It was obvious one team hadn't played since Monday and the other was playing for the fifth time in eight days.
The Milwaukee Bucks hit their first 10 shots, went 14-of-19 in the first quarter to build a 21-point lead and never trailed on the way to a 124-117 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. With wins in the first two meetings, Milwaukee clinches the season series against one of its top Eastern Conference foes. The teams play for the final time Saturday.
"We were moving the ball, knocking down shots. From the start, everybody was locked in," said Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 27 points and 16 rebounds.
The Sixers looked as fatigued as one might expect playing the second night of a back-to-back and their fifth game in eight days. That didn't stop coach Doc Rivers from lamenting his team's "soft" showing.
"I just felt like we were late on everything. We were soft tonight defensively," said Rivers. "That first quarter, they get every shot they wanted. We didn’t offer any resistance."
With the loss, the Sixers fell into a tie atop the Eastern Conference with the Brooklyn Nets at 39-20. The Bucks are still third, but they have pulled within 2½ games at 36-22. With 14 games left in the regular season, the Bucks are quietly inching up the standings behind the Sixers and Nets and could be poised to make a run at the No. 1 seed.
While the Nets and Sixers are currently trying to weather notable absences — Kevin Durant and James Harden for Brooklyn, Ben Simmons for Philadelphia — the Bucks are fully healthy, with all of their key rotation players back and up to speed.
“It’s a huge win for us.”
Khris Middleton is with @ZoraStephenson after scoring 24 points to help the #Bucks beat the top-seeded 76ers. pic.twitter.com/zNJf0xaI2O
Philadelphia has the easiest remaining strength of schedule, according to tankathon, but Milwaukee also has a favorable slate the rest of the way, with the eighth-easiest. Brooklyn has the hardest road ahead, with the ninth-toughest strength of schedule.
Home-court advantage might not matter quite as much for these playoffs, with limited fan capacities around the league. Seeding is still important in terms of matchups, though, and securing the top spot ensures the most favorable opponents in a team's path to the NBA Finals.
Here are four more things to know today in the NBA:
KP injures ankle
Kristaps Porzingis is injured again just when the Dallas Mavericks are gearing up for a late push ahead of the playoffs. Porzingis left Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Lakers in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle and did not return. The team did not immediately know the severity of the injury, but any missed time would be a blow for the Mavericks, who won 115-110 on Thursday to tie the Portland Trail Blazers for sixth in the Western Conference with 14 games left.
"We'll see where he is (Friday)," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "He was in pretty good spirits after the game, and he is walking. He isn't in a boot or anything at this point."
Rick Carlisle on status of Kristaps Porzingis: “He rolled it [and we’re] uncertain as to the severity. We’re hoping it’s not too severe. I don’t think he’s been ruled out for Saturday yet, but with ankles, a lot of it’s about how the player is feeling the next morning.”
Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks got good news Thursday on his injured left ankle. Young was diagnosed with a Grade 2 lateral ankle sprain, the team announced. He's been ruled out for the next two games. According to a report, the injury won't keep the star point guard out long-term.
Young was injured late in the third quarter Wednesday against the New York Knicks and did not return. New York won 137-127 in OT to overtake Atlanta for fourth in the Eastern Conference, making Young's availability crucial to the Hawks' playoff push.
Wizards win streak
It's gone largely unnoticed by most, but the Washington Wizards are riding their longest win streak in four years and pushing their way into the play-in tournament. The Wizards have won six in a row to overtake the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors for 10th in the Eastern Conference. The streak is their longest since winning seven straight in January and February of 2017. Bradley Beal, the league's second-leading scorer, is averaging 31.8 points over the last six games.
🎥 #WizWarriors HIGHLIGHTS 🎥
The top plays from our sixth straight win! pic.twitter.com/7QKUwc8mnr
Game of the night: Celtics at Nets
Have the Boston Celtics finally figured things out? It feels like the question has been asked once a week during the season, but it does appear that the Celtics are on track for the stretch run. They've won nine of 11 to climb into a tie with the Atlanta Hawks for fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Brooklyn Nets are once again tied for first in the East with the Philadelphia 76ers, and the race for the No. 1 seed could come down to the final days of the regular season.
Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.
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