The Milwaukee Bucks were supposed to be a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference this season. A left hamstring injury to leading scorer Khris Middleton in the preseason ruined their hopes, for what could’ve been a terrific year.

Following the injury, Middleton was ruled out for six months. Replacing a player who averaged 18.2 points and 4.2 assists last season would be a difficult task, and as expected, Milwaukee had their struggles over the first few months.

The Bucks began their season 22-28 without Middleton. On Feb. 8, Middleton made his return in a 106-88 loss to Miami. Just when Bucks fans thought things were about to go well, Jabari Parker tore his ACL, forcing him to miss the remainder of the year, and will further undergo a 12-month rehabilitation period. Parker was averaging 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds.

Losing Jabari has certainly taken away a legit scoring option, but the team’s overall defense has improved significantly. Over the last 14 games, they have allowed less than 105 points in 11 games. In early January, there was a stretch in which the Bucks gave up more than 105 points in 11 straight games.

The Bucks have gone 12-6 with Middleton. He’s averaging 15.6 points and 3.6 assists in 29 minutes a game. When he is in the starting lineup, the Bucks are 10-2. With Giannis Antetokounmpo (22.9 ppg) turning into a superstar right before our eyes, and Middleton being the terrific two-way player he is, the Bucks will have a chance to make noise in the upcoming postseason. It’s important for players like Malcolm Brogdon, Greg Monroeand Tony Snell to produce.

Milwaukee is currently 35-35 and are in seventh place. They are only one game behind the sixth-seeded Indiana, and two games behind fifth-seeded Atlanta. There is a realistic shot for Milwaukee to move up a spot or two, with both teams above them struggling. A date with Washington or Toronto in the first round of the playoffs wouldn’t be a bad matchup for the Bucks.

As for the rest of the season, the Bucks need to keep picking up wins like this if they want to climb the standings.

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