Damian Lillard faces same playoff issue he thought he’d escaped with Bucks trade

Matthew Legros
Giannis Antetokounmpo (left) and Damian Lillard (right) on the court as teammates on the Milwaukee Bucks.

Damian Lillard’s NBA championship hopes are in jeopardy after Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a calf injury in the Milwaukee Bucks’ 104-91 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.

Antetokounmpo went down with the non-contact injury after inbounding the ball to Lillard in the third quarter. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski revealed that the “Greek Freak’s” return will be contingent on how quickly his calf heals as he avoided a torn Achilles.

The injury comes at the wrong time for the Bucks. They only have two games left on their schedule before the 2024 NBA playoffs begin. While they are the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference at 48-31, their potential first-round matchups could upset them without Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton at full strength.

That’s bad news for Lillard, who teamed up with the former two-time league MVP after leading the Portland Trail Blazers for 11 years. The Weber State product’s title chances were projected to increase exponentially as a co-star in Milwaukee.

However, he and Giannis have not gelled as well as expected and Milwaukee do not look like the Eastern Conference’s overwhelming favorites, like they have been for the last four seasons.

Lillard now faces similar issues from his tenure with the Blazers. The 33-year-old point guard dealt with shorthanded rosters in multiple seasons, including the 2019 playoffs without star center Jusuf Nurkic.

Personally, the 2024 All-Star Game MVP is shooting under 43 percent from the field for the second time in the last three seasons. His individual play has mirrored the Bucks’ potency as a unit.

If the playoffs started today, Milwaukee would face the winner of the Play-In Tournament’s matchup between the No. 7-seeded Philadelphia 76ers and No. 8-seeded Miami Heat. The 76ers have reigning league MVP Joel Embiid back in action while the reigning Eastern Conference champion Heat have had the Bucks’ number over the last four postseasons.

Albeit, Lillard owns a 3-2 head-to-head record against Embiid since 2019-2020 and 2-2 against Butler since the latter joined the Heat in 2019-20. Therefore, it’s not all grim for Lillard’s playoff chances, but he will need his teammates at full strength to fend off strong competition in the East and vie for the Larry O’Brien trophy come June.