- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Four years into his injury-plagued tenure in the NBA, Jabari Parker is finally nearing an important career first.

The Milwaukee Bucks are going to the playoffs for the third time in four years. But this will be the first postseason with a healthy Parker.

“I’m just grateful to get to get the opportunity. That’s what means the most (in) the NBA,” the forward said after practice Wednesday. “It’s not the regular season. It’s the postseason, and that’s where you want to end up.”

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The Bucks clinched a second consecutive playoff berth when the Detroit Pistons lost to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. Milwaukee has already sealed a second consecutive winning season, something the once-woebegone franchise hadn’t achieved since the 1999-2000 and 2000-1 seasons.

Parker, the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, has played a key role in Milwaukee’s revitalization - when healthy. Knee injuries in the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons prevented Parker from suiting up in each of those postseasons.

He has steadily earned more minutes since returning on Feb. 2 from his latest injury. After 27 games, Parker is still mainly coming off the bench but he has reached the point where he can play starter-type minutes.

Parker has logged at least 30 minutes in each of the last two games, including a season-high 39 on Sunday against Denver when he scored 35 points, also a season high. Parker is averaging 11.9 points.

“What he’s done in a very short amount of time is not easy, and so his progression of minutes - he’s earned what he’s getting,” coach Joe Prunty said.

It showed on Tuesday night. Parker’s explosiveness helped the Bucks go on runs of 16-4 and 11-3 while All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was on the bench for rest during a key 106-102 win against the Boston Celtics.

“JP is back, it’s simple,” said Antetokounmpo, referring to Parker. “JP is back and doing a great job facilitating, scoring the ball, rebounding the ball and making the right plays, so that’s why the second group is playing really well right now.”

How Parker fits into the Bucks‘ future remains uncertain. He’s slated to become a restricted free agent this summer.

Parker’s image remains draped on a giant banner across the street from the Bucks‘ corporate offices. He’s standing next to Antetokounmpo in the picture of two young forwards who were each considered the rebuilding franchise’s cornerstones not long ago.

Antetokounmpo has blossomed into an NBA star known on a first-name basis by fans fond of his highlight-reel dunks and blocks, and a fun, off-court demeanor. The team’s 2013 first-round draft pick signed an extension in the summer of 2016.

The Bucks have picked up the club options in each of the last two seasons of Parker’s rookie contract. Parker realizes the NBA is a business, and he has watched the team improve despite his injuries.

“Hopefully it ends up in a good position for me … if it doesn’t, it’s still going to be all right. There’s no love loss,” Parker said.

He remains hopeful that he can stay.

“Yeah there definitely is a hope. I never really wanted to leave in the first place,” Parker said. “This summer was kind of tough on me when I was going through my contract extensions (talks). But you know, you’ve got to move on and hopefully it ends in a good place.”


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