Milwaukee Bucks juggle injuries, finish strong

MILWAUKEE — When given the choice, the Milwaukee Bucks will always prefer to have Giannis Antetokounmpo on the court closing out tight games.

They’re still winning while the All-Star forward rests a sore right ankle, a good sign for a team jockeying for playoff seeding in the East.

Coach Joe Prunty said it was too early to determine Antetokounmpo’s status for the regular-season finale Wednesday at Philadelphia, though he liked what he saw at practice. The NBA’s fourth-leading scorer (27.1 points) has missed the last two games because of the ankle injury.

“The bottom line is that it’s progressing, that’s the positive,” Prunty said after practice Tuesday.

A win over the 76ers allows the Bucks to clinch the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. A loss means that they could fall as low as eighth, depending on how the Washington Wizards fare over their last two games.

Without Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee has beaten 50-loss teams in the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic. It’s a positive since the Bucks have been prone at times to playing down to the level of their opponents, especially those that can hit 3s.

Prunty’s team appears to be getting closer to full strength after winning three of their last four games, and five of their last seven. But the medical report has kept Prunty busy fielding questions about how much time injured players need to regain chemistry with the rest of the team.

Guard Malcolm Brogdon is working back into the rotation after the 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year followed a 30-game absence with a left quad injury. Brogdon appears to be fine after he played 14 minutes in his return his return Monday in the win over Orlando, Prunty said, and should play Wednesday.

Guard Matthew Dellavedova is also trying to come back from a sprained right ankle that has kept him out for two months.

“It does make it difficult, because you look at last night — Malcolm plays, but he’s not out there with Giannis, so that timing is going to be a little off,” Prunty said. “But we are where are. We’ve got to find a way to make it work, and we will.”

Prunty does have other healthy proven scoring options in forwards Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker, along with point guard Eric Bledsoe. Parker is back to averaging about 30 minutes a night, two months after returning from a left knee injury.

Bledsoe is shooting about 50 percent from 3-point range over the last seven games, giving defenders the difficult decision of whether to play him more tightly at the perimeter at the risk of letting him blow past them on the dribble. Prunty especially likes the way that Bledsoe has been running the offense of late.

“We definitely know we can’t win the whole thing without (Antetokounmpo). But at the same time, we’ve got a lot of confident guys in the room,” Bledsoe said. “We’re trying to get everybody on the same page because we’re going to need everybody.”

 

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