The Milwaukee Bucks will take on the New York Knicks in the quarterfinals of the 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament next Tuesday, December 5th. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, and the Bucks enter the tournament with the second-best odds to win the NBA Cup behind the Boston Celtics.
The Bucks swept through East Group B and had the best point differential among all East teams to give them the No. 1 on their side of the bracket. Ironically, Milwaukee's five-point win in its first In-Season Tournament game against the New York Knicks spelled the difference in winning the group. Likewise, it also nabbed the Bucks homecourt advantage for their first game of the Knockout Stage.
The Bucks just held on to win that one and were able to hold off Knicks guard Jalen Brunson's 45-point explosion. Despite shooting just 42.7 percent from the field, Milwaukee's hot outside shooting — 20-of-39 from beyond the arc — propelled the team to the win.
Damian Lillard led the Bucks with 30 points, while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 22 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Brook Lopez also had a strong outing that day, especially on the defensive end, where he blocked a season-high eight shots.
Nonetheless, the Bucks should be in for a challenge throughout the tournament. Should they get past the Knicks, they will take on either Boston or Indiana. The West teams are no slouch either. Still, there are good reasons why the Bucks have the No. 2 odds to win the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament.
Why Bucks will win 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament
The Bucks are slowly finding their groove
Slowly, but surely, the Milwaukee Bucks are finding their groove after a slow start to the 2023-24 NBA season. Beginning the campaign 5-4, the Bucks have won eight of their last nine games. Over this stretch, which dates back from November 13th, they've had the second-best offensive rating in the NBA, as well as the second-best effective field goal percentage in the league.
Much of Milwaukee's early-season struggles, however, were on the other end of the floor. They started out the season in the bottom 10 in defensive rating. Over the last two-plus weeks, however, the Bucks have become a middle-of-the-pack defense. This is still less-than-desired for a team with title aspirations, but it's definitely better than where they were a couple of weeks ago. Nonetheless, the important thing is the Bucks are getting their rhythm and are slowly learning to play together with their new-look roster.
As far as the NBA In-Season Tournament goes, the Bucks hold the No. 2 net rating just behind the Los Angeles Lakers. They are 4th in offense and 11th in defense, which has given them the nice balance that could ultimately win them the first-ever NBA Cup.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard
Of course, this Bucks team wouldn't be where it is without the stellar play of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard as of late. The two stars have spearheaded Milwaukee's resurgence and are slowly starting to look like the juggernaut duo NBA fans envisioned when the Bucks acquired Lillard this offseason.
During Milwaukee's eight wins in nine games, Antetokounmpo has elevated his play into MVP form. In eight games (he missed one due to injury) The Greek Freak averaged 31.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 5.6 assists, while shooting 61.8 percent from the field.
Meanwhile, Lillard has shedded his slow start to his Bucks career and has activated Dame Time. In that same stretch, the seven-time All-Star averaged 27.3 points and 7.8 assists. Though he shot just 42.8 percent in those nine games, he is getting to the line a ton with nearly nine freethrow attempts per game and is shooting 92.5 percent from the foul line.
If the Bucks have any shot of winning their first trophy since the 2021 NBA Finals, these two superstars should be at the top of their games.