SPORTS

The Milwaukee Bucks Are On A Post-Season Mission

Milwaukee — during a timeout At the end of the fourth quarter of a February 24 game against the Miami Heat, Junior Holiday raised an orange Gatorade bottle and channeled his inner Backstreet Boy.

Holiday went to the bench for the last time with 4:30 remaining and his Milwaukee Bucks headed for their 13th consecutive win, 124–89, so it was time for Holiday to enjoy the moment.

“I don’t want to hear what you say.”

Holliday lip-synced to his Gatorade bottle as the sold-out crowd of 17,676 at Fisher Forum jumped out of their seats as “Crowd Karaoke” played on the Bucks’ video board above the court.

“Nothing but heartache.”

Milwaukee has had plenty of moments to enjoy as of late, winning 21 of the last 23 games. The Bucks enter their showdown with the Golden State Warriors (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC) — the meeting of the last two NBA champions — as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, 2.5 games up Boston for the best record in the NBA. For the Celtics.

An Eastern Conference scout told ESPN, “Sometimes in this league, timing matters.” “He is finally healthy and making progress at the right time.”

There have been four instances of a team winning at least 15 straight games in the past five seasons, and the Bucks are responsible for two of them. Before the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Bucks 133–130 the previous week, Milwaukee had won 16 straight, the third-longest streak in franchise history.

Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is on pace to become the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to average 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on 50% shooting. Center Brook Lopez is a leading contender for defensive player of the year, as is Holiday, who made the All-Star team for the first time since 2012-13, and is enjoying his best season in a Bucks uniform. Khris Middleton is finally healthy and embracing his recent role as sixth man, leading a bench unit that has become one of the deepest in the league, especially since the trade of Jae Crowder. After the acquisition of Seema.

After losing in seven games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last season, the Bucks brought back their entire rotation for another shot at the championship. With one month left in the regular season, the Bucks’ offense is clicking, their defense is dominant and they’ve built a deeper rotation than last year as they look to reclaim the title they won in 2021 but lost last year. Couldn’t defend the season.

“When you’ve won and you stick together, they just know how to win,” Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers said last week before a game in Milwaukee. “You can see it in their play. They have been able to bring other people in and buy into the same chemistry and culture as they have done it and their core people are in the promised land.

“Every team that hasn’t won or been to the Finals, there are times you reach out to them; you’re not reaching out to the Bucks. You just aren’t. There’s nothing you can do that’s going to shake them.” Going to do “


when the box Playing well early in the season, they were using a dominant defense that has ranked at or near the top of the league since the beginning of the year. However, Milwaukee’s offense has been a work in progress. The Bucks have spent most of the year ranked in the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency and currently rank 17th in points per 100 possessions.

But before they reeled off 16 consecutive wins — the longest winning streak by any team in the NBA this season — the Bucks made a subtle change to their game plan. Goal: Play with speed.

The Bucks are playing faster, not just by creating more transition opportunities but by setting more quickly in their half-court. Antetokounmpo said the team has become very methodical in terms of how it wants to break down the defense early in the season, hunting mismatches and moving the ball to half-court rather than playing within the flow of the offense.

During their winning streak, the Bucks played at the fastest pace in the NBA, with an average possession length of 14.7 seconds on half-court sets, second fastest in the league according to Spectrum and 1.2 seconds longer than their average possession before the streak. Sharp, who finished 18th in the NBA. The Bucks shot the ball within the first 12 seconds of the shot clock for 58% of the half-court set, the highest mark in the NBA during that period.

In 20 games through January 23 (the day Middleton returned and began his 16-game winning streak), the Bucks averaged 123.9 points, the most in the NBA.

“At the end of the day, we do our best when we play fast,” Antetokounmpo said after a win last week.

While their offense improved, the Bucks didn’t have to sacrifice anything on defense. Milwaukee ranked third in the league in defensive efficiency for the entire season and has led the league in that category since January 23.

So when Antetokounmpo noted the offensive moves the team has made in recent weeks, he made sure to reiterate that the defense was still the backbone of this team.

“The year we won and that’s when we play at our best, that’s when we defend,” Antetokounmpo said. “This league is so talented, you can’t trade baskets. … We have to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. And I think that’s going to help us be at our best. Some days we’re not We’re going to score the ball. We’ve got to know that our defense is going to be there and we can count on that at all times.”


on the final The day after the 2021-22 regular season, the Bucks decided to rest.

With the top-three seed secured, the Bucks sat Antetokounmpo, Middleton, López, and Bobby Portis for their regular-season finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Holliday ended up securing the contract bonus, but played just eight seconds before sitting out the rest of the game. Milwaukee used just six other players in a 133–115 loss to the Cavs – mostly little-used reserves like Sandro Mamukashvili and Rayjon Tucker.

The Bucks finished as the No. 3 seed in the East, which helped them avoid a first-round series against Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets, who had taken Milwaukee to seven games during the previous conference semifinals and defeated Durant. was kept inside. Trick to go home early

But the decision to essentially hand the Celtics the No. 2 seed came back to haunt the Bucks. Boston held home-court advantage for the teams’ second-round series, meaning the deciding Game 7 was played at TD Garden, where the Celtics won 109–81. Team sources told ESPN that the Bucks regretted how the regular season ended, and that it would be their priority to finish the season healthy, with the Bucks looking to enter the playoffs as the top seed and move past Milwaukee. want to go through.

The Bucks have the depth to achieve that goal, even if some of their best players have missed the game. Antetokounmpo was out with an injury in back-to-back games in the first quarter and missed another after the All-Star break—the Bucks won all three of those games. On Tuesday night, Milwaukee was missing both its 2023 All-Stars in Antetokounmpo and Holiday and still pulled off a 134-122 win over Orlando thanks to a combined 50 points from Lopez and Middleton.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, “The depth is really helping us.” “There’s a lot of good players, a lot of different directions we can go in, there’s versatility with the roster.”

Milwaukee was able to trade for Crowder without giving up any of their top nine rotation players. They signed Joe Ingles as a free agent coming off a torn ACL and he returned in December earlier than expected. Milwaukee also recently bolstered the back-end of its bench, signing veteran guard Goran Dragic and center Meyers Leonard to 10-day contracts. Both Crowder and Dragic have previous experience in the Finals.

Play

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Ingles goes 5-for-6 in win over Magic

Bucks veteran Joe Ingles tallied an efficient 12 points and six assists versus the Magic.

Middleton played 30 minutes on Tuesday for the first time since returning from injury and finished with 24 points and 11 assists. He looked like he was starting to regain his All-Star form after missing the last 10 playoff games in 2022 and 39 of the first 46 games this season. When he plays, the Bucks are 19–4, a 67-win streak for the entire season.

Still, playing without Middleton for such an extended stretch forced the Bucks to make adjustments and let Holley room more offensively. His 19.7 points per game is his most with the New Orleans Pelicans since 2018-19 and he is taking 15.6 shots per night, which he did in his first two seasons in Milwaukee.

“We had a lot of different lineups at the start of the season, with a lot of guys injured and out of the lineup, so it was honestly a bit of a blessing,” Lopez said. “A lot of guys got a chance to play, to figure things out. We got a chance to play with different lineups, build relationships on the court. And now that we’re back, for the most part Very healthy, I think we’re getting bitten.” benefits.”

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