Back in ‘88, when the Bucks won their first game at the Bradley Center— against a 76ers team that featured prime Charles Barkley, rookie Hersey Hawkins, and Maurice Cheeks in his final year in Philly — it was no surprise. Because for the 10th straight season, the Bucks usually won.
From 1979–80 to 1988–89, the latter being their first season at the Bradley Center, here is how many games the Bucks won in each respective season: 49, 60, 55, 51, 50, 59, 57, 50, 42, and 49. The Bucks made it past the first round in nine of those seasons.
Since then, since that first season in the Bradley Center, since 1988–89, the Bucks have made it past the first round once, in 27 seasons. That does not include this season, because for the second time since that inaugural Bradley Center season, the Bucks should make it past the first round this season.
With 25 games to play, the Bucks sit sixth in the East, just 2.5 games ahead of the eighth-place Heat but also just half a game behind the Wizards for fourth. The latest update on the Wizards is that John Wall is off crutches. Wall had surgery on Jan. 31 and has been out for roughly three of the six-to-eight weeks that he is expected to be out. That is a lot of time to go, to hold on to a half game lead. Wall is their best player. And even when healthy, should the Wizards be better than the Bucks? To simplify things, but to also be dead-serious: The Bucks should pass the Wizards.
They are also half a game behind the Pacers, whose best player is Victor Oladipo, who, it turns out, is actually quite good. He is not nearly as good as Giannis Antetokounmpo. Their second-best player is Myles Turner, who is not (yet) as good as Khris Middleton. Their third-best player is… Bojan Bogdanovich? Darren Collison? The Bucks should pass the Pacers.
Should the Bucks pass the Wizards and Pacers, they would probably be fourth in the East. If they make it to fourth in the East, they will have home-court advantage in the first round, and be favored to win that series. There is a pretty good chance that they would play the Wizards or Pacers if they make it to fourth in the East.
This is why these final 25 regular season games are important.
If the Bucks finish fifth, they still might have a 50/50 shot of advancing. Stay in sixth though, their current spot, and chances are they will face the Cavaliers in the first round. That could make for an interesting, even competitive series. Almost certainly it would make for a first-round loss. Drop to seventh or eighth, and the Bucks would probably face the Raptors or Celtics in the first round, rather than the second round. (By the way, next season, the Bucks should have their eyes on a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.)
On the final day of the regular season, the Bucks visit Philadelphia. Philadelphia is just one game behind the Bucks, and the teams have split the season series so far. Close as things are, the Bucks may need this game to wrap up the four spot.
The 76ers may present the most difficult (and fun) challenge for the Bucks in a potential 4/5 matchup. The 76ers also beat the Bucks three times in the 1980s in the playoffs, right before the Bradley Center opened. The 76ers also beat the Bucks in the playoffs in 2001, in the one and only time that the Bucks made it past the first round in the Bradley Center after that inaugural season. The 76ers —
[Insert proper Bradley Center ending.]