The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks return home Thursday after a winless road swing, hosting the Boston Celtics at Fiserv Forum.
Milwaukee closed out its three-game trip through the Western Conference on Monday with a 109-95 loss to the Nuggets at Denver. The defeat marked the Bucks’ third straight — they previously had not lost any back-to-back games all season — and the fourth in their past five.
A number of injuries hindered Milwaukee at Denver, with reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo joining Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo, George Hill, Marvin Williams and Khris Middleton sidelined.
Veteran reserve Kyle Korver scored 23 points in the loss to lead the Bucks.
“Really liked the effort of our guys, the competitiveness, after a big first quarter,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters in his postgame press conference. “Kept clawing, put ourselves in a good position, then just couldn’t make quite enough plays down the stretch.”
Antetokounmpo was declared out for both Monday’s game in Denver and Thursday’s home contest due to a left knee injury. Bledsoe is listed as day-to-day with a knee injury, while Hill’s return from an adductor injury is uncertain.
Antetokounmpo sounded relieved Wednesday that the results of his recent MRI showed only a minor joint capsule sprain, and that he should be back soon.
“I got the good training staff that train me really well and prepare me for those types of falls and those types of moments,” Antetokounmpo said after he practiced Wednesday. “Thank God it wasn’t something really, really serious, so I was happy, the team was happy, my family was happy.”
DiVincenzo sat for rest and should return on Thursday. The situations involving Lopez and Middleton were unclear after they were healthy scratches.
Middleton told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he thought Budenholzer may have been giving him a rest on the second leg of a back-to-back following Sunday’s 140-131 loss at Phoenix.
Whatever the case, the Bucks should have a lineup more closely resembling the roster responsible for its NBA-best record of 53-12.
Likewise, the visiting Celtics come to town with a rotation much more like its norm after missing combinations of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown in the weeks since the All-Star break.
All but Brown played in Boston’s 114-111 win over the Pacers on Tuesday at Indiana, a game in which the Celtics surrendered a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter before rallying in the closing minute.
“It’s good to be in those situations. They help you, those experiences are something we all need,” Hayward said in his postgame press conference. “They’ll only help us moving forward.”
Boston went into Tuesday’s road game on a two-game losing skid, and having dropped four of five, including an overtime decision one week earlier to the Brooklyn Nets in which the Celtics gave up an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Behind Tatum’s 30 points, Boston avoided a repeat in Indiana.
The Celtics are in third place in the Eastern Conference, and clinched a playoff spot with Tuesday’s win. Their lead over the fourth-place Miami Heat remains at two games before Thursday’s matchup with Milwaukee, Boston’s third meeting with the Bucks this season.
The teams split the first two meetings, with the home team winning both. Boston claimed a 116-105 victory on Oct. 30, while Milwaukee exacted revenge in a 128-123 win on Jan. 16.
Antetokounmpo was instrumental in the win with 32 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists.
As for Boston, Brown did not play in either of the first two meetings. His absence on Tuesday marked his fourth straight due to a tweaked hamstring. His status for Thursday is uncertain, though Celtics coach Brad Stevens told MassLive.com on Tuesday that the swingman was “in the progression to play.”
–Field Level Media