After scuffling with injuries, the Bucks are once again looking like a league power

There was a moment when the wheels in Milwaukee seemed to start to wobble. The Bucks started the season 19-6 thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s now-familiar MVP-level play, Jrue Holiday’s consistent two-way dominance, and a killer start from Brook Lopez that made the 15-year veteran into something. from All Stars famous case. By mid-December, however, the Bucks had sunk into depression, playing ball less than .500 for approximately six weeks fall 5.5 games behind the eastern-leading Celtics are as close to the play-in bracket as they are to first place in the conference.

It wasn’t a mystery Why However, the Bucks could not stand it: they really did not have their own team. A sore left knee kept Antetokounmpo out of seven games and seemed to limit him in others, including his only two. lonelynumber performances of the season. Various illnesses also cost Holiday six games. Chris Middleton made his debut this season, re-joining the roster after spending more than seven months recovering from off-season wrist surgery… strong games With ineffective speeches before returning to the shelf with his own bout of soreness and swelling of the knee.

The absence of All-Stars leads to an excessive load on additional elements, especially when it’s time to create something from nothing; Milwaukee produced the NBA third worst offense in that period. With the increase in injuries and ominous “chemistry rumors” swirlingit was reasonable to wonder if the Bucks were really the NBA’s biggest player. the oldest teamjust months away from major decisions on Lopez (soon to be 35 and got into unlimited free will) and Middleton (who can join Brook by giving up his $40.4 million player option next season, and who turns 32 this summer) — will move from rocking to spinning, shaking up the Eastern hierarchy in the process.

However, “reasonable” does not mean “correct”. A funny thing happened when the Milwaukee Stars missed all those games due to injury and illness. recovered. And ever since they’ve gotten back together, they’ve become a pretty strong reminder of why so many people have tethered them to one of the favorites for the title fits the season.

The Bucks have not lost since Antetokounmpo and Middleton returned to the roster in Detroit on Jan. 23, finishing first in the league in defense and ninth in offense during that period. Glass cleaningand an 11-game winning streak against the Bulls on Thursday.

Whatever hit Giannis’ right knee, looks like it’s fucking in the past. Two-time MVP went crazy after coming back averaging 37.2 points on 58.4% shooting and 13.4 rebounds – yes, by the way, he is one step ahead lead the league in rebounding for the first time – and 5.8 gears in just 33.1 minutes per game.

Antetokounmpo started throwing long passes again, hitting 13 of 38 from threes (34.2%) in that range after three-quarters of them are missing most of the season. However, the important thing is that he did not fall in love with the jumper: 70% of his field goals since his return have been unsuccessful. get in the paintone big reason why completed more free throws than any other player in the league since his return. Of course, you’d prefer him to hit over 62.4% – which would be a career low – but given the sheer amount of everything else Antetokounmpo has to offer, and the metronomic consistency with which he does it, worrying about free throw percentage . it would sound like “Guernica” because of the limited color palette. (Also: we have no documentary evidence of him do them when it matters.)

However, for now, you know what Antetokounmpo is going to provide. (“Toss him any formation,” I wrote before the start of the season. “He bets 28-12-6 whether you like it or not.” Now he’s averaging 32.5, 12.3 and 5.5. My apologies for underestimating you, Giannis.) However, the Bucks have been so overwhelmed lately that Middleton has shed the discomfort of his early December return to join the party in earnest.

All-Star Swingman comes off the bench for the first time in a long time and works under minute limit, but this did not prevent him from working at a high level. He averaged 15.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.6 rebounds in just 19.4 minutes per game. since returning – which means just under 28.5 points, nine boards and seven dimes. in 36 minutes time on the floor to provide the steady hit that Milwaukee’s second squad lacked.

This is very important for the Bucks team, which constantly turned over. whenever Antetokounmpo or Holiday sat down. Small sample caveats apply as Middleton has yet to break the 400-minute mark on the season, but there have been 100 minutes when Middleton and Holiday played without Giannis, and 30 minutes when Middleton played without them, according to PBPstats…and the Bucks went up-26 in those 130 minutes. Nearly every member of the Milwaukee rotation has higher real shot percentage with Middleton on the floor than when not on it.

That’s a big part of why Middleton is such an important piece of the puzzle: not just what he provides as a secondary scorer along with Giannis and the pick-and-roll game-breaker, but how he can serve as a defender. a voluminous and high-performance life raft to attack the Bucks in the few minutes Antetokounmpo rests in the postseason. Stay afloat with the big guy on the bench and dominate the floor with him, and you have a great chance of winning not only the games, but also the rings.

It remains to be seen how long Middleton will need to manage minutes, but his return means coach Mike Budenholzer is now backing a full four that have coached teams to over 10 points out of 100 over the past two Seasons – and for a limited number of minutes this season picked up right where he left off. What might be the most compelling thing about the Bucks’ roster in the last quarter of the season is the way Coach Bud tinkers and tests fifth options on a roster that has quite a few interesting ones.

Need to fill the floor with some freshly squeezed juice? Go with Grayson Allen, who knocks down 40.6% of his 4.8 3-point attempts per game. Want more size and playmaking? There’s Joe Ingles, who has gotten rid of his injury-related rust and is averaging 7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 39.7% of his 3-pointers per game. last 15 games. Want a middle path between these two poles that also provides a little more protection? Call trusty old Pat Connaughton, one of the May be five Bucks that Budenholzer trusted by the end of Milwaukee’s seven-game war with the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs last spring and is still one of the most capable reserve wings in the business.

As soon as he returns from treatment for a sprained right MCL, sixth man of the year contender Bobby Portis will provide an instant offense off the bench. And A viable third big when the Bucks want super-sized. Jevon Carter gives Budenholzer a defensive wrecker at point of attack against point guards and underscorers; Wesley Matthews can play this role against big flanks. And the hope is that when he actually hits the court after sitting out the first four months of the season looking for a trade and finally getting one last week, Jay Crowder will effectively offer a bit of all of the above – and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility. play smallball as a power forwardroll threes, switch screens and unlock Giannis lineups on fives, which are basically destroyed opponents V recent years.

There are plenty of options, with and without Giannis. (Budenholzer came out briefly with Middleton in center against Boston on Tuesday. six points behind in three minutes; sometimes the pursuit of scientific discovery leads to explosive results.) Such heightened arbitrariness will not necessarily make the Bucks a favorite in a rematch with the Celtics – that Boston sent Milwaukee into overtime without four players in the starting lineup was quite impressive, but does make them more flexible, more versatile and more dangerous.

The Bucks’ recipe for success is to be bigger, longer, stronger and more resilient than the one they’re fighting. They have won more games than any other team in history. last five years, it won them the title and—even without Middleton—pushed the eventual Eastern champion Celtics to seven games. This recipe hasn’t changed, and thanks to good health and the arrival of Crowder, they have all the ingredients again. Wheel wobble last month gave way military installationloaded for the bear and ready to fight. What a beautiful day.


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