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Must-win (without Giannis) confronts Nets in Milwaukee Saturday

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Houston Rockets v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Bucks clinched homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs on Thursday night against the 76ers. This is significant because (if you hadn’t been paying attention), the Nets have dropped two games in a row to the Bucks and Raptors, and their spot in the playoffs is as precarious as it’s been all season long. We have, somehow, just three games remaining, and it’s looking like the final two against the Pacers and Heat will be against teams with something to play for with Indiana fighting for homecourt in the first round and Miami the post-season altogether.

With the Bucks clinching the 1 seed, and Giannis Antetokounmpo going off for an insane 45 point, 13 rebound, 6 assist, 5 block, 0 turnover game against Embiid and the Sixers, it seemed entirely possible early Saturday that we might get lucky and see a resting Bucks roster. If you did a rain dance or something, you were rewarded. Giannis is out, but with Giannis or not, it’s a must-win game.

For Kenny Atkinson, it’s not about the other teams or about who the opponents play or don’t.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to hear it,” said the Nets. “How are the Nets getting better today? What are we doing to get better? Forget about the rest of it.’

Let’s get into it.

Where to Follow the Game

TV: MY9, NBA TV at 5pm, ET.

Radio: WCBS 880

Injuries

Allen Crabbe finally had a procedure done on his knee which has kept him sidelined for a significant chunk of this year. He is out for the season (unless the Nets go deep in the playoffs, that is.)

Antetokounmpo (calf) is a late scratch. Malcolm Brogdon (heel), Donte DiVincenzo (heel), Pau Gasol (ankle), Nikola Mirotic (thumb) is probable. Tony Snell (ankle) is day-to-day.

For Milwaukee, it’s going to be a balance between rest and rhythm.

“I wouldn’t be surprised – I’m not a coach, I’m not a trainer – but I could see us resting some guys,” said Brook Lopez, the only Bucks player to appear in all 79 games this season. “But at the same time, we’re a very competitive group and I know none of us like losing.”

The Game

Milwaukee played swarming, suffocating defense against the Nets in the paint earlier in the week which disrupted a significant portion of the Nets offensive game plan. Kenny Atkinson’s squad leads the league in drives per game, but when Giannis and Brook Lopez guard you at the same time, it’s kind of tough to get a clean look at the basket. Literally. They’re gigantic. If that ends up being the case again on Saturday, the Nets will have to adjust their game plan once more, and maybe run a little more pick and pop than they’re used to. Joe Harris could probably run some effective screens in a matchup with someone like Pat Connaughton.

Eric Bledsoe, who was ejected for getting into it with Joel Embiid on Thursday night, torched the Nets earlier in the week with 29 points, 7 assists, and 5 steals and was a big problem on both ends of the floor. He was plus-21 for the game, highest mark on the team, and the Nets are going to have to figure out a better defensive scheme if they don’t want him running circles around them again. Bledsoe has had an interesting career path, and it’s a little disappointing he spent so many years of his prime toiling away in Phoenix, who were never good and never knew how to use him right. He is, just like a lot of these Bucks including Brook and even Giannis, in the perfect situation for his skillset now.

Caris LeVert put up 24 points against the Bucks on Monday, his highest mark since returing from injury. The Bucks don’t have the best wing defense, especially if Khris Middleton is playing hide-and-seek with his effort level, and Caris is really the only Net in the position to take advantage of that. Joe Harris is great, and DeMarre Carroll is also great, but neither of them have blow-by, get-to-the-rim speed like Caris does when he’s healthy and playing well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but even though Caris hasn’t looked amazing since returning, the fact that he’s back and playing and occasionally shows flashes is amazing. After a summer of getting all his speed and strength back and then some, he should be poised to make a big leap next season. Let’s just hope he can dig down and get some buckets in this one too.

It wouldn’t be a complete preview if we didn’t at least mention Giannis. Also, I like how we have all collectively dropped the hard G from his name. It’s just “Yahnis” now, which means he’s earned enough respect in the league for people to pronounce his name correctly. No more “Gee-ahnnis”, it’s much better this way. Anyway, Giannis is a monster, and if he plays he will score a lot of points and grab a lot of rebounds and generally disrupt the Nets game plan on both ends of the court. He looked frustrated against them on Monday, and at times didn’t even look like he was paying very well. He scored 28 points and had 11 boards in 29 minutes. A down game, by his standards. If he doesn’t play, the Nets will have an easier time doing just about anything, which would be amazing.

Ed Davis scored 4 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in 19 minutes of action against Milwaukee this week, and was one of the few Nets who had a positive plus/minus. Him, Dudley, and DeMarre. That’s it. Anyway, this checks out due to Ed Davis being really good and also Milwaukee’s lack of rebounders. Other than Giannis, who grabs 12.5 per game, their next leading rebounder is Khris Middleton, who is a wing. He also gets just 6.1 per game. After that it’s Nikola Mirotic at 5.1 and Brook at a very Brook 4.8 per game. The Nets out-rebounded the Bucks 55 to 41, and even though they took a loss, this could be an advantage going forward. Especially if Milwaukee’s leading rebounder gets some rest.

Player to Watch

This is in part wishful thinking, because it would be nice to see so many Bucks sit that Tim Frazier gets to start or play 30 minutes or something, but it’s also because he has the potential to be a lot of fun. Just look at his 20-point, 15-assist performance against the Hawks last week. Guy played 53 minutes in a game. Crazy. Frazier spent most of the season toiling away on the Pelicans bench, and has spent the rest of it toiling away on the Bucks bench, but over the last couple of games he’s gotten some run due to the injury to Brogdon and Mike Budenholzer wanting to preserve the guys he has left for the playoffs. Let’s hope we see a ton of Tim Frazier in this one.

Playoff Watch

With the Heat and the Pistons losing and the Magic winning, the playoff picture looks like this going into Saturday night, including the remaining games. (H/T to Eric Koreen.)

6. Orlando 40-40 (@Bos, @Char)

7. Brooklyn 39-40 (@Mil, @Ind, Mia)

8. Detroit 39-40 (Char, Mem, @NY)

9. Miami 38-41 (@Tor, PHI, @Bkn)

From The Vault

Giannis vs. Embiid will be really fun for a really long time, bt it shouldn’t be overlooked that the Bucks could have had both of them on the same team. If only they hadn’t chosen Jabari Parker. What a shame.

Anyway, enjoy.

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