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Injuries are limiting Antetokounmpo, Lillard as Bucks start playoff preparations

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Posted at 4:31 PM, Apr 16, 2024

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks are gearing up for the postseason uncertain about the health of both of their top two players.

Bucks coach Doc Rivers said neither two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo nor seven-time all-NBA guard Damian Lillard practiced on Tuesday. Rivers said he didn't know whether either would practice all week, but pointed out both could play Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series with the Indiana Pacers without practicing beforehand.

Antetokounmpo is recovering from a left calf strain that caused him to miss the Bucks' final three regular-season games. Antetokounmpo was attempting to run up the court during Milwaukee's victory over the Boston Celtics on April 9 when he took a seat on the floor and grabbed his left leg, with an MRI revealing he had a strained soleus.

"He's doing well," Rivers said Tuesday. "He's walking around, looks good. I can say (he's) farther than we thought he would be, but just not ready yet."

Rivers wouldn't speculate on the chances of Antetokounmpo playing Sunday.

"I'm not going to make a decision – first of all, I don't make the decision – but our medical team is saying they don't know, so I'm going to wait and see," Rivers said. "I literally don't know one way or the other."

Antetokounmpo averaged 42.2 points and 13 rebounds in the Bucks' five regular-season games with the Pacers. In the Bucks' lone victory over the Pacers this season, Antetokounmpo scored 64 points to set the Bucks' single-game record.

Lillard sat out a loss at Oklahoma City on Friday with a sore left adductor. He returned two days later, but shot just 2 of 14 from the floor in a loss at Orlando.

"We've done all the imaging and all that stuff, so he's good, I can tell you that," Rivers said. "We feel like, and so do our doctors, let's give him a little more rest. He's still doing conditioning and things like that, but we went live a lot today and we just didn't want him out there."

Bucks forward Bobby Portis expressed confidence Lillard would be ready by the start of the series.

"It wasn't like a shock or anything that Dame sat out," Portis said. "It's Tuesday, and the game's Sunday, so it's a long way away. So I don't want nobody to put too much stress on that. I think we're kind of blowing the thing out of proportion too much."

The Bucks are accustomed to dealing with injury issues in the postseason.

Antetokounmpo has a long history of recovering quickly from injuries, with the most notable example coming during the Bucks' 2021 championship run.

Antetokounmpo hyperextended his left knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals that year and missed the final two games of the Bucks' 4-2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. But he returned to play the entire NBA Finals and was named MVP of the series after scoring 50 points in a title-clinching Game 6 triumph over the Phoenix Suns.

Injuries have hindered the Bucks in each of their two postseasons since.

Khris Middleton sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Game 2 of a 2022 first-round series with the Chicago Bulls and missed the rest of the playoffs, including the entire Eastern Conference semifinal that the Bucks lost 4-3 to the Boston Celtics.

Last year, Antetokounmpo bruised his lower back after getting fouled and landing hard in Game 1 of the Bucks' first-round playoff series with the Miami Heat. Antetokounmpo sat out the rest of that game and also missed Milwaukee's next two games before returning in Game 4 of a series the Bucks lost 4-1.

Now, the Bucks are bracing for the possibility they might not have Antetokounmpo again.

"Until we know if he's playing or not, we're going to prepare like he's not playing – simple as that," Middleton said.