The top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks get an opportunity to roll into the Eastern Conference semifinals when they return to the court for Game 5 of their best-of-seven series against the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic on Saturday afternoon in the NBA bubble.
After getting shocked 122-110 in the series opener, the Bucks have tightened the screws defensively en route to recording three straight wins that have put them on the doorstep of advancement in the East.
The fifth-seeded Miami Heat await the Milwaukee-Orlando winner.
After the Magic rode 49.4-percent shooting 35 points from Nikola Vucevic to their Game 1 win, the Bucks have held Orlando to 28.9 percent shooting from 3-point range over the last three games. Milwaukee has won three straight in the series by an average of 14.7 points per contest.
Vucevic has managed to average 27.7 points in Orlando’s three losses, but he’s gotten precious little help, especially from his fellow starters.
Evan Fournier, Markelle Fultz, Gary Clark and James Ennis III have combined to shoot 36-for-108 (33.3 percent) overall in the last three games, averaging just 34.7 points between them, as the Magic point total has dropped from 122 in their win to an average of 103.0 in their losses.
Orlando has played the entire series without standout forward Aaron Gordon, who has made an unsuccessful attempt to recover from a hamstring injury.
“He just can’t run or sprint up and down the court,” Magic coach Steve Clifford assessed. “Then the other concern is, because of the nature of the injury, the one thing we’re being very careful with is we don’t want something to happen where he compensates and injures something else or ends up with a significant injury.”
Gordon suffered the injury in Orlando’s fifth game after the restart last month. Media reports on Thursday said Gordon has left the NBA bubble.
The Bucks would have had a chance to close out the Magic three days earlier, but chose not to play Game 5 as originally scheduled Wednesday in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. The Bucks decision set off a chain reaction of athlete-driven sit-outs as the entire NBA and WNBA slates were postposted on Wednesday.
Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League all followed suit with postponements dotting nearly every American professional sports league during the week.
The Bucks practiced Friday, then chose to channel their thoughts on eliminating the Magic by cancelling all subsequent media sessions.
The club issued a statement Friday, which began: “As we return to the court today, our team focus will be on our overall performance and well-being.”
The Bucks recaptured their regular-season form during the three-game winning streak, shooting 50.8 percent overall and making 16 3-pointers per night.
As usual, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the driving force in the wins, averaging 31.3 points, 15.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He had a 28-point, 20-rebound effort in the series-evening Game 2, then had 35 and 31 points in the two most recent wins.
Pat Connaughton has given the Bucks a nice lift off the bench during their run, hitting 60 percent of his 3-point shots while averaging 8.0 points a night.
He had 15 points in Game 2 after having missed three of his four shots in a three-point effort in the Game 1 loss.
Miami has been idle since completing a four-game sweep of fourth-seeded Indiana on Monday.
–Field Level Media