After becoming the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff spot following their win Tuesday, the Milwaukee Bucks return home Thursday to host the visiting Indiana Pacers, who are chasing a play-in spot.
On the second night of a road back-to-back, the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 116-104 thanks in large part to a near triple-double from Giannis Antetokounmpo: 36 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
The Bucks are now 9-1 in back-to-back scenarios when Antetokounmpo plays both games. Brook Lopez added 21 points along with 10 rebounds, Jrue Holiday added 12 points and five assists while Bobby Portis and Jae Crowder each scored 11 off the bench.
"Making the playoffs in this league is hard, you should never take anything for granted," Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We have a special team, our effort and desire to keep getting better. Sometimes I forget about celebrating and appreciating it."
Indiana is coming off a 117-97 road loss against the Detroit Pistons on Monday night after defeating the Pistons 121-115 on Saturday. Jordan Nwora, in his 11th game with Indiana, led the Pacers with 20 points Monday.
Nwora went from the Bucks to the Pacers in the blockbuster four-team trade on Feb. 9 that sent Crowder from the Phoenix Suns to Milwaukee.
Aaron Nesmith and Andrew Nembhard each had 15 points behind Nwora in a game where the Pacers were without multiple key players, including Tyrese Haliburton (knee), Benedict Mathurin (ankle) and Myles Turner (back).
"We just simply did not match the edge they played with from start to finish," Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. "It's valuable for our young guys to get this kind of experience, part of this is human nature. After we got a win that was pretty easy, they came out with a level of intensity that made us uncomfortable."
Antetokounmpo leads the Bucks with 31.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game this season. Holiday leads with 7.2 assists and 1.2 steals while Brook Lopez is among the league leaders in blocks with 2.5.
Haliburton leads Indiana in points (20.8), assists (10.4) and steals (1.6), with his assist total tops in the NBA. Myles Turner causes problems down low for Pacers opponents with 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.
The Bucks were without Khris Middleton (knee management) and Grayson Allen (plantar fasciitis) on Tuesday. Goran Dragic (knee) has yet to debut with the team after he was signed as a free agent March 4.
The Pacers have five players listed as day-to-day, including Mathurin who Carlisle said on Monday is "making real positive strides with his rehab." But Carlisle declined to offer a timeline for return. Turner, Haliburton, Chris Duarte (ankle) and T.J. McConnell (back) are all also listed as day-to-day.
This is the third game of four between these division rivals this season, with Milwaukee looking for its 11th consecutive victory over Indiana. The last time the Pacers won the season series was the 2017-18 season and Milwaukee also holds the all-time series lead 113-91.
--Field Level Media