The Milwaukee Bucks are so good this season that they set an NBA record on Sunday without even stepping on the court. Their 119-98 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, combined with a loss the following day by the Washington Wizards. made Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks the fastest team in league history to clinch a playoff berth.
One goal down, several more to go
Losing to the Chicago Bulls by a 126-117 margin on Sunday left the Washington Wizards, who are ninth in the NBA Eastern Conference standings, 27.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls with 27 games to play. That wrapped up a playoff spot for the Milwaukee Bucks in record time by any measurement.
The Bucks needed just 56 games to assure their place in the postseason, accomplishing the feat two games faster that the Golden State Warriors in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. The Warriors’ clinching dates those two seasons were on Feb. 27 and Feb. 25, respectively, so Milwaukee also holds the distinction of earliest on the calendar to clinch.
There are bigger, more important milestones ahead for the Bucks, who got 31 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and 25 by Khris Middleton against the 76ers. They’re looking for the home-court playoff advantage in both the Eastern Conference and overall. At 48-8 through the weekend, Milwaukee is 6.5 games ahead of the Toronto Raptors in the East and 4.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for overall league honors.
The Bucks will not have the luxury of coasting to the finish line of the regular season. The Raptors pummeled the Indiana Pacers by a 127-81 margin Sunday for their 17th victory in the last 18 games.
Can the Milwaukee Bucks finish with the best record ever?
The Milwaukee Bucks still have a remote chance at an NBA feat more significant that being the fastest to clinch a playoff spot.
They’ll be hard-pressed to match the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors (73-9), led by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, for the best record in league history. But they can become the third squad to reach 70 victories, joining those Warriors and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10), led by Michael Jordan, as the only teams to win 70.
Toronto won’t make it easy on the Bucks as the Raptors still have three games on the schedule against Milwaukee, including a home contest Tuesday.
How have the Milwaukee Bucks gotten so far ahead of the field?
Playing in the Eastern Conference indisputably has helped coach Mike Budenholzer’s Milwaukee Bucks roll up a 48-8 record with 33 victories by double-digit margins through 56 games. Eastern teams have seven of the nine worst records in the NBA.
It gets a bit tougher down the stretch for Milwaukee with 16 of the final 26 contests against NBA teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo at 30.0 points a game, Khris Middleton at 20.7, and Eric Bledsoe at 15.7, the Bucks have motivation and momentum on their side.
After six straight seasons in which they failed to play better than .500 basketball, they went 42-40, 44-38, and 60-22 the past three seasons. They failed to get beyond the first round of the playoffs in 2017 and 2018 but made it to the conference finals last spring before bowing to the Toronto Raptors.