The Milwaukee Bucks (59-20) earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference after their win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. For most of the year, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Bucks would win the east. Now, the Bucks have a three game lead on the Toronto Raptors. Thanks to owning the tie-breaker, they will have home court throughout the entirety of the playoffs.
It also means the Bucks can rest any player they want down the stretch. They can also factor in what happens to a pair of playoff hopefuls in both conferences. The Bucks return to the court on Saturday to face the Brooklyn Nets (39-40). They already defeated the Nets on the road this week. Monday night’s 10-point victory made sure the Nets would have to battle for a playoff spot in the final week.
The coaching staff and players won’t admit it, but they must be happy about the Bucks clinching the overall No. 1 seed in the NBA. Otherwise, the Bucks would have had no choice but to play Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the starters major minutes. Instead, the Bucks have an opportunity to rest the Bucks’ regular rotation players over the next few games to get ready for the playoffs. So, will we see “load management” pop up over the weekend?
The Bucks are (3-0) against the Nets this season. With the Nets holding the No. 7 seed by a 0.5 game, the Bucks could position themselves to face the Nets in the first round. They could potentially face the No. 6 seed Detroit Pistons (39-39) as well. They are (4-0) against the Pistons. The Bucks are only (3-1) against the No. 9 seed Miami Heat (38-40). They are (2-1) against the No. 8 seed Orlando Magic. In all, the Bucks are (12-2) against potential first round playoff opponents this season. Therefore, they really don’t care who makes it into the playoffs at the No. 8 seed.
The Heat may have the toughest remaining schedule. They have four games left on the schedule, so a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves is a must on Friday night. The Heat have 3 road contests out of the last 4 regular season games. They visit the Timberwolves before facing the Raptors on the road Sunday night. The Heat host the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday before a possible winner-takes-a-playoff-spot game against the Nets on Wednesday. In other words, the final game of the season should be a barnburner between the Nets and Heat.
Meanwhile, the Pistons should have the edge on a playoff spot. They are a half game ahead of the competition. They also play four games between now and Wednesday. Yes, there is a road game against the hungry Oklahoma City Thunder. They also face the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday. The Hornets have one chance to get back into the playoff picture. However, the Pistons face the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks in their final two regular season games. You’d have to have a complete collapse for the Pistons to mess this playoff run up.
The Magic also have an interesting schedule down the stretch. The Atlanta Hawks are more than capable of pulling an upsets. The Magic face the Hawks on Friday night. Meanwhile, they play at Boston on Saturday before finishing up with the Hornets on Wednesday. The Celtics are still in the race for the No. 4 seed and home court advantage in the first round. Currently, the Celtics and Pacers are tied in the standings at (47-32). Therefore, those teams will be playing their entire hand before the playoff race concludes.