Damian Lillard didn’t expect the season to unfold the way that it has upon joining the Milwaukee Bucks this past offseason, playing catch-up with the NBA-best (46-12) Boston Celtics.

Joining a Bucks team two years removed from its last NBA Finals title, in tandem with two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the match appeared fantasy-like. What could go wrong? Lillard, a proven playoff stud, and Antetokounmpo, arguably the best player in the NBA. But, three-quarters deep into the season, the talk of the league hasn’t been the Bucks at all — at least for good reasons.

It’s been all about the new-look Celtics, and picking out which team in the Eastern Conference can emerge as Boston’s biggest threat. The Bucks, sitting at the No. 3 seed at 38-21, are an obvious candidate, but not the standout. That’s left Lillard slightly perplexed when looking at how Milwaukee and Boston have trended respectively throughout the season.

“I thought we were going to look like Boston right now,” Lillard said, per Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. “But I think what I’ve learned is that some things take time, especially stuff that has a reward in the end. You can’t come into it and think it’s just going to be all peaches and cream. We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve had a coaching change. I haven’t completely settled into finding who I am on this team. And that’s kind of a tough thing.”

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The Bucks, while still well within the championship contention race, haven’t been anything like the Celtics for a handful of reasons. After the team’s first 43 games — in which they were the No. 2 seed in the East — Milwaukee showed Adrian Griffin the door and hired Doc Rivers as its head coach. So far, not great as the Bucks have gone 8-8 with Rivers at the helm. Milwaukee’s also abandoned its defensive identity — the consequence of parting ways with Jrue Holiday — raising a massive red flag from Opening Night.

That’s far from the cakewalk vision that the Lillard-Antetokounmpo offseason unification posed in Milwaukee.

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The hard truth is that the Bucks aren’t the next great superteam right now. They have flashy names but lack depth. Milwaukee has an on-floor leader but also has a flawed sideline head honcho behind the clipboard. As seasoned as Lillard and Antetokounmpo both are, the team has plenty to prove.

When going toe-to-toe with a limping Grizzlies team with a stacked injured list, the Bucks crumbled and bowed to Memphis in a 113-110 loss earlier this month. That’s opened the floodgates of scrutiny to (rightfully) pour on Rivers, who’s made falling short the staple of his coaching brand.

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Granted, Milwaukee’s risen in terms of defensive rating (fifth in the NBA) since Rivers replaced Griffin, but the pressure is weighing. Rivers coughed up a 3-2 lead (again) to the Celtics during last season’s playoffs, before getting fired by the Philadelphia 76ers and taking an ESPN analyst gig. But like Boston, it’s nothing but NBA Finals or bust for the Bucks.

Through 58 games, the Celtics have backed their front office by routinely rising to the occasion and building a comfortable eight-game cushion ahead of the No. 2-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers. With the edge of chemistry, coaching and overall versatility on both ends of the floor working in Boston’s favor, Milwaukee still has plenty of work to do — and potentially plenty to worry about before the playoffs arrive.

Featured image via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images