The team with the league's best record returns from the All-Star break to face an opponent it has consistently dominated.
Milwaukee visits Detroit on Thursday in its drive to clinch home court advantage throughout the postseason. The Bucks have disposed of their Central Division rival with regularity since the beginning of last season. They swept the four-game regular-season series, then duplicated that feat in the opening round of the playoffs.
The first two meetings this season have continued that trend. The Bucks won at home 104-90 behind Giannis Antetokounmpo's 28 points on Nov. 23. The All-Star and reigning Most Valuable Player racked up 35 points in their first visit to Detroit this season, a 127-103 Milwaukee romp on Dec. 4.
Things got testy in the last meeting, as six technical fouls were handed out. Antetokounmpo was angered by what he felt was over-aggressive play by the Pistons, particularly from star forward Blake Griffin.
However, Detroit has a much different look than it did that night. Griffin is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery. Center Andre Drummond was traded to Cleveland early this month, and point guard Reggie Jackson reached a buyout agreement with the club on Monday.
Antetokounmpo missed the last two Milwaukee games due to the birth of his first child. Milwaukee had a five-game winning streak snapped in its last outing on Feb. 12, losing at Indiana 118-111.
The Bucks' superstar will be back in action at Detroit. The way this season plays out could have long-term implications on the franchise. He'll be eligible for a super-max extension this summer and could enter free agency following the 2020-21 season.
Antetokounmpo addressed his future during All-Star weekend, saying that he plans to stick around as long as the team has great success.
"I can't think that far ahead. I'm just trying to focus on the moment and get better," he said. "But why not (stay)? I'm a guy that wants to be with a team for a while. As long as we're winning. And we're winning so far, so I don't think anything's going to change."
Detroit's foreseeable future is all about rebuilding. The Pistons will be doing a lot of experimenting with their rotations the remainder of the season.
"Everything is going to be fluid because we're in a search-and-rescue mission right now," coach Dwane Casey said. "We want to see what we have."
With Jackson placed on waivers after the buyout, the point guard position will be especially fluid. Derrick Rose will likely start Thursday's game but Brandon Knight, rookie Jordan Bone and Svi Mykhailiuk could also see time there over the remainder of the season.
Casey doesn't necessarily plan to give his younger players heavy minutes. He feels playing time should be earned.
"The only way I think you build a championship-type team is to play the guys who produce," he said.
"If you just run them out there with no consequences for mistakes, no consequences for lack of discipline, no consequences for letting your guy blow by you, then you're not going to have very much when it's all ready to go (in future years). It's pretty simple from that standpoint."
--Field Level Media