The Milwaukee Bucks visit the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night in what could be a preview of an Eastern Conference playoff series.
Milwaukee owns the league's best record (37-6) and heads to Brooklyn on a five-game winning streak. The Bucks, who hold a comfortable lead over Miami in the conference, also are 13-3 in their last 16 games since winning 18 straight from Nov. 10-Dec. 14.
Milwaukee added to its win total Thursday when it held on for a 128-123 home win over the Boston Celtics. The Bucks picked up their latest victory despite blowing a pair of 20-point leads.
"We were up 20 twice and they came back," Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo said. "We didn't play the best basketball and how we usually play. I was kind of upset after the game. We talked in the locker room. We talked to one another. We were up 20 and we won but we've got to play for 48 minutes."
Antetokounmpo, averaging 30.1 points and 12.9 assists, finished with 32 points and 17 rebounds for his 35th double-double.
The Nets are 3-15 in their past 18 meetings with Milwaukee and enter Saturday in eighth place in the East as they were without Kyrie Irving for 26 games due to right shoulder impingement.
If the playoffs started now, the Bucks and Nets would meet in the first round.
Brooklyn is 2-9 in its last 11 games, a stretch that has featured numerous fourth-quarter struggles.
The latest slide happened Wednesday, when Philadelphia earned a 117-106 home triumph. The Nets shot 6 of 23 in the fourth and allowed a game-ending 13-2 run while being unable to contain Tobias Harris, who scored 34 points.
"That's been the issue for us all year," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said after his team was outscored 31-16 in the final 12 minutes. "Not being able to score in the fourth quarter efficiently. It follows a trend. We played well for three quarters and had a ton of good looks. We were getting to the rim, but we weren't finishing."
The Nets were unable to keep pace because Irving experienced the worst game of the three he has played since returning in Sunday's win over Atlanta. After scoring 53 points on 22-of-30 shooting in the first two games, Irving was held to 14 points on 6-of-21 shooting in 36 minutes Wednesday and missed six of seven shots in the fourth.
Irving's postgame comments, which included remarks saying the Nets' needs were glaring, had many people talking and attempting to interpret.
"I mean, it's transparent,' Irving said. "It's out there. It's glaring, in terms of the pieces that we need in order to be at that next level.
"I'm going to continue to reiterate it. We're going to do the best with the guys that we have in our locker room now, and we'll worry about all the other stuff, in terms of moving pieces and everything else, as an organization down the line in the summer."
The Nets have other concerns, such as figuring out how to stop Antetokounmpo, especially if backup center DeAndre Jordan sits out with a dislocated right middle finger.
--Field Level Media