Milwaukee Bucks will need to keep an eye on proposed play-in tournament

With the Milwaukee Bucks all but locked in to the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 spot, they’ll have to keep a close eye on the proposed play-in tournament.

Based on how they played through the first 65 games of their regular season campaign, the Milwaukee Bucks shouldn’t be losing sleep about their potential first round playoff opponent.

The Bucks should be well set up to advance far beyond the first round, regardless of who they come up against, but they can’t take anything for granted, particularly given the current climate.

By nature of a long lay-off alone, it’s possible that this year’s playoffs could have an added layer of unpredictability that is usually absent from the early rounds.

In its extreme, that kind of scenario could see higher seeded teams, such as the Bucks, come out of the blocks looking rusty and out of rhythm, only to be confronted by a less-talented, lower seed that has managed to find a groove much sooner. Perhaps an upset over a seven-game series is still too much of a stretch to imagine, but more challenging series than usual can’t be completely dismissed out of hand.

On that front, the NBA’s long-mooted plans to add a play-in tournament to the league’s return will now add a new variable to proceedings.

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday, the plan that will be voted on by league owners on Thursday will see 22 teams make their way to Orlando, with six additional teams having a chance to battle their way into the postseason mix over the eight remaining regular season games that will be played.

With the NBA using historical precedent to establish a cut-off point of six games back of the eighth seed for teams who are being invited to return to action, that will lead to nine Eastern Conference squads and 13 teams from the Western Conference being involved.

While others will resume play with a sense of who they’ll play in the playoffs, a potential play-in tournament adds some uncertainty for the Milwaukee Bucks.

On that front, the Bucks can certainly be grateful that they’re in the East where only the Washington Wizards are added into the mix beyond the teams currently slated in the top-8 spots. Still, that does mean that the Bucks have a range of playoff opponents they could face, with the Wizards joining the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets as potential first round foes for Milwaukee.

If at the end of the regular season, the eighth and ninth seed are separated by four games or fewer, a play-in tournament will be triggered for the final playoff spot.

From the Bucks’ perspective, if that scenario comes to pass, it will mean they could find themselves with a longer wait to find out the identity of their first round opponents than many of their rivals will have to deal with.

On the other hand, though, they are fortunate not to have to deal with the level of uncertainty that the Los Angeles Lakers will have in the West. With five teams within four games of eighth ahead of the restart in the West, the Lakers’ first round opponent will be a true mystery.

Not only that, the possibility of Damian Lillard or Zion Williamson sneaking their way into the playoffs via a play-in could also set up a tougher path through the West for LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Co.

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In other words, even though the Bucks’ own spot in the standings is all but set, there’ll be plenty of intrigue for Milwaukee fans to follow before the playoffs even get underway.