We’ve reached the All-Star break in the NBA regular season. The reigning champions, Milwaukee Bucks, sit fifth in the Eastern Conference. They are 2.5 games behind Miami and Chicago, who occupy the top two spots. The Bucks have a record of 36 wins and 24 losses going into the final stretch of the regular season. Let’s have a look at what we can expect from the remainder of the season.
Next Five Games
There’s no denying that the Bucks have a tough stretch ahead of them when the season resumes. We begin with a three-game home stand starting with the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night. Yes, the Nets have been struggling of late, but with the addition of Ben Simmons, I imagine they are going to be a tough opponent. Whilst KD will be out injured, they will have Kyrie Irving available. After the Nets’ disastrous 10-game losing streak, they find themselves as the East’s eigth seed, although they are only seven games out of first.
Up next is a good, young Charlotte Hornets team lead by LaMelo Ball. The Hornets currently sit as the ninth seed in the East but will have hopes of making the top six and getting into the playoffs without the worries of a play-in tournament. Charlotte has been one of the most exciting teams to watch this season and it will certainly be a tough ask for the Bucks. The Hornets have won two of the three matches so far this season with the Bucks.
The third and final game of this home stand is against the Eastern Conference leaders, Miami Heat. I’ll be honest: after sweeping them in the first round of the playoffs last year, I didn’t expect much from the Heat this season. I was wrong. The addition of PJ Tucker has been a great acquisition and the Heat have been flying at the summit of the Conference.
Our next two games aren’t any easier when we take on Chicago for the first time since the whole Grayson Allen / Alex Caruso incident. That’ll be fun; I’m sure the home crown in the Windy City will be ever so welcoming. We then head back to Milwaukee to welcome the league-leading Phoenix Suns to the Fiserv Forum for the first time since that memorable game six of the NBA Finals.
Rest of the schedule
This part of the schedule hasn’t been particularly kind to the Bucks. The five games above show that. We have a Western road trip that includes taking on the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz in back-to-back games.
Overall, we play the Chicago Bulls three times in this 22 game stretch. In the past, we might have expected three wins from that, but this season it’s different. Each of those games will be tough tests, albeit very exciting, if both teams are at full strength.
We have a stretch where we take on Memphis, Philly, Brooklyn, and the LA Clippers in a four game span. Again, this isn’t an easy task. Can we beat each of those teams on our day? Absolutely, 100% we can. But that doesn’t change the fact that playing them in consecutive matches will be hard-going for the Bucks.
Our final regular season game is at the venue of this year’s All-Star Game, when we take on Cleveland. Hopefully by then, we will have cemented a top three finish. But this, again, isn’t an easy way to finish the season. Cleveland has surprised most with their performance this season. They are rightfully in the playoff mix, currently sitting fourth (albeit, just like the Bucks, they’re 2.5 games behind the one seed).
Players to step up
This really goes without saying: we need our “Big Three” to do what they can do. Giannis has put himself in contention for another MVP award, and rightly so. He’s averaging a nice 29/11/6 this season and has single-handedly won the Bucks games at points during the season. Jrue Holiday has had a solid season – yes, with some bumps in the road – but that’s acceptable. Nobody is perfect. What has been a concern at points is the output from Khris Middleton. He has struggled at times this season and fans have been quick to jump on his back. Hopefully, he will come back from the All-Star Game firing on all cylinders and help us to a strong finish.
Bobby Portis has had a great season for Milwaukee, stepping into the Starting Five to replace the injured Brook Lopez. Bobby is a fan favorite and it’s clear why that is. He is averaging over 15 points and more than nine rebounds per game, both of which are career highs for the man from Little Rock. He has proven yet again what a steal he is on the contract he accepted in the summer.
As Thanasis Antetokounmpo’s biggest fan in the UK (possibly the world), I feel like he should get a mention. Whilst he’s not been getting many minutes at all, his energy on the sideline is always appreciated by his teammates. Personally, I still think it plays an important part of the team’s morale.
Where can we realistically finish?
At the start of the season, on the UK Bucks podcast (@DontGiveA_Buck), I predicted the Bucks would win the East. Yes, I had my Bucks tinted goggles on, but I genuinely believed we could. I still think we can win the East, in all honesty. It won’t be easy, but I don’t see why we can’t. It’s an exceptionally tight conference, tighter than anyone expected, and realistically there’s still six or seven teams that could occupy the one seed. For us to only be 2.5 games out at this stage of the season gives me hope of us still being able to take the top spot.
That said, I would be happy with anything in the top three of the conference. Whilst we proved on a couple of occasions last year that home court advantage doesn’t matter much, I would still like us to have it where possible.
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