Bucks News: Going All-In for Eastern Conference’s No. 1 Seed Would Be Massive Mistake for Milwaukee

The top of the Eastern Conference standings remains a jumbled mess heading into the final stretch of the NBA season. The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks are within striking distance of grabbing the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs — but that would be a risky goal for the Bucks to aim for.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday have all missed significant time this season and have been shelved with injuries multiple times over the past few weeks.

Brook Lopez missed the first three-quarters of the season. Pat Connaughton recently returned after missing more than a month. Those key cogs in Milwaukee’s championship hopes are still working themselves into playoff form.

So head coach Mike Budenholzer needs to make a choice. Should he roll out his best lineup and shoot for home-court advantage? Or would it be better to make sure his best players are as close to 100% as possible, regardless of the Bucks’ ultimate seed?

The latter is the obvious choice. The former would be a massive mistake for Milwaukee.

The Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is within the Milwaukee Bucks’ grasp

Prior to March 29’s slate, only one game separates the top four teams in the East.

The Miami Heat lead the way with a 48-28 record but have played two more games than everyone else. The Heat have also lost six of their last 10.

The Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers are 46-28 and have a crucial matchup with major playoff-seeding implications on March 29.

Philly is 6-4 in their last 10, while Milwaukee is 7-3.

The Boston Celtics have been the hottest team in the NBA for the last two months. Jayson Tatum has taken a leap and become one of the league’s best offensive players, but it was Boston’s defense that led the surge.

Starting center Robert Williams III was the Celtics’ backline anchor but is now out indefinitely after a torn left meniscus. That leaves 35-year-old Al Horford and career backup Daniel Theis left to man the middle.

Williams’ injury puts a massive dent into Boston’s championship hopes.

So the East is there for the taking. But there’s something more important the Bucks need to be focusing on.

The defending champs need to be healthy more than they need home-court advantage

The Milwaukee Bucks can land the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but the best news would be for the team to be healthy entering the playoffs.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks sit on the bench during the second half of a game against the Phoenix Suns. | Chris Coduto/Getty Images

There’s no doubt knowing you’ll have every Game 7 at home for the entire Eastern Conference postseason would be a boost. But if it comes at the expense of your best players’ health, why would it matter?

The answer is that it wouldn’t.

Like most NBA teams this year, the Bucks have dealt with injuries to key players. Lopez played the first game of the year before having back surgery and didn’t return until March 14.

Connaughton, who was a critical part of Milwaukee’s championship rotation last year, was out for a month with a broken finger.

Giannis has missed two of the team’s last four games with knee soreness and is listed as probable for the Sixers game.

Middleton has also missed two of those games, and Holiday was out for the team’s embarrassing loss to a Memphis Grizzlies team playing without Ja Morant on March 26.

Antetokounmpo has missed 13 games this year, and Holiday and Middleton have each missed 14. That’s not counting the significant time Connaughton and Lopez missed.

“Each year has its own unique situations and circumstances,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said on March 22 via The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“But I think to have the team as healthy as possible is something that is very important. Layered into healthy is maybe, if possible, having not worn down mentally or physically (players).”

Sounds like a possible hint on Bud’s strategy.

The Bucks already proved they can beat the NBA’s best teams when it matters most

Last year’s championship run — when Milwaukee entered the postseason as the East’s No 3 seed, by the way — should give the Bucks all the confidence they need to make a title push regardless of their place in the standings.

Even without that all-important home-court advantage, they found a way to win an NBA Championship anyway.

“Obviously, you’ve got to start taking care of your body because we’ve played a season for 82 games,” Giannis said via the Journal Sentinel. “You don’t want to go into the playoffs having all these things lingering. You want to be 100% healthy because once you go into the playoffs and competing, stuff is going to happen there.

“Everybody has to be healthy. Hopefully – knock on wood – nobody gets injured for the last eight games and everybody finishes the season healthy and happy and go into the playoffs and enjoy the game and compete as hard as we can.”

Reading between the lines (or maybe not even between the lines, maybe it’s obvious), the Bucks are aiming for a healthy team rather than a healthy playoff seed.

Which is the right call. Any other decision would be an unnecessary risk and a massive mistake.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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