Preview: Celtics at Bucks
The Boston Celtics were the preseason favorites to win the Eastern Conference but are instead fighting for homecourt advantage while the Milwaukee Bucks run away with the top spot. The Bucks will try to assert their dominance over the rest of the top competitors in the East once again when they host the Celtics on Thursday.
Milwaukee is 7-3 against the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston and breezed into the All-Star break with wins in 14 of the last 16 games behind All-Star captain Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” scored 38 points on 17-of-23 shooting in a losing effort in Sunday’s All-Star Game but remains an MVP candidate and took the Bucks into the break by collecting 33 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists in a 106-97 win at the Pacers. The Celtics were well-represented during the All-Star festivities as point guard Kyrie Irving contributed 13 points in 25 minutes to Team LeBron’s 178-164 win over Team Giannis and second-year forward Jayson Tatum starred in the Rising Stars game before winning the Skills Challenge. Boston won 12 of 15 going into the break and is opening a three-game trip at Milwaukee that will also send it through second-place Toronto.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT THE CELTICS (37-21): Irving sat out the final two games before the All-Star break to rest a sore knee but worked hard to get back for the annual exhibition and get right for the stretch run. “I’m happy. My strength and conditioning coach, my own training staff that I hired myself, every single day has been communication, making sure I can play in the game,” Irving told reporters after the game. “We understand it’s an All-Star Game, but to go up and down before Thursday comes, I’d be a lot worse if that was my first time playing in basically two weeks. Five days in the NBA season is a lot of time. I’m not sure people realize that. Being away from the game, especially if you have to get off your feet. Getting up shots tonight, being around this camaraderie and competition, was good.” Irving, who can become a free agent after the season, is averaging 23.6 points and 6.9 assists.
ABOUT THE BUCKS (43-14): Milwaukee’s big splash at the trade deadline was bringing in power forward Nikola Mirotic in a deal from the New Orleans Pelicans. The 28-year-old, who is averaging 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 36.8 percent from beyond the arc, has been out with a calf injury since Jan. 23 but was on the verge of making his team debut before the break and could play Thursday. Mirotic joins a lineup headlined by Antetokounmpo and fellow All-Star Khris Middleton, who scored 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting in 22 minutes for Team Giannis on Sunday.
1. Celtics PG Terry Rozier (illness) joined Irving on the bench before the break but is expected back Thursday.
2. Bucks C Brook Lopez is 4-of-24 from 3-point range in the last three games.
3. Antetokounmpo scored 30 points in the most recent meeting, a 120-107 Milwaukee win at Boston on Dec. 21.