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With Jabari Parker set to return to the lineup this week, can you see the Milwaukee Bucks securing a top three seed in the East by April 11?
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David Aldridge: I don’t think so. The Cavs and Wizards, with Kevin Love and John Wall each out at least six weeks with hand and knee injuries, are both vulnerable to be sure and likely to be bottom four in the East rather than top four. But I have the feeling Miami’s going to be a buyer at the deadline and add another piece in order to rise to and solidify that third spot. Now, if Milwaukee moves John Henson or otherwise makes an impact deal at the deadline to add more shooting, I might feel differently about it. Plus, I do think it’s going to take Parker a while to get back up to speed, and that adjustment period could cost Milwaukee in the short term.
Steve Aschburner: With Parker set to return and with Kevin Love out for 6-8 weeks with a broken hand and with John Wall missing 6-8 weeks to knee surgery? That’s how the question really sets up, with two of the three reachable teams ahead of Milwaukee in the standings losing the services of a vital player for the near future. But y’know what, I’ll still say no. First, the Bucks will have their own adjustments to make to adding a player rather than subtracting one — they’ve got to learn anew how to best blend Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe. Second, Milwaukee doesn’t need the first three seeds but it sure could use the fourth for homecourt edge in Round 1. If we get a little more separation among those teams, that’s where I see the Bucks aiming: No. 4.
Trey Kerby: Jabari Parker will help the Bucks in a lot of different ways — more scoring, more shooting, another starter-caliber player on the court to take a little responsibility off the shoulders of Giannis and Bledsoe — but he’s still just 22 years old and coming off his second knee injury in four NBA seasons. Considering the Bucks are chasing teams that have one of the best offenses (the Raptors), defenses (Celtics) or players (Cavaliers) in the league, I can’t see them making a realistic run at a top three spot in the Eastern Conference. Homecourt advantage in the first round should be the goal for this team.
Tas Melas: Whose spot would they take? The Celtics and the Raptors aren’t going anywhere, but the 3rd-seeded Cavs, in the words of the late Tom Petty, are “Free Fallin’”. I would pick Miami as more likely to jump Cleveland based on a more home-heavy schedule and less growing pains of working with a new (interim) coach and new-ish rotational player.
Shaun Powell: Uh, no. You’re asking Jabari Parker to hit the ground running after missing two-thirds of the season, and the Bucks are also getting used to a new coach and a tweaked system at the moment. That’s a lot going on for a team that’s still very inconsistent. Their ceiling is the four or five spot because Miami is on a roll and the Cavs will figure it out in time to prevent a free-fall in the standings.
John Schuhmann: Kevin Love’s injury might make things more interesting, but it’s still hard to see Parker giving the Bucks enough to catch the Cavs for third place in the East. Prior to getting hurt last season, he didn’t move the needle much on either end of the floor. But the hope should be that he can help in the minutes when Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the bench, when the Bucks have been almost 14 points per 100 possessions worse than in the minutes with Antetokounmpo on the floor. Either way, Milwaukee is the clear favorite to secure the 4 seed in the East, and not because Parker is coming back. The Wizards are without John Wall for the next 6-8 weeks and Miami isn’t as good as their record (they’re 4th in the East with the conference’s 10th best point differential).
Sekou Smith: No. I can’t see it right now. Not from here. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Jabari Parker could provide the Bucks with a huge boost if he’s ready to get back to playing the way he was before his latest injury occurred. But that’s asking a lot, more than what is fair, to be honest. Parker is probably eager to prove me, and anyone else who doubts the Bucks’ lofty playoff ambitions, wrong. And he should be. But not at the expense of his comeback. He has to find his rhythm first. And with a new point guard and new head coach, that won’t be as easy as some people think. A top four seed should be the carrot the Bucks chase the rest of the way. Anything beyond that is a bonus.