The NBA is less than 15 games away from its season ending playoff, yet most of the 30 teams are yet to fill the 16 spots available due to the tight contest happening in this season’s battle for the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, except one team. Earlier this week, the Milwaukee Bucks from Central Division became the first team to accumulate 50 wins and clinch a place in the playoff this season. The Giannis-led team and 2021 NBA Champion accomplished their half of century of wins this season by beating the Kevin Durant-less Phoenix Suns with a 116-104 win at Footprint Center on Tuesday.
Giannis Near Triple-Double
Bucks’ 50th victory this season was backed by the Greek Freak’s 36-point performance on road, which was coupled with 11 rebounds and eight assists. Giannis’ scoring total was based on a field goal of 47.8% and 14 made free throws, but it is his near triple-double statistics that proved his all-around gameplay and why he is a two-time NBA MVP. Although the 28-year-old forward ranked third in the latest NBA MVP Ladder, the team honour of becoming the first 50-win team this season may soon propel Giannis’ chances of winning a third accolade in this personal category.
Despite losing their following game against the Indiana Pacers at home, Bucks achieved an impressive 20 wins in their last 23 games played, and even notched a 15-game winning streak during the stretch. These winning and losing totals made their record now stands at 50 wins and 20 losses after 70 games, with only 12 matches left to be played in the regular season. When spoke about the milestone of earning the first playoff spot as well as the 50-win mark, Giannis said that he was not aware of them.
The 28-year-old from Greece said: “We made the playoffs? No way! We did? Man! For real? Oh man, it feels good. Yeah, it feels good. Gotta keep on playing, keep on trying to compete, build good habits. I think the last three games we’ve played in playoff atmosphere, it’s really good for us. It’s really good for us to lose a game, to be down 10, come back to the game, be up 10, they came back and we kept our composure and win the game by 10. It was good. All on the road. It makes it stronger. I’m happy that we’re able to win and be the first team to clinch the playoffs.”
Bucks this season:
1st seed in the NBA
1st team with 50 wins
3rd in defensive rating
4th in net rating
First team to clinch the playoffs. pic.twitter.com/Mi0ZKbnqB8
— StatMuse (@statmuse) March 15, 2023
Bucks Favourite to Win It All?
The team in green won the NBA Championship twice in the past, once in 1971, thanks to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Then Lew Alcindor) and Oscar Robertson and 2021 via most of the current team members. With stars leaving the Eastern Conference before the trade deadline this season, the Bucks are likely to have a much more easier path to the NBA Finals as compared to their previous championship runs, which will favour them to compete against the West Conference Champion, should it manage to reach the Finals.
Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, on the other hand, does not want to take things for granted this season. The 53-year-old believes that he is managing a special team with unique talents and coaching staff, and those things are the pedigree a team needs to win a title. His response went “I think we just mentioned it in the coaches’ locker room, to appreciate this. Making the playoffs in this league is hard. You should never take anything for granted. And we have a special team, our focus, our effort and our desire to keep getting better”.
Which Team Can Lock Horns with the Bucks?
Teams led by MVP candidates, Jayson Tatum’s Boston Celtics and Joel Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers will aim to take down Milwaukee and Giannis in the Eastern Conference this season. Both teams shared similar records with the No. 1 Seed from East and will definitely pose some serious questions to the two-time champion in the playoffs when they meet, whereas the Denver Nuggets are likely to win the rat race in the Western Conference, should the Nikola Jokić-led team bring their A game from the regular season to the playoff.
Elsewhere in football (soccer), the last eight teams in the UEFA Europa League have been finalised, and these include the likes of Manchester United, Juventus, Roma, etc. Read here for more.