With a record of 26-25, the Milwaukee Bucks emerge from the NBA‘s All-Star break sitting comfortably as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Occupying the final playoff spot is hardly a comfortable position to be in, but it’s better than being on the outside looking in (Milwaukee finished ninth the past two seasons) and the Bucks have a four-game lead over any potential threat to steal their spot.
That said, one bad week could ruin everything for them. This team knows all too well the feeling of missing a seat in the tournament by a narrow margin. To ensure a playoff spot can be had this season, Milwaukee must come out of the break with its foot on the gas and never let off.
If they play their cards right, the Bucks may even be able to improve their playoff positioning. Milwaukee is surprisingly only three games back of the sixth-seeded Atlanta Hawks and just five games behind the third-seeded Indiana Pacers. While jumping up to the third seed is a long-shot at best, escaping the No. 8 seed would likely mean the Bucks can avoid playing the defending champion Miami Heat in the first round.
Qualifying for the NBA playoffs for the first time in three years and avoiding the defending champs? Bucks fans will take that.
That’s what Milwaukee should be striving for, but the most important part is just getting in, which is no guarantee. The Philadelphia 76ers are four games back but do have the talent and experience to make up that ground in a hurry. The Toronto Raptors have won four straight and are rolling since trading for Rudy Gay, so even at 21-32, we can’t count them out yet.
The remaining schedule for the Bucks is a treacherous one, so head coach Jim Boylan must keep his squad focused throughout the stretch run. Milwaukee’s next three games feature opponents currently sitting above them in the East, so the results will go a long way in terms of playoff positioning.
A healthy Larry Sanders at center will be key for the Bucks on defense, as they’ve undoubtedly missed his shot-blocking and general defensive prowess since he began missing games with a bruised back. There’s no word on when the big man will return to action, but here’s hoping the break sped up the recovery process a bit.
Offensively, Boylan needs to do a better job of getting Ersan Ilyasova going early and keeping him involved throughout games. The 6’10″ forward is shooting 50 percent or better from the field night after night and the Bucks are much harder to keep pace with when Ilya strikes in the first quarter.
Milwaukee appears to be a long way from becoming a legitimate title contender, but a playoff appearance and solid postseason effort will go a long way in determining whether the organization should attempt to retain its talented youngsters or start fresh altogether.