since joining (the Bucks) and hopefully we keep getting better and we can reach our goals of winning a championship."

While Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer could rest players by limiting minutes, Antetokounmpo is expected to play as the Bucks attempt to improve the league's best home record to 33-6.

Also expected to play is Khris Middleton, former Nets center Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe.

Middleton scored 22 points Thursday and is averaging 20.5 points per game against the Nets this season. Lopez scored 24 points and hit seven 3-pointers in Milwaukee's 14-point win over Brooklyn on Dec. 29 while Bledsoe scored 29 points Monday before going scoreless and getting ejected on Thursday.

--Field Level Media

Updated April 6, 2019

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