LOS ANGELES: The Milwaukee Bucks downed the Chicago Bulls 105-92 to clinch top seeding throughout the NBA playoffs on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Lakers’ charge towards the postseason stumbled in a defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers. Bobby Portis scored 27 points while Brook Lopez added 26 points as the Bucks bagged their 58th win of the season to seal top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The win means Milwaukee will have home-court advantage through the playoffs as owners of the best record in the NBA. With Giannis Antetokounmpo rested, Milwaukee demonstrated their strength in depth with a balanced offensive display.
Point guard Jrue Holiday took on the playmaking responsibilities, with 15 assists and eight rebounds in addition to a 20-point haul, while Jevon Carter added 16 points. Milwaukee’s offense turned the game around in the third quarter, transforming a 61-51 deficit with a 15-0 run that put the Bucks into a 66-61 lead.
The only blemish on the evening for Mike Budenholzer’s side was an injury scare to Khris Middleton, who departed after less than nine minutes on court with a knee problem. Wednesday’s victory however means the Bucks can rest their frontline players through the final two games of the regular season, which wraps up on Sunday before the playoffs get under way on April 15.
“Obviously, over an 82-game season there’s going to be highs and lows, there’s going to be times when you struggle and times when you’re hot,” Portis said after the win. “But staying together, building our habits on a daily basis, building our chemistry has been key, and hopefully we can take that into the postseason,” he added.
The identity of Milwaukee’s first-round opponents in the playoffs will not be determined until the completion of next week’s play-in tournament. Elsewhere on Wednesday, the Boston Celtics clinched second seeding in the Eastern Conference with a 97-93 win over the Toronto Raptors. Boston’s victory ensured that the Philadelphia 76ers will finish third in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers are poised to face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the postseason. The Nets all but guaranteed sixth place with a 123-108 win over Detroit on Wednesday.
Clippers down Lakers
In the Western Conference the Denver Nuggets were confirmed as number one seeds in their half of the playoffs after the Memphis Grizzlies were beaten 138-131 in overtime by the New Orleans Pelicans. But the playoff hopes of the Los Angeles Lakers remains less clear after their 125-118 loss to the Clippers. A weary-looking Lakers side—who returned to Los Angeles after a gruelling overtime victory in Utah on Tuesday—trailed for almost the entire game as the Clippers brought up their 11th consecutive win over their city rivals.
The Clippers set the tone early on, jumping out to a 15-3 first-quarter lead in the opening minutes. The Lakers rallied to lead by one briefly in the opening period before the Clippers reasserted themselves to pull clear, at one stage opening up a 24-point lead in the third quarter. LeBron James led the scoring for the Lakers with a game-high 33 points while Norman Powell (27 points) and Kawhi Leonard (25) carried the Clippers to victory.
The loss leaves the Lakers outside the top six automatic playoff spots with two regular-season games remaining. The Lakers are seventh in the standings with a 41-39 record, with the Clippers and Golden State Warriors just ahead of them with identical 42-38 records. Elsewhere, the Dallas Mavericks kept their faint hopes of a playoff spot alive with a 123-119 win over the Sacramento Kings in Texas.
Kyrie Irving led the Mavs’ scoring with 31 points while Luka Doncic finished with 29 to give Dallas a fighting chance of reaching next week’s play-in tournament. Dallas are 11th in the standings, one place outside the play-in qualification spots. “It’s not over until it’s over,” Irving said. “We’ve just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep maintaining the poise and mentality and the results will come. “We don’t control our own destiny but we can control our effort out here right now.” Four clubs advance to the play-in mini-tournament to determine the final two teams that join the top six finishers in each conference. – AFP