A two-game series between the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks might prove to be a playoff preview – albeit one with neither team’s superstars anywhere near 100 percent.
A pair of undermanned NBA Finals contenders are scheduled to meet Sunday afternoon, when the Nets will look to hang on to first place in the Eastern Conference and the Bucks will try to inch closer to a top-two seed in the first of two games between the teams in Milwaukee.
Both teams were off Saturday. On Friday, the Nets had their four-game winning streak snapped with a 128-109 loss to the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, and the Bucks concluded a four-game road trip by beating the Chicago Bulls 108-98.
The Nets (43-21), who were without Kevin Durant, Bruce Brown, Nic Claxton and James Harden in the second game of a back-to-back, couldn’t overcome another big game from Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard (32 points, including 11 in an 18-6 run to end the third quarter) as their lead over the second-place Philadelphia 76ers was cut to a half-game. The 76ers (42-21) are scheduled to visit the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night.
“I’m not one for excuses, man,” Nets power forward Jeff Green said. “They just outplayed us. Dame got em going, made a couple of 3s in a row and gave everybody confidence and they went on a run.”
Durant (left hamstring) and Brown (right knee) are expected to return Sunday, though Claxton (health and safety protocols) likely will miss an eighth straight game and Harden (right hamstring) remains out indefinitely.
Nets head coach Steve Nash acknowledged he wasn’t comfortable trying to figure out if Harden, who last played April 5, will return before the end of the regular season.
“I don’t know if I want to forecast an opinion here,” Nash said. “I’m not sure that serves any of us. Let me avoid the question and say we’ll see.”
The Bucks (39-24), who were the top seed in the East each of the past two seasons, recovered from a discouraging loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday to defeat the Bulls and move closer to the Nets and 76ers despite the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The good news is that the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year is listed as probable for Sunday’s game.
The two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player sat out Friday with a sprained right ankle suffered early Thursday, when the Rockets, owners of the league’s worst record, upset Milwaukee 143-136.
“You’ve got to find ways to get wins,” head coach Mike Budenholzer said of the Bucks, who trailed once, at 2-0, Friday night. “It was good and I think important to get this game tonight.”
Budenholzer was in wait-and-see mode per whether or not Antetokounmpo could play.
“Get another day of rehab and work on it and we’ll just see with the early game on Sunday what it looks like, what it feels like,” Budenholzer said.
The Bucks are scheduled to host the Nets again Tuesday night.