Bucks’ Khris Middleton still plans return late in season, to play in playoffs

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The Bucks remain on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but they show flashes of great promise. Take their recent home-and-home against the Cavaliers — LeBron James took them seriously enough to play on the second night of that back-to-back despite logging 47 minutes the first night. The Cavs won both, but the games were hard fought. After the second night, James said this to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

“The next several years they could be really, really good,” James said.

The Bucks are long and defend. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, plus a good core of role players. What they miss right now is their glue guy.

They miss Khris Middleton, their starter on the wing who tore his hamstring before the season in a workout. Middleton can defend multiple positions, averaged 18.2 points a game last season and shot 39.6 percent from three, has the handles to run the pick-and-roll, and is the guy who can give the Buck whatever they need on a given night, in a given matchup.

Middleton told reporters that he’s making progress and plans to be back late this season, as reported by the Journal-Sentinel.

“I’m making good progress within the last couple weeks but I’ve still got a long way to go,” Middleton said before the Bucks played the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

“A hamstring is definitely nothing to play with. There are chronic hamstring injuries where guys think it is fine and they go out there and try to run and pull it again. That’s something I definitely don’t want to go through.”

Middleton said the earliest he thought he could return was around the all-star break in mid-February, which would give him a chance to play the final two months of the regular season.

Even if he missed that deadline but got to play the last month of the season, that would make the Bucks a far more dangerous playoff team.

Providing they make it. Right now they are in that big clump in the middle of the East — Charlotte is the current four seed but just 2.5 games ahead of 11-seed Detroit. The East is wide open, and teams that get healthy (or stay healthy) and going to be the teams that make the playoffs.