Bucks Clinch 2021 NBA Playoff Spot; Latest East Standings, Postseason Picture

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2021

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is congratulated after dunking the ball for a basket by Milwaukee Bucks center Bobby Portis (9) and Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Denver. Milwaukee won 125-112. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Milwaukee Bucks will be back in the playoffs for the fifth straight season after clinching a postseason berth with a victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

Here is a look at the Eastern Conference standings:

2. Brooklyn Nets, 43-23

3. Milwaukee Bucks, 41-24

4. New York Knicks, 37-28

5. Atlanta Hawks, 36-30

6. Miami Heat, 35-30

7. Boston Celtics, 34-31

9. Indiana Pacers, 30-34

By a few different measures, the Bucks have gone backward slightly after finishing 2.5 games ahead of the Toronto Raptors for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Their winning percentage has dipped from .767 to .631, and they sit second in net rating (6.3), down from first (9.4) in 2019-20, per NBA.com.

Regular-season success is no longer the barometer for this franchise, though. Everything the team achieved was overshadowed by losing to the Miami Heat in five games in the conference semifinals.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo agreeing to a five-year, $228 million supermax extension, there isn't quite the same immediacy to win right now. Ahead of the trade deadline, for example, the front office didn't have to operate under the belief the two-time MVP might bolt in the summer.

Of course, anything short of a trip to the NBA Finals will likely be considered a disappointment and once again raise questions over whether the Bucks are doing enough to support Antetokounmpo on the court.

In that regard, no Milwaukee player is likely to be under the microscope more than Jrue Holiday.

The organization has invested a lot in the veteran guard in the hope he proves to be the missing piece in the playoffs. The Bucks gave up three first-round picks to acquire the 30-year-old and then handed him a four-year extension that could reportedly be worth up to $160 million.

Milwaukee Bucks @Bucks

"I'm a Buck for life." - @jrue_holiday11 https://t.co/wTVog8z7fc

Holiday has played well in his first year with the team. He's averaging 17.3 points, 5.8 assists and 1.7 steals while hitting 38.7 percent of his three-pointers.

Giving up what they did and agreeing to such a sizable contract are both defensible moves by the Bucks because attracting free agents to Milwaukee is difficult, even when you have a top-five talent already in Antetokounmpo.

But they could be in trouble if Holiday is unable to raise their playoff ceiling. At the very least a coaching change could be on the cards.