With a win against the Nets on Monday in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a little bit of help from the Orlando Magic, the Milwaukee Bucks can clinch home court throughout the playoffs.
Milwaukee is three games up on the Toronto Raptors with five games remaining. The Raptors and Magic tangle at the same time the Bucks and Nets will be squaring off.
For all intents and purposes, every game left for the Nets is like a playoff game.
"We know that all these games coming up are playoff games," Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said after beating Boston on Saturday night. "It's just how we have to look at it. We're in it. We can't shy away from it. They're all playoff games, but it was important to get this one."
The Nets sit in the seventh spot, a half a game behind Detroit for the sixth spot and one half a game ahead of Miami in the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Magic lurk just a half game behind in ninth.
"I (said) at the end of the Philly game, every game is going to be worth it," the Nets' D'Angelo Russell said. "We need it -- scratching and clawing for every one of them."
On Sunday, the Bucks had a chance to put a stranglehold on the top spot but lost to the Atlanta Hawks on Trae Young's buzzer-beater in overtime. Milwaukee, which led by 23 in the first quarter, was playing without six players, including Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, who both sat with injuries.
Antetokounmpo and Middleton warmed up before the game but were late scratches. Antetokounmpo, who rolled his ankle two weeks ago against Philadelphia, tweaked his ankle again on Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers. He wanted to play, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said sitting the league's possible MVP was an easy decision.
"We're both stubborn, so sometimes it's a lot of fun," Budenholzer told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "But he understands. With a back-to-back and where we are, he was very good."
Middleton was scratched because of a left groin strain. He joined Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic, Donte DiVincenzo and Pau Gasol on the sidelines. Brogdon is not expected back until the end of April and DiVincenzo is out for the season.
Milwaukee's main cogs, Antetokounmpo and Middleton, won't be out for long.
"I think there's a good chance that Giannis will play on this road trip," Budenholzer said. "Him not playing (Sunday), for a lot of different reasons, makes sense and we'll just evaluate him, give him another 24 hours, see how he's feeling and make a decision again tomorrow."
Middleton is expected to be back in uniform, along with Snell, on Monday. The Bucks travel to Philadelphia on Thursday.
The Bucks and Nets have met twice this season with Milwaukee winning both of those meetings. On Dec. 29, Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 60 points, 14 rebounds, 17 assists and three blocks in a 129-115 win.
In a Feb. 4 win, Antetokounmpo recorded 30 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks. Back then, it was the Nets who were banged up, playing without Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Jared Dudley and Allen Crabbe.
All but Crabbe played in Saturday's win against Boston and will play crucial roles as the Nets face mounting pressure to reach the postseason for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
"A lot of pressure. A lot," Russell said. "Especially if we're not winning and we're losing our way out of the playoff race. It could easily be that. So, there's a lot of pressure."
--Field Level Media
Nets feeling postseason pressure in matchup vs. Bucks
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