Nets continue road trip against Bucks

The Nets look to get on track against the Bucks.|Art or Photo Credit: AP

Two of the Eastern Conference's leading teams meet Tuesday for the second half of two straight games, as the Milwaukee Bucks host the Brooklyn Nets.

Sunday's matchup pitting the currently second-place Nets (43-22) against the third-place Bucks (40-24) became a showdown between two of the NBA's premier players, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Durant shot 7-of-13 from 3-point range, his most productive performance from behind the arc this season, and matched his season-high of 42 points for a second consecutive outing. Antetokounmpo responded with season-highs of four made 3-pointers and 49 points.

"Playing against great players, both of them (Durant and Kyrie Irving) champions, great scorers, you want to be part of games like this," Antetokounmpo said in his postgame press conference. "Growing up, you want to play against the best."

Durant won Finals Most Valuable Player with Golden State in 2017 and 2018, and Irving was a key contributor to Cleveland's championship in 2016. Behind the two-time, reigning regular-season MVP Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are seeking their first trip to the Finals since 1974 and first championship since 1971.

Completing the back-to-back sweep over Brooklyn, which ended Sunday's competition a half-game behind Philadelphia for first place in the East, can be a useful step in that pursuit with home-court stakes riding on the coming two weeks.

Milwaukee went into Monday three games behind Philadelphia and 2.5 behind Brooklyn with eight games to play. Tuesday's matchup is the first of the final seven for the Nets, while the 76ers play the first of their last eight Monday in Chicago.

The Bucks won a back-to-back against Philadelphia on April 22 and 24, part of a 5-2 stretch over their last seven. One of the losses came with Antetokounmpo playing less than a minute due to an ankle injury.

He missed the following game -- a 108-98 win April 30 in Chicago. Khris Middleton scored 22 points in that one, part of a five-game stretch over which he is averaging 24.2 points per.

Middleton scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Sunday's defeat of Brooklyn, and scored six consecutive points -- including a rare, four-point play -- to spark an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter that proved decisive.

Nets coach Steve Nash blamed sloppy offensive play for Brooklyn's loss, specifically 16 turnovers.

"We chalk this one (up to) get better tomorrow and worry about the next game," Durant said in his postgame press conference. "And we play these guys again, which is the good part."

Although Durant and Irving combined for 62 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists, the continued absence of a star looms for Brooklyn -- specifically James Harden.

Harden last played April 5, a game in which he logged fewer than five minutes due to a lingering hamstring injury.

Brooklyn was also without Chris Chiozza on Sunday, who had hand surgery last month. The Nets added longtime EuroLeague veteran Mike James to alleviate some of their injury concerns, and announced on Monday he was signed to another 10-day contract.

James scored 15 points in the Nets' loss to Portland on April 30.

On Sunday, Milwaukee was without veteran reserve Bobby Portis, who is day-to-day due to an illness. Teammate Jeff Teague, who left Sunday's game with an abdominal strain, is also day-to-day.