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Bucks face character test after getting embarrassed by Nets
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Bucks face character test after getting embarrassed by Nets

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Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives around Brooklyn Nets forward Nicolas Claxton (33) as Nets guard Mike James (55) defends during Game 2 of a second-round playoff series Monday in New York.  

MILWAUKEE — No second-round matchup had more advance billing than the Brooklyn Nets-Milwaukee Bucks series that featured the NBA’s two highest-scoring offenses.

So far, it’s been no contest.

Brooklyn has been every bit as potent as advertised in building a 2-0 lead. But the struggling Bucks posted their lowest point total of the season in a 125-86 Game 2 loss.

The Bucks’ chances of making this a competitive series depend on whether they can return home and regain the form they showed before these last couple of games.

“I think they have a great track record and history of playing well and responding,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said Wednesday. “We talked about how your character is tested.”

Mike Budenholzer photo for OATES

Budenholzer

These Bucks certainly have a great track record in the regular season. They posted the league’s best regular-season record in 2018-19 and 2019-20 before finishing third in the Eastern Conference this season.

But they’re staring at the likelihood of a second straight second-round playoff exit unless they turn things around quickly. Thursday’s playoff action has the Bucks hosting the Nets in Game 3 and the Utah Jazz attempting to take a 2-0 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers.

“This is going to be a really tough game,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We’ll see the best Milwaukee has in Game 3. We’ve got to be prepared for that and be ready to come out of the gates really strong.”

Brooklyn entered the playoffs with a reputation as an offensive juggernaut and with question marks on its defense. But the Nets have spent the first two games of this series shutting down Milwaukee’s high-powered offense.

The Bucks were the first team since the 1984-85 Denver Nuggets to finish a regular season averaging at least 120 points per game, but their offense has looked like a shell of itself so far in this series. Brooklyn’s constant switching on defense has thrown the Bucks out of sync.

Rockets Bucks Basketball

Tucker

“They’ve had great intensity the first two games,” Bucks forward P.J. Tucker said of the Nets. “I think they’ve kind of been all over the place, all over the floor, on offense and defense. I think they just had a little more of an edge than we’ve had.”

Nets at Bucks

Game 3, 6:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN.

NEED TO KNOW: The Nets are coming off their most lopsided playoff victory in franchise history and have a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Kevin Durant has outplayed Giannis Antetokounmpo thus far in the matchup of former MVPs, but the most notable difference in this series is 3-point shooting. The Nets are 36 of 81 (44.4%) on 3-point attempts. The Bucks are 14 of 57 (24.6%).

KEEP AN EYE ON: Nets forward Blake Griffin. The 32-year-old is averaging a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) this series and has done a nice job of defending Antetokounmpo, who averaged 39.7 points against Brooklyn in the regular season but had just 18 points in Game 2.

INJURY WATCH: Nash said Brooklyn’s James Harden and Jeff Green won’t play in Game 3. Harden left Game 1 in the opening minute with right hamstring tightness and hasn’t played since. Green hasn’t played at all in this series due to a plantar fascia strain.

PRESSURE IS ON: Bucks forward Khris Middleton. The two-time All-Star has shot 13 of 43 overall and 3 of 13 from 3-point range this series. Although Middleton scored 17 points in Game 2, he missed his first eight shots and much of his production came after the game was already out of reach. Middleton scored at least 23 points in each of the Bucks’ three regular-season matchups with Brooklyn.

“I’ve just got to find a better rhythm, a better shot selection I think,” Middleton said after Game 2.

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