Can Milwaukee Win 70 Games? Bucks Make NBA History As They Clinch Earliest Playoff Spot in Current Postseason Format

The Milwaukee Bucks made NBA history on Sunday night, clinching the earliest playoff berth in its current format.

Milwaukee thrashed Philadelphia 119-98 on Saturday to improve to 48-8 for the season and mathematically punched a ticket to the postseason when the Washington Wizards lost 126-117 to the Bulls in Chicago a day later.

The Wizards' defeat means the Bucks are 27.5 games ahead of Washington with 27 games left to play and have already qualified for the playoffs, despite the fact postseason is still 55 days away.

February 23 is the earliest any team has clinched a playoff spot since the NBA adopted the current 16-team postseason format in 1984, beating the record set by the Golden State Warriors in 2017.

Three years ago, the Warriors clinched a postseason spot by February 25, bettering their record set the previous season by two days. On both occasions, Golden State had played 58 games by the time they reached the postseason, while Milwaukee has achieved the feat playing two fewer games this season.

The Bucks' record, however, is not the earliest date a team has reached the playoffs in NBA history, which belongs to the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks.

According to Jim Radcliffe of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in 1973 both the Celtics and the Lakers had secured a postseason berth by February 13, while eight years later the Philadelphia 76ers punched their ticket on February 15 and in 1984 the Boston Celtics had to wait until February 24.

The Bulls beat the Wizards. With that, the #Bucks have clinched a playoff berth. Feb. 23 is the earliest a team has clinched a spot in NBA history, topping 2017 Warriors (Feb. 25).

— JR Radcliffe (@JRRadcliffe) February 24, 2020

Milwaukee's 48-8 record means the team is just 12 wins away from equalling its record from last season, when it finished with a league-best 60 wins.

It also has the Bucks on track to become only the third team in NBA history to win 70 regular-season games, a feat only achieved by the Michael Jordan-inspired Bulls in the 1995-96 season and the Warriors exactly two decades later.

In 1996, the Bulls were 46-6 on February 24 after losing to 113-106 in Miami a day earlier. Chicago would lose only another four games in the regular season over the next two months, reaching the 70-win threshold with three games to spare on April 16, when they incidentally defeated the Bucks in Milwaukee.

The Bulls finished the season 72-10, while the Warriors won 73 of their 82 regular-season games in the 2015-16 season. Golden State was 51-5 by February 24 following a 118-112 win over the Heat and, like the Bulls 20 years earlier, lost only four games over the last two months of the season.

Milwaukee has won 85.7 percent of his regular-season games and to reach the fabled 70-win target it has to win 84.6 percent of its remaining 26 matchups, meaning it can afford to lose just four times between now and the end of the regular season.

While the feat remains far from straightforward, the Bucks have all it takes to do it. According to NBA statistics, Milwaukee boasts a league-best point differential of +12.4, ranking first in the league in defensive rating and third in offensive ranking respectively.

Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo is producing another MVP-caliber season. The Greek Freak was named the league's most valuable player last year and has lived up to his reputation so far this year, averaging 30 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks in just 30.9 minutes per game.

The Bucks hold a 6.5-game lead over the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who are currently the second-placed team in the Eastern Conference, and host the Wizards on Monday night.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks plays against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on February 20 in Detroit, Michigan. Gregory Shamus/Getty