Before 7:10 PM Central time on Wednesday, February 8th, 2017, there was optimism among Bucks fans. Khris Middleton would return that night, and the team could make a push for the playoffs.
The game started out rough with the Heat going on a 15-2 run. It was pure domination by Miami, which wasn't a surprise considering Middleton had limited minutes. The Heat are also the hottest team in the NBA with a 12 game winning streak. While not a great game, there was still some optimism. Once Middleton is 100% back, the team will make their run.
Then, the nightmare began. In the 3rd quarter, Jabari Parker suffered a non-contact injury and was clearly in pain. The team confirmed on Thursday that Parker tore the ACL in his left knee again. His first tear was in 2014, his rookie season. Jabari, a great scorer, is a vital part of the Bucks young core.
The Milwaukee Bucks are saying that Parker will undergo surgery and will then go through a period of recovery and rehab. The killer here is that the rehab period is estimated at 12 months.
I don't need to emphasize how crushing this is to the playoff hopes both the team and its fans had entering 2017. Parker was having his best season yet, averaging 20.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He was shooting 49% from the field and 36.5% from 3 point land. Jabari had some incredible highlight plays this season that has demonstrated his athletic ability.
What does this mean for the Bucks season? It means that any attempt at a late playoff push is either on delay or out of the picture altogether. With Middleton likely receiving limited minutes for a good portion of the remaining 31 games, it's hard to see the Bucks improving from last year's 33-49 record. However, I would be wary of tanking the season. The team still has a chance, albeit a small one, to make the playoffs in an Eastern Conference with multiple imploding teams.
Regardless of whether they tank or stun the world, the 2016-17 Milwaukee Bucks season will leave fans wondering "what if?"