In the "old days" - when the Bucks were one of the National Basketball Association's upper-echelon teams and always on the verge of greatness - the two teams almost always standing in their way were the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics.
More and more, it looks like history may be repeating itself ... if only for a short period.
Saturday night's 105-90 loss to the Celtics at the Bradley Center was the second meeting between the two teams in about a month and the first in a four-day span - the rematch coming on Wednesday, the season finale.
And if things go according to form ... Milwaukee and Boston will face off again next weekend when the playoffs open.
Saturday's game may have been a precursor of things to come. Neither Andrew Bogut or Kevin Garnett played Saturday -- Bogut is done for the year and Garnett sat to give his knees a rest - and both teams went small for long stretches and found themselves playing a chirpy final few minutes.
Hard fouls. Flagrant fouls. An ejection for head coach Scott Skiles ... there was some heated passion on the Bradley Center court. Things got heated the last time these two teams met, too.
Last month, Brandon Jennings and Glen Davis got tangled up and drew technicals after a late-game run-in. Afterwards, Jennings told reporters that Boston is a team that "don't take no mess and we don't, either."
Saturday, Davis was in the mix again. First, Kurt Thomas drew a flagrant for a hard foul on Davis, who got up and right into the veteran center's face, drawing a technical. On the following inbounds play, Jerry Stackhouse and Paul Pierce got into it with each other.
Stackhouse drew a personal foul, both drew technicals and Skiles earned two quick T's and an early trip t the locker room.
"There were some tempers," says Boston coach Doc Rivers. "When guys know there's a chance you're going to play each other, no one wants to give any ground. It was one of those 'Marking their spot,' kind of games. You could see both teams doing that a little bit."
Bucks guard Jerry Stackhouse, a veteran who has seen his share of late-season battles and knows a thing or two about playoff-level intensity, doesn't expect things to change in the rematch Wednesday.
"It's physical basketball," says Stackhouse. "You'll see a lot more of that as the season goes on. At this stage, things are getting a little more intense right now, so you're going to have some moments like that.
All season long, the Bucks have been playing with something close to a chip on their shoulder, after many nation pundits picked them to finish last - or close to it - in the Eastern Conference. With a chance to grab the fifth playoff spot, they've proven many of those same experts wrong, but that doesn't mean opponents are going to show any more respect.
Which makes a potential Bucks-Celtics postseason matchup all the more interesting.
It's quite the pairing if you think about it; the young, upstart Bucks, looking to get back into the spotlight after another decade of irrelevance, matching up against the Celtics, one of the league's cornerstone franchises, the 2008 world's champion and a team made up of aging superstars looking for one last grasp at glory.
"They got a little bit of a brash overtone to their team," Stackhouse says. "They won a championship so they have a right to feel that way but we're not going to back down."
The Bucks have a long way to go before finally reaching the level of their predecessors - perennial playoff participants and division champions who had the respect of their peers and fans alike.
But the way they're going now, you've got to think that they have the attitude - the right kind of mean streak - to start making some post-season noise.
"We've got one more game with them at their place and it should be a pretty good one," says Stackhouse. "And if that's who we play in the playoffs, it should be a pretty entertaining series."