The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t played against another team since March 9.
That night in Denver, the Bucks lost to the Nuggets, 109-95, while sitting seven of their top players for rest and recovery.
Two days later, the coronavirus pandemic caused the NBA to shut down for more than four months, and the league’s restart is just getting underway inside a “bubble” at Disney World outside of Orlando.
The Bucks will finally face a different opponent when they scrimmage against the San Antonio Spurs at 2 p.m. Thursday.
“It’ll be good for the guys to play and go against somebody else,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “By then they’re always looking for another team, another environment to play.”
The Bucks will also have scrimmages against the Sacramento Kings at 11:30 a.m. next Saturday and the New Orleans Pelicans at 7 p.m. July 27.
Milwaukee’s season then begins again against the Boston Celtics on July 31.
The Bucks have the NBA’s best record at 53-12 and are close to locking up the top playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference, so the three scrimmages and eight remaining games don’t mean much to them except for finding their rhythm again.
“Really spent very little time thinking about the first scrimmage,” Budenholzer said Friday. “Is it Monday or Tuesday? I think we’ve got some good practices to get in between now and then.
“We’ve laid out the schedule. I think we’re going to have three really good practices. (Saturday) will be a day off. Go Sunday and Monday. Tuesday day off … It’s a long ways away. We’ve got a lot of coaches meetings between now and then to figure it out.”
Starting guard Eric Bledsoe still hasn’t arrived in Orlando, having revealed Thursday he has tested positive for coronavirus and is asymptomatic. The Bucks have not said when they expect Bledsoe to join the team. Once Bledsoe arrives in the bubble, he will have to quarantine for a minimum of two days, per the NBA’s protocol.
Budenholzer thinks Bledsoe will be ready for the July 31 game against the Celtics, with the caveat that anything related to the virus is hard to predict.
“We’ll kind of ease him back in to things, especially body-wise and conditioning-wise,” Budenholzer said. “We’re not going to change a whole lot, so I think he’s in a good place and understands everything we’re doing. There’s a lot of continuity with our team and our group. Really feel like he’ll be fine once he gets here.”
The Bucks are easing their way back into the rhythms of the season. In their first week practicing at Disney World, they have focused on individual work while ramping up the five-on-five action.
“It’s kind of different than a regular training camp,” Bucks forward D.J. Wilson said. “Just because of the circumstances: the atmosphere, the hotel, the testing. If it was training camp, we’d be doing drills, two-a-days and whatnot.
“Now we’re trying to know the basis of the foundation of what we got going on. We’re just trying to get back, get rolling, playing fives, getting comfortable out there again with each other.”
Budenholzer has been pleased with how the team has looked.
“There is rust but I think more than anything, they’re playing well and playing together,” Budenholzer said. “Just like they always do.”
Since they aren’t jockeying for playoff position, the Bucks don’t have to come out sharp.
“All those preseason games and end-of-season games are going to be really important,” Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova said. “But our main goal is just to be ready for the playoffs.
“Those eight games will be important as far as seeing where we are physically, conditionally and mentally. We’re going to play as hard as we can, for sure. But, at the same time, the coaches and everybody realizes that our goal is to look at the bigger picture and winning a championship.”