The Bucks couldn't touch the Thunder on Monday. That's OK, because Milwaukee's competition for the remainder of the season is much, much less daunting. We look at the Bucks' slate and the rest of Monday's playoff-implicating action after the jump.
Milwaukee fell to 1.5 games behind the Knicks and 76ers with Monday's loss; the two Eastern rivals were inactive. On Wednesday, the Bucks play the Knicks in what will obviously be a huge game. But after that, things lighten up considerably ... with the exception of two games against the Pacers. After Wednesday, only four of the Bucks remaining eight games with be against playoff contenders, and of those, two are at home. One of the tough road games is against Boston on the final day of the season; the Celtics should have the Atlantic Division sewn up by then, and could rest some vets.
The Knicks, meanwhile, have six games remaining against teams in the playoff chase ... including a Bulls rematch on Tuesday, battles against the Heat and Celtics next week, and the Hawks and Clippers in the last week of the season. The Knicks' schedule looks a whole lot tougher on paper.
This, of course, ignores that the Sixers are the team most likely to make way for Milwaukee, given how awful Philadelphia has looked of late. Philly has an easier schedule than even the Bucks, but hasn't shown that it can beat even the dregs of the league lately.
And now, a look at the rest of the playoff picture.
The Pacers and Magic were the only East chase teams besides the Bucks to play on Monday; both won, with Indiana's victory serving to increases its cushion at No. 3 to a full game and with Orlando pulling even with Atlanta for No. 5. Atlanta and Orlando each have a 1.5-game lead on No. 4 Boston; as noted before, unless one of them catches Indiana or Boston catches one of them, the better of the Hawks and Magic will have a home series against the C's and the lesser will have a road series against the Pacers. I'm not sure how huge that difference is, but it's there.
Here's what the East bracket looks like as of Tuesday morning.
Bulls (1) vs. Sixers (8)
Heat (2) vs. Knicks (7)
Pacers (3) vs. Magic (6)
Celtics (4) vs. Hawks (5)*
* Hawks would have home court advantage due to a better record.
The West was a bit more vibrant on Monday. The Thunder pulled back into the conference lead with the win over Milwaukee, as San Antonio left its stars at home (literally) and laid down for the Jazz. OKC now leads by one game. The Lakers survived without Kobe Bryant, and the Grizzlies beat the Clippers. That served to increase the Lakers' narrowing margin back to 1.5 games; the Clips now lead Memphis by just a half-game in the race for home court advantage. (Note: Memphis never had home-court advantage last season, and was a bad overtime away from the Western Conference Finals.)
Dallas was inactive on Monday, but Houston, Denver, Utah and Phoenix all won. The structure of that race remains the same -- the Rockets are No. 6, the Mavericks No. 7, the Nuggets No. 8 and the Jazz and Suns looking in -- but the margins have changed. The Nuggets and Mavericks are now even at 31-26, one game behind the Rockets. The Suns are one game out of the No. 8, and the Jazz are an additional half-game back.
Here's what the West bracket looks like as of Tuesday morning:
Thunder (1) vs. Nuggets (8)
Spurs (2) vs. Mavericks (7)
Lakers (3) vs. Rockets (6)
Clippers (4) vs. Grizzlies (5)
Be sure to check for Scott Schroeder's Enormous Consequences at noon ET.