Bucks, Rockets clash in possible NBA Finals preview
The Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets will each spend the next couple of weeks trying to get healthy and in the best position for deep playoff runs.
When the teams meet Tuesday in Milwaukee, it might even be a preview of the NBA Finals.
"I just hope we see them in June sometime," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said of the Bucks. "That would be nice."
If nothing else, the matchup should be quite a show between the leaders in the NBA's MVP race -- Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Houston guard James Harden.
When the teams met earlier this season -- a 116-109 Milwaukee victory in Houston on Jan. 9 -- Antetokounmpo posted 27 points and 21 rebounds, while Harden poured in 42 points, with 11 boards and six assists.
Antetokounmpo has been back for two games after missing two because of a right ankle sprain. He had 26 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday's 127-105 win over Cleveland as the NBA-leading Bucks (55-19) pushed their Eastern Conference lead to four games over the Toronto Raptors.
Given that edge in the standings, Antetokounmpo likely will be due some rest down the stretch, but maybe not Tuesday night.
"As a player and as a person, I cannot have that mindset, that whenever something is wrong my first thought is to rest," he said after Sunday's game.
"A lot of other people are telling me to rest and I'm going to keep having my mindset -- play through the pain, push forward and do whatever it takes for my team to win. And when it's something really, really bad, I know they're going to do a great job pulling me out from the team and telling me to rest."
Harden got some rest, relatively speaking, on Sunday. He needed only 29 minutes to score 28 points as the Rockets cruised to a 113-90 road win at the New Orleans Pelicans.
That followed a prolific two-game stretch in which he scored a combined 118 points while playing 82 minutes.
"We handled business," he said after the win over the Pelicans. "We came out here and we were professionals from the beginning of the game."
With eight games remaining, the Rockets (47-27) are third in the West, three games back of second-place Denver. There is still work to do for Houston to hold off fourth-place Portland.
"Third place is where we want to be," D'Antoni said.
After playing at Milwaukee, Houston hosts Denver on Thursday in another big game.
D'Antoni was asked if it could be good to get tested by teams like the Bucks and Nuggets close to the playoffs.
"I'd rather not," he said with a smile. "But if we do have to play them, I guess you could spin it that way. (The Bucks) are a really good team. They're long, so it will create certain problems for us."
Milwaukee is still making some injury adjustments with starting guard Malcolm Brogdon out indefinitely with a plantar fascia tear in his right foot, while backup center Pau Gasol (ankle) is out for the regular season.
Guard Tony Snell also suffered an ankle injury during Sunday's game, which could put an ever greater emphasis on contributions from George Hill, who scored 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting against Cleveland.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 26, 2019