The Milwaukee Bucks haven't finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference since the 1973-74 season. They can take another step toward ending that drought when they host the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.
The Bucks entered the week three games ahead of the Toronto Raptors for the best record in the East. Milwaukee missed a chance to lower its magic number when it lost 130-125 to the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, but the Raptors also lost that day, 110-107 to the Detroit Pistons.
"Tough games like this are going to help us in the future moving forward in the playoffs because every game is going to be like tonight," Bucks leading scorer Giannis Antetokounmpo told reporters after the loss. "Hopefully, we learn from it and when we're in the same situation in the future we can react better."
The Lakers haven't been putting up much resistance lately.
Los Angeles has lost eight of nine, most recently blowing an 11-point lead with 3:45 left on Sunday at the New York Knicks and losing 124-123 when a 12-footer by LeBron James was blocked with 2.3 seconds left.
The Knicks had lost nine in a row and own the worst record in the NBA.
"It never comes down to that final play," Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters afterward. "It's about the details of closing games out once you have that lead. It felt like we let our foot off the gas a little bit."
James, who the Lakers acquired in the offseason in the hopes of getting them back in the playoffs for the first time in six years, missed 11 shots in the fourth quarter, the most he has missed in any quarter in his career.
"Of course that stuff bothers me," James said.
James might even get overshadowed in his first return to Milwaukee as a member of the Lakers.
Antetokounmpo is coming off a career-high 52-point performance in the loss to the 76ers. He also had 16 rebounds and seven assists.
The Lakers limited Antetokounmpo to 16 points when these teams met March 1 in Los Angeles, but he contributed 15 rebounds, six assists and three blocks in the 131-120 win.
Milwaukee point guard Malcolm Brogdon scored 21 points in that victory, but he sustained a minor plantar fascia tear in his right foot in a win against the Miami Heat on Friday and is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks.
Antetokounmpo said the Bucks felt Brogdon's absence against Philadelphia. Nikola Mirotic started in place of Brogdon at stretch forward and was 0-for-6 from 3-point range, which is his specialty.
"Not having Malcolm, it's a big loss, but at the end of the day we've got to play as a team," Antetokounmpo said. "We have a lot of guys ready that can step up, naturally, without forcing anything."
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer could give second-year stretch forward D.J. Wilson a shot at his first NBA start. Wilson shot 3-for-6 from 3-point range and scored 13 points against Philadelphia, his fourth game in double figures this season.
The team also requested waivers on 6-foot-10 forward Christian Wood on Monday and plans to sign point guard Tim Frazier to provide more depth in the backcourt.
Brogdon is fourth on the team in scoring at 15.6 points a game.
--Field Level Media