Top-seeded Bucks look to end playoff skid vs. Pistons
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Boston entered the season as the Eastern Conference favorite. Philadelphia has a star-studded lineup. Perennial playoff participant Toronto is now led by 2014 Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard.
None of those teams head the playoffs as the conference's top seed. Milwaukee holds that distinction and is eager to prove it's worthy of that status.
The Bucks, who won a league-high 60 games and have home-court advantage throughout the postseason, begin their quest for a ring on Sunday when they host No. 8 seed Detroit.
Led by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks come into the postseason brimming with confidence.
"The playoffs bring pressure," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Now is the time when you've got to execute defensively and offensively. There's no 'two weeks from now we need to get better' or 'a month from now.' Every team feels that pressure, the sense of the playoffs. I think our guys are excited about that and the coaching staff the same."
With the Pistons' best player a major health concern, the Bucks are a heavy favorite to end their long drought of winning a playoff series. They haven't advanced in the postseason since the 2000-01 campaign, when they reached the conference finals.
Since that point, the Bucks have been bounced in the first round eight times, including the last two seasons. They came close last spring, losing a Game 7 to Boston.
Milwaukee's players are well aware of the team's playoff history.
"As a team we know what our goal is," Antetokounmpo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We haven't recently been out of the first round. We have to take it step by step. Got to win the first game on Sunday, then we can move on."
Getting past the Pistons in the first round would be the first of three series victories required to reach the Finals for the first time since the 1973-74 season.
"We know what's at stake," swingman Khris Middleton said to the Journal Sentinel. "We know we have to get past the first round. We haven't been (past that) yet. Just keep doing what we do."
The Bucks will open the series without guards Tony Snell (left ankle sprain) and Malcolm Brogdon (plantar fascia tear). Forward Nikola Mirotic missed the last 11 games with a thumb fracture but practiced Friday.
Pistons All-Star forward Blake Griffin is questionable to play after sitting out four of the last seven games with a sore left knee. Detroit (41-41) is making its second playoff appearance since the 2008-09 season.
The Pistons didn't qualify until they defeated New York on the last night of the regular season. They're embracing the underdog role.
"We have to go and play hard, play loose," coach Dwane Casey said. "Nobody on this planet that's an NBA fan is going to expect us to win. That's great. I think a lot of our guys have been underdogs all their lives. I've been an underdog all my life. ... That's the approach we're taking - that nobody expects us to be here anyway."
Milwaukee swept the four-game season series by an average of 14.8 points.
"They're one of the best teams I've seen in the last few years as far as shooting the ball, defending, playing tough," Casey said. "They have so many strengths. I just don't know what we can do initially. But we're going to go in and try."
--Field Level Media
Updated April 13, 2019