The Milwaukee Bucks may be fully healthy when they travel to take on the Detroit Pistons on Monday night. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are listed as probable on the team’s early injury report. If the two suit up along with Jrue Holiday, it would be just the fifth time the Bucks’ big three have played together this season.
Antetokounmpo missed the last five games with a lingering knee injury, but the entire team was confident it was nothing major. He was able to work in the weight room and on the court during the process, but was held out longer than expected as a precaution.
“We keep thinking that the stuff that he and we have dealt with — for me it’s been every year that I’ve been here,” coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo last week. “We don’t think it’s more than that. Him being healthy, our priority is always to take care of him, we’ll probably always be careful because we know how important he is to us.”
Antetokounmpo’s five-game absence is his longest since December 2021, when he sat out five consecutive games while in the COVID health and safety protocols. Because of the ridiculous workload he has had to carry this season with all of the Bucks’ injuries, it always seemed like a little longer spell on the sidelines at some point and that will probably be the best long term. . At the same time, the Bucks are in dire need of a comeback as the race for the No. 1 seed continues. 2 in the Eastern Conference is heating up.
The same for Middleton, who hasn’t played since December 15, and has only appeared in seven games this season. Despite saying at media day that he would return “hopefully near the start of the season,” Middleton missed the first 20 games while recovering from offseason wrist surgery. After some inconsistent performances, he was shut down again with a knee injury and has missed another 18 games.
While the Bucks got off to a franchise-best 9-0 start, that was in part due to a soft schedule in the first few weeks heavily weighted toward home games. They haven’t been able to sustain that level and are just 9-10 over the past five weeks, with four of those wins coming by 20 plus points.
Now 29-17 on the season after a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, the Bucks have dropped to third place in the East, one game behind the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers. With the Boston Celtics barring a slump in the second half of the season, it looks like everyone else will be fighting for second place. There are currently four teams in the mix, with the Sixers, Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Cavaliers separated by just two games.
The Bucks aren’t a team that has historically prioritized seeding, but this season more than ever there’s an incentive to grab the No. 1 spot. 2 to get. Or, at the very least, avoid the No. 4-5 seeds. The East is deeper than ever, and if the Bucks fall into the 4-5 game, they would have to beat three of the Celtics, Sixers, Nets and Cavs to make the Finals.