The 2019-2020 Milwaukee Bucks might be aiming for more than just an NBA title. The team could set their sights on history, hoping to be just the third team ever to finish the regular season with at least 70 wins.
The Bucks already made history this week, though. Milwaukee officially became the first team to clinch a postseason spot, and in doing so on Feb. 23, they’re the fastest ever to achieve the distinction since the league move to the 16-team playoff format.
It happened when the Washington Wizards, who are ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 20-35 record, lost to the Chicago Bulls. That loss put the Wizards 27 games behind No. 1 Milwaukee, with the Bucks having 26 games remaining.
The Bucks now may set their sights on 70 wins.
Before the All-Star break, ESPN reported that Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry thinks the team has a “real shot” at 70 wins and said as much to Michael Jordan.
Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets, was the driving force behind the NBA’s first 70-win team, the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, who finished 72-10. Jordan’s Bulls were 46-6 in late February after a 113-106 loss to a then-short-handed Miami Heat squad. Chicago would only lose four games over the season’s final two months and would win the title over the Seattle Sonics, the first of the franchise’s second three-peat.
The Golden State Warriors would eclipse Chicago’s mark during the 2015-16 season when they won 73 games. The Warriors were 51-5 in late February that season, and also only lost four games over the season’s final stretch. The Warriors, though, famously surrendered a 3-1 NBA Finals lead that year to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
At 48-8, Milwaukee currently sports a .857 win percentage. And with 26 games remaining, the worst they can do to hit 70 would be 22-4. That mark is doable, considering it’s a .846 win percentage. The Bucks have the NBA’s top net rating (11.8) and the league’s top defensive rating (101.6), but the team faces a difficult schedule over the final two months.
The team is currently on pace to hit 70 wins, but the question becomes, should they? Milwaukee could come to a point soon where they can consider resting some of their top stars to keep them fresh for the postseason.
During Golden State’s ill-fated run in 2016, they kept their stars in the lineup night-in and night-out. Some would argue that contributed to the Warriors’ failure to finish Cleveland.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing just 30.9 minutes per game, and still putting up MVP-caliber numbers with 30 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists per game, as well as 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per contest. There are 73 players in the league that average more minutes per game than the odds-on MVP.
Antetokounmpo is the only Buck averaging over 30 minutes for head coach Mike Budenholzer. All-Star Khris Middleton is averaging 29.6 and Eric Bledsoe’s at 27.1. It will be interesting to see if Budenholzer elects to rest some of his players down the stretch or play them to capture that 70th win.
They’ve yet to lose back-to-back games this season. 14 of their final 26 games are on the road, where the team is 22-5 (second to only the Lakers). At home, where they’ll play 12 times, the Bucks are a league-best 26-3. If they win all 12 home games, Milwaukee can go 10-4 on the road and still hit the 70-wins mark.
While that mark is realistically within reach, there’s very little wiggle room for Milwaukee. The Bucks currently hold a 6.5-game lead over the second-seeded Toronto Raptors, but the teams will face off three more times this season. The Bucks won the first matchup 115-105 in November in Milwaukee.
The Bucks have the sixth-toughest remaining schedule. Their final 26 opponents have combined for a .530 winning percentage. Memphis, Washington, Golden State, Chicago, and Detroit are the teams with tougher schedules down the stretch.
Milwaukee will also face six of the eight teams that have beaten them again, including two games each with the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. They’ll play in Miami, where the Heat hold the NBA’s third-best home record (23-3), on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Bucks will also face the Lakers in Los Angeles, part of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch that includes a stop in Denver (another team that has defeated the Bucks).
Should the team falter down the stretch and lose two out of three at some point, Coach Budenholzer should seriously consider not shooting for 70. To jeopardize the team’s potential Finals run for a spot on a list where they’ll be third doesn’t seem to make sense. If the team is still on pace for 70, though, that question becomes a lot tougher to answer. And the reality is, if it’ll make Giannis happy, you go for 70.