Stars expected to shine when Bucks, Sixers meet
When the Milwaukee Bucks play at the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, the game could be resemble a full-strength playoff matchup.
Bucks star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo returned Monday night from a one-game absence to rest his right ankle, and he declared himself 100 percent after going for 28 points and 11 rebounds in a 131-121 win at the Brooklyn Nets.
"His ability as a passer and playmaker has been so important to us," coach Mike Budenholzer said of his NBA MVP candidate. "I would say he's already ahead of where any of us envisioned."
Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 27.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, still might sit out at least one of the four remaining games for Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee (58-20), but perhaps one of the two weekend games would be a better time.
The Bucks still need one more victory -- or a loss by second-place Toronto (56-23) -- to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia (49-29) is expected to have star center Joel Embiid on Thursday. He rested his sore left knee and missed an 1-2 road trip that wrapped up with a 130-122 loss at the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
The Sixers, with four games left in their season, are 2 1/2 games ahead of Boston (47-32) for the third seed in the East.
Adding to the potential wattage on Thursday night, Sixers forward Jimmy Butler was back in action Wednesday night after he missed Monday's loss in Dallas because of back tightness.
"There is a physical side to him that we go up a notch defensively, we go up a notch, I think, spiritually with the way (Butler) plays, how hard he plays and how hard he competes," Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters before Wednesday's game.
"He's just an incredibly gifted athlete who sort of has a mirrored personality to support his physical gifts. To bring him back in the mix, that's the first thing I think of. Apart from his skill-set, there is a mentality and a disposition physically that I'm highly attracted to."
Butler had 16 points and seven rebounds on Wednesday night, when J.J. Redick led the team with 30 points. Rookie center Jonah Bolden, taking advantage of Embiid's absence, had 13 points and 10 rebounds -- eight on the offensive glass -- in 24 minutes.
Bolden is trying to earn postseason time as Embiid's backup, competing with veteran Boban Marjanovic. According to reports Wednesday, the Sixers also are expected to sign another veteran center, Greg Monroe, for the remainder of the season.
Wednesday's game will decide the season series. The teams split two games in Milwaukee earlier this season, including a 130-125 Philadelphia victory on March 17, the Bucks' first game without injured Malcolm Brogdon.
"That game that we played against them a few weeks ago, we didn't play our best basketball," Antetokounmpo told reporters Wednesday. "Hopefully, we can be better (Thursday) and just get ourselves ready for the playoffs."
Brogdon has been out with a plantar fasciitis tear in his right foot and is eying a potential return for the second round of the playoffs.
The Bucks are expected to have Khris Middleton on Thursday after he missed two games because of a groin injury.
--Field Level Media
Updated April 4, 2019