Torrid Clippers matching up with NBA-best Bucks
The club that is tied for the longest active winning streak in the NBA will meet the team with the best record in the league when the Los Angeles Clippers travel to Milwaukee on Thursday to face the Bucks.
The Clippers (45-30) earned their way into the playoff field Tuesday with a 122-111 at Minnesota that was far more convincing than the score would indicate. Afterward, the Clippers held a champagne celebration in the locker room after notching their sixth straight win.
"Hey, ESPN predicted 33 wins; that's what they said," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told his team with a bottle of champagne under his arm. "Charles Barkley: 33 wins. Vegas: 33 wins. And we're going to the damn playoffs."
Void of a superstar, it was difficult to pinpoint the exact focal point for team success. Then the Clippers revamped their roster in February, dealing away leading scorer Tobias Harris. And they kept on winning.
With seven games remaining, including Thursday's matchup, the Clippers still have a 50-win season as a goal, which makes Rivers a very strong candidate to receive NBA Coach of the Year honors.
The Bucks' path to success has been decidedly different. They do have a definitive star in Giannis Antetokounmpo, around which everything in their world spins.
At 56-19, the Bucks have won four of their last five games, a run that followed a stretch in which they split eight games that came right after they clinched a playoff berth at the start of March. Milwaukee has a four-game lead on the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference standings.
Like the Clippers, the Bucks are coming off a noteworthy game as Antetokounmpo squared off against James Harden and the Houston Rockets in the battle of MVP contenders.
The Bucks won the game 108-94 and Antetokounmpo appeared to win the duel by scoring 19 points with 14 rebounds in a victory, while Harden's 23 points were well under his season average of 36.2 and just the third time in his last 50 games he scored less than 25.
The Bucks figure to use the same kind of disruptive defense against Clippers' high-scoring reserve guard Lou Williams, who is coming off his 182nd career game of at least 20 points as a reserve, tied for second most in NBA history.
But the Clippers have another scoring threat in Danilo Gallinari, who is on a career-best run of 10 consecutive games with at least 20 points.
Like the Clippers, the Bucks have seven games remaining, four of which are in front of the home crowd that serenaded Antetokounmpo with "MVP, MVP, MVP!" chants while the Bucks were defeating Harden and the Rockets.
"I definitely noticed that," Antetokounmpo said. "... I really appreciate the fans supporting me and supporting the team. Nights like (Tuesday), we try to deliver the fans a win. But as I said in the past, I don't want to think about (MVP). I just want to come in here and try to win games."
Clippers guard Landry Shamet is day-to-day with a left ankle impingement, while Bucks just learned that guard Donte DiVincenzo (heel) will miss the remainder of the season. The Bucks will also be without forward Nikola Mirotic (thumb), center Pau Gasol (ankle) and guard Malcolm Brogdon (heel). Swingman Tony Snell (ankle) is day-to-day.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 28, 2019