Bucks gaining ground on slumping Nets
Brooklyn swept by Milwaukee in potential playoff preview
With only six games left in their regular season run-up to the playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets can still rally to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference by catching first-place Philadelphia.
That’s only if, of course, they can hold off the fast-charging, third-place Milwaukee Bucks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Brooklyn defense for the second time in three nights Tuesday, lifting the Bucks to a 124-118 victory and a two-game series sweep of the Nets in front of 3,280 fans at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum.
“I’m happy we were able to put on a show for our fans and able to build good habits in those games, but that’s all,” said Antetokounmpo, who scored 36 points in Tuesday’s win after putting up 49 on the Nets Sunday.
“They don’t mean nothing. Nobody’s going to remember these games when we’re in the playoffs.”
Both the Nets (43-24) and Bucks (41-24) are headed to the postseason, but their respective seedings in this month’s first-round playoff openers have yet to be established.
Brooklyn has been chasing, or trying to stay in front of, the conference-leading 76ers (44-21) for most of this campaign.
Now, the Nets might have to worry about the Bucks sneaking in behind them and grabbing the No. 2 seed.
With Tuesday’s win, Milwaukee secured a season series win from Brooklyn, 2-1, and is now just 1 1/2 games behind the Nets for the second spot in the East with seven games left on their slate.
Losers of three in a row for just the second time this year, the Nets have to find a way to rebound quickly after falling to 0-2 on their ongoing five-game road trip, which continues Thursday night in Dallas.
Brooklyn stands 1 1/2 games behind the Sixers.
“Our team, our gap for our team is that we don’t have a common history,” noted Nets head coach Steve Nash.
“We’re brand new, everything’s new. We’ve changed teams more or less a number of times, so we’ve got a gap to make up as far as our understanding of one another.”
Kyrie Irving scored 38 points and Kevin Durant added 32 for Brooklyn, which is still waiting for two-time Eastern Conference Player of the Month James Harden to return from a hamstring strain.
The Nets also got 12 points from Joe Harris and 10 apiece by Jeff Green and Mike James.
None of it was enough as the Bucks, who have been chasing a title together for several years now, used an 18-1 run to crush any hopes of a Brooklyn victory.
“It’s important to be playing well going down the stretch here,” Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer said.
The Nets were outrebounded 55-39 and committed 13 turnovers, falling to 9-8 over their last 17 games, hardly the type of momentum-inducing run they were hoping for as the playoffs approach.
“We’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to win 50-50 balls, and we’ve got to do the dirty work,” insisted Nash.
“Because we have to give ourselves some sort of buffer while we figure each other out, while we get more familiar with our schemes and our sets, and give us give ourself that little cushion, where maybe it’s not as smooth, it’s not as seamless at all times, but we’re still able to scrap and claw and stay in the games.”
To be fair, Brooklyn was in both contests in Milwaukee, but just didn’t do the things necessary to pull out a win in either game.
If they find themselves back here several weeks from now or next month in a playoff series, the Nets will have to show more fight, more grit and more of what made them the team to beat in the East before Harden went down.
“They were overall more physical than us on both ends of the floor,” Nash lamented.
There was some very good Brooklyn sports news Tuesday night as the visiting Cyclones, dormant since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic, opened their 20th anniversary season with an 8-2 victory over the Asheville Tourists in front of 1,200 fans at McCormick Field.
Champions of the now-defunct New York-Penn League two years ago, the Baby Bums are now part of the High-A North Division following the contraction of 40 teams and several leagues from the minor league landscape.
Brooklyn starter Josh Walker struck out eight over five hitless innings and former first-round draft pick Brett Baty drove in three runs for the Cyclones (1-0), who homer in the second inning from Hayden Senger.
New manager Ed Blankmeyer recorded his first victory at the helm while the Cyclones made the most of their first-ever full-season High-A game after 19 seasons on Coney Island as the Mets’ Short Season Class A affiliate.
Brooklyn was scheduled to resume its series in Asheville Wednesday evening at 6:35 p.m.
The Cyclones will host their highly anticipated home opener at MCU Park on May 18 vs. Hudson Valley.
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