MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBSNewYork/AP) — D’Angelo Russell had 25 points and 10 assists, and the Brooklyn Nets beat the short-handed Milwaukee Bucks 133-128 on Saturday to improve their positioning in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Brooklyn (40-40) made 19 3-pointers and placed eight players in double figures. Caris LeVert had 24 points, and Jared Dudley finished with 16.
Milwaukee played without MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was sidelined by a left calf injury. The Bucks (59-21) clinched the NBA’s best record with a road victory against Philadelphia on Thursday night.
The “Greek Freak’s” absence couldn’t have come at a better time for Brooklyn, who entered Saturday with their final three games against playoff-contending teams.
The Nets, who had dropped four of five, moved into sixth place in the East. Orlando also is 40-40, and Detroit is a half-game back with a 39-40 record.
Eric Bledsoe had 33 points and 11 assists for Milwaukee, and Khris Middleton finished with 24 points.
Bledsoe’s two foul shots made it 128-126 Bucks with 2:30 left, but the Nets closed the game with a 7-0 run. Russell made two free throws, Joe Harris drilled a tie-breaking 3 and Russell drove for a basket with 59.1 seconds remaining.
Dudley had 14 points in the second half and grabbed an offensive rebound in the final minute to help Brooklyn hold on.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Antetokounmpo was kicked or hit in the calf against the 76ers and understood sitting out could help him get ready for the playoffs next week.
“There has been a significant amount of success and winning that has helped him be less difficult,” Budenholzer said. “I have flashbacks to the first couple games; he was upset every time I took him out of the game. When I think about that to where we are today, it has been great.”
Brooklyn shot 52 percent from the field and scored 36 points in the paint on its way to a 66-65 halftime lead. Russell had 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting and LeVert added 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
Brooklyn finishes the season with games at Indiana on Sunday and home against Miami on Wednesday. The Nets hold tiebreakers over Detroit and Orlando. “I see an elevated level of play, especially from these elite teams,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “It’s great for us to see that and embrace that. Playing well is not good enough.”
Nets head to Indiana on Sunday. The Pacers are the current five-seed in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn will end their season on Wednesday against the Heat. Miami sits just one game back of the eight-seed.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)