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Bucks —with Giannis? — arrive in Brooklyn

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it seems as if the win against Boston was, how you say, a “big one.” The Nets beat a tired and depleted Celtics team and in doing so, held onto the seventh seed by a half-game ahead of the Heat, and remain a half-game behind the Pistons. We’ve got five games to go. One of those games, Monday’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, will once again be against a team coming off of a back-to-back ... and a one-point OT loss vs. the Hawks to boot. Huge advantage!!! Like, unfathomably fortuitous for this Nets team that is going to have to scrap for every single half-game lead against whoever is behind them in the standings here on out. The Bucks, obviously, are the toughest team in the league to play on any given night, have a league-best 57-19 record, and are first in the East by a comfortable margin. Let’s get into it.

Where to Follow the Game

New outlets for both radio and TV.

WWOR-TV (My9) at 7:30pm, ET. It’s the first of three games on My9 this month.

And it’s 94.7 FM on radio.

Injuries

Allen Crabbe (knee) is out. Rodions Kurucs (knee) is doubtful. Dzanan Musa is back with Long Island who play in the G League’s Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (ankle) is now questionable after sitting Sunday. There were reports Sunday evening that he’d play, but he was downgraded (past probable) Monday afternoon.

Donte DiVincenzo (heel), Malcolm Brogdon (heel), Pau Gasol (ankle), Nikola Mirotic (thumb), and Tony Snell (ankle) are out. No word yet on whether Mike Budenholzer will rest anyone else.

The Game

Giannis missed Sunday’s matinee loss to the Hawks, which can either mean one of three things for the Nets in this one. I have listed them in order of personal preference:

  1. Giannis sits out another game to rest that ankle for the playoffs. Please get some rest, G, the playoffs matter more anyway!
  2. We see a limited Giannis play about 20 minutes, but doesn’t push himself too hard in order to preserve the ankle.
  3. Giannis is fine and he plays about 33 minutes and is his usual dominant self.

Spoiler alert: 3 is the likely answer.

The Greek Freak is averaging 27.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 6 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.5 blocks, and shooting 58 percent from the field. There’s basically no comparison for him in NBA history. He’s like if young Shaq had the court vision and ball handling skills of Tracy McGrady. It’s insane. Please sit out Giannis, it’s good for your health.

D’Angelo Russell was back on his sh... moiso against the Celtics, which means he was hitting floaters that he has no business hitting. After he had an iffy first half, D-Lo followed that with total domination of the third quarter when he put the game away for good. He ended with 29 points and 10 assists, and these performances are becoming less and less surprising, which is amazing. I’m no longer shocked when I check the box score and see DLo’s name next to some big numbers. It’s just anticipated at this point, which is a testament to just how good he’s been this season. The guy is an All-Star, after all. Against the Bucks, especially the tired Bucks who are missing Malcolm Brogdon, DLo should be able to put up another big game and guide the Nets to a win, and even closer to locking down a playoff spot. Yay!

Eric Bledsoe has been pretty good this season, and as a Giannis counterpart is really well suited for his role on this team. He doesn’t have to be a ball-dominant point guard, he knows how to play off-ball and keep the offense moving and pick and choose his spots when Giannis is doing his thing, but he is also 100 percent capable of being a primary playmaker and forcing himself into some decent iso looks with his compact frame. He’s versatile. His 22.8% usage rate is his lowest since the 2012-13 season, which makes sense considering he plays next to a Point Center who can both run an offense and drive-and-dunk out of a half-court set about five times a game.

Brook Lopez could present an issue for Jarrett Allen, as he’s seemingly presented an issue for mostly every team in the league this season. There just isn’t much you can do about a 7-foot, 270 pound center who can take and make 30-foot threes. Brook is hitting 37 percent from deep on 6.4 attempts per game in an unprecedented leap from just three seasons ago when he hit 14 percent on 0.2 attempts per game. Brook has become one of the most unique and valuable players in the league, and it’ll be interesting to see what his market is like this summer. The Bucks aren’t going to have a ton of cap space to play with, especially if they want to re-sign Khris Middleton; so, does Brook take another cheap deal to remain in Milwaukee or does he test the water and cash out for another big deal? We’ll see.

The Nets are 0-2 against the Bucks this season with two more matchups to go before the year ends. One on Monday and one on April 6th. To recap, because we’re really so close to the end of the season, the remaining schedule goes Bucks, Raptors, Bucks, Pacers, Heat. Brace yourselves. Also, try not to freak out so much, we aren’t going to go 5-0. Probably. I mean, that would be great, but panic when it’s time to panic. Hopefully the Nets can get this win and we can all take a collective deep breath. After all, the first leg of the Gauntlet is over, and the Nets are 1-0. That’s cause to celebrate.

Player to Watch

Pat Connaughton is interesting. The guy was a top baseball prospect at one point, and even pitched in the Orioles farm system for a minute before deciding that basketball was the sport for him. Who knows what would have happened in his baseball career, but basketball seems like it was a pretty good choice. In his fourth season in the league, Connaughton is scoring a career high 6.4 points per game on 46/33/73 shooting and plays just a hair under 20 minutes per game on the best team in the league. Impressive for a guy who took a minute to really carve out a role for himself in the league.

Also, he’s weirdly tied to the Nets. If you want to do the research yourself, just scroll to the bottom of his Basketball Reference page, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version: The Nets traded their 2015 second rounder in 2011 for Mehmet Okur (shouts) and that pick bounced around so much that it eventually came back to the Nets in the Jason Kidd coach trade (shouts) and they took Connaughton on behalf of the Trail Blazers to complete the Rondae Hollis-Jefferson-for-Mason Plumlee trade (shouts). Wild ride for that future second rounder.

Playoff Picture

No real change unless you thought the Hornets were a real threat. They lost to the Warriors by 47 Sunday and are now three-and-a-half behind the Nets. Some scoreboard watching Monday night: the Pistons play the Pacers in Indy, the Magic play the Raptors in Toronto, and the Heat play the Celtics in Boston.

From The Vault

It. Is. Sunday. Well, I’m sure most of you are reading this on Monday morning on your way to work or whatever, but that’s still something. Have good weeks, everyone. We’ve got four games this week. Everyone do whatever good luck rituals you have as often as you can, we’re going to need it. Here’s your Sunday Song.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to the Brew Hoop, our Bucks sister site on SB Nation