Giannis scores 33 as Milwaukee picks up their 3rd straight win

The Milwaukee Bucks hit the NBA All-Star break Wednesday night with a 129-125 victory at Brooklyn.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a team-high 33 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the Bucks’ third-straight win.

“It feels great, man,” Antetokounmpo said afterwards. “We’re building momentum right now, so when we come back we’ve got to build on that momentum and keep playing hard.”

The win was far from easy, as Milwaukee saw a 13-point fourth-quarter lead nearly evaporate down the stretch, with the Nets getting to within two with 1:36 left in the game. But then guard Khris Middleton drilled a short jumper and closed things out by hitting four free throws in the final 30 seconds.

“Big time plays by Khris,” Antetokounmpo said. “Khris money, money, money.”

In just his fourth game since returning from a torn hamstring, Middleton scored 20 points and dished out a team-high seven assists in 26 minutes of action.

The Bucks also got 25 points off the bench from center Greg Monroe, which helped to offset a huge night for Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez, who scored 36 points and blocked eight shots.

The win gets Milwaukee to 25-30 at the break, leaving them one game behind Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Milwaukee will return to action a week from Friday when the Utah Jazz come to town.

Antetokounmpo’s career-high 41 not enough in 122-114 loss to Lakers

MILWAUKEE — One day after learning forward Jabari Parker would be gone for the season (torn ACL), the Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t muster enough for a comeback, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers 122-114.

The night started off on the wrong foot, with Milwaukee allowing a season-high 47 points in the opening quarter. From there, the Bucks tried to battle back the rest of the night, eventually using a 14-0 fourth-quarter run to close the gap to five. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a career-high 41 points, adding eight rebounds and six assists in the loss.

”At the end of the day, you just want to win, especially against a team like the Lakers,” Antetokounmpo said. ”They aren’t a playoff team.”

Nick Young led the way for Los Angeles with 26 points, converting on the rare four-point play twice in one night.

”I was thinking, OK, this is one of them nights,” Young said.

It marked the 12th loss in 14 outings for the Bucks, with rookie Thon Maker replacing Parker in the lineup. Maker contributed seven points and six rebounds in 17 minutes of playing time. Khris Middleton came off the bench to play nearly 21 minutes, scoring six points on 2-of-7 shooting.

Middleton won’t make the trip to Indiana Saturday night when they visit the Pacers at 6 p.m.

Khris Middleton cleared to return from hamstring injury on Wednesday

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks have lost 10 of their last 11 games but will get a morale boost on Wednesday night with the return of Khris Middleton, who’s been recovering from a ruptured hamstring suffered in the preseason.

During the broadcast of Friday night’s 121-117 loss to the Denver Nuggets, Middleton told Fox Sports Wisconsin he’d been medically cleared to return to game action, having missed the first 50 games of the season. It was reported on Jan. 6 that Middleton could return prior to the All-Star break, initially thought to be an injury that would keep him out the entire season.

“It’s possible,” Middleton said last month in regard to a possible February return. “That’s if everything goes right, with no setbacks and a good, long stretch of practices. Still a long way to go but I’m working towards it.”

The fifth-year forward averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds last year. His return could not only provide another consistent scorer alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, but it could help Milwaukee claw its way back into the playoff picture, currently 2.5 games and three spots back from the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

It’s unclear exactly how much Middleton would play in his season debut. He’ll make his return Feb. 8 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee when they host the Miami Heat at 7 p.m.

Report: Khris Middleton could return from injury ahead of schedule

MILWAUKEE — While Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton recovers from a torn hamstring suffered in the preseason, Steve Aschburner of NBA.com reports he could return after the All-Star break in mid-February.

Middleton underwent surgery in September and was initially ruled out for the remainder of the 2016-17 season, but Middleton told Aschburner that there’s a possibility he returns as long as he doesn’t suffer any setbacks in his recovery.

“It’s possible. That’s if everything goes right, with no setbacks and a good, long stretch of practices,” Middleton said. “Still a long way to go but I’m working towards it.”

Middleton signed a five-year, $70 million contract last season where he averaged 18.2 points per game and 39.6 percent shooting from three-point range.

Report: Bucks could deal Monroe, MCW

MILWAUKEE — The injury to Khris Middleton has made the Bucks’ shooting woes an even bigger priority and league officials claim Milwaukee is looking to deal Greg Monroe and/or Michael Carter-Williams.

Middleton was easily Milwaukee’s best shooter in 2015 at a clip of 39.6 percent. The Racine Journal TImes now reports Charlotte’s Jeremy Lamb may be a trade target, with Milwaukee shipping Monroe over to the Hornets. It’s far from a done deal, but Milwaukee could use Lamb’s 44 percent field goal percentage from a season ago, along with his 8.8 points off the bench.

In addition, the Bucks would receive Spencer Hawes in that deal. A replacement for Monroe, Hawes brings a 7-foot-1 body to the fold, as well as a career 8.9 points per game and an NBA pedigree. He’s the nephew of retired Hawks center Steve Hawes.

Last week, the Bucks said their plan was to use a timeshare to fill the void left by the Middleton injury. Coach Jason Kidd added that the initial plan is to use Monroe and MCW off the bench this upcoming season, but that their roles are not set in stone and will be further assessed after the preseason.

Bucks training camp: finding a shooter

MADISON, Wis. — The Milwaukee Bucks added veterans to the roster even before the Khris Middleton injury, but this week’s training camp at the Nicolas Johnson Pavilion was focused on finding a rotation that works in Middleton’s absence.

Middleton tore his hamstring the night of Sept. 20 while playing a pickup game, slipping on a wet spot on the court. He underwent successful surgery this past Wednesday but will miss approximately six months. In the meantime, coach Jason Kidd has been tasked with not only getting the young players caught up with his system, but finding a solution to improve their shooting woes.

Replacements for Middleton

Coach Kidd deemed this week’s training camp a success, but added that it won’t be just one player filling the role of sharpshooter. Instead, the initial plan is to use a committee of Rashad Vaughn, Jason Terry, and Michael Carter-Williams. Terry is far and away the better shooter of the three, knocking down 37.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc over his NBA career. That compares with just 25.5 percent for Carter-Williams and 29.3 percent for Vaughn.

Matthew Dellavedova was brought in from the Cleveland Cavaliers fresh off an NBA championship, adding a 39.8 percent career shooter from downtown.

Using his resources

Coach Kidd not only brought in players of whom he already had ties, but he called in a couple legends of the game to speak with Milwaukee’s youth.

John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was on hand Thursday to give a few pointers and raise the morale of a team who’d lost its best shooter.

“It’s been awesome listening to him and being able to talk the game with him,” Dellavedoa said. “I’ve had my notebook out and got some drills, talking about different passes on the pick-and-roll.”

Former University of Wisconsin head coach Dick Bennett was also in attendance this week, hoping to bring his expertise to a group of enthusiastic young players. Bennett helped revitalize a Badger program from the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) and bring them to the Final Four.

The weeks ahead

The Bucks take what they learned on the road for their first preseason game on Monday against the Bulls. They’ll return to Madison on Oct. 8 to host the Dallas Mavericks. The full preseason schedule is below:

Mon., Oct. 3 @ Chicago Bulls

Sat., Oct. 8 vs Dallas Mavericks (Kohl Center | Madison, Wis)

Wed., Oct. 12 @ Indiana Pacers (Location TBD)

Sat., Oct. 15 vs Chicago Bulls

Mon., Oct. 17 @ Detroit Pistons

Wed., Oct. 19 vs Indiana Pacers

Bucks lose Middleton to torn hamstring

MILWAUKEE — Coming off the high of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s contract extension, the Milwaukee Bucks announced Wednesday afternoon that Khris Middleton would miss about six months due to a torn hamstring suffered in a workout.

Middleton’s injury requires surgery and the Bucks were reportedly making calls to other teams on Wednesday to acquire more guard depth. General manager John Hammond, however, said they’d be fine with the players they already have on the roster.

“We’re obviously disappointed for Khris and our team, but injuries are an unfortunate part of the game,” said Hammond in a press release. “We’ll rely on our overall roster depth to help us while Khris is out for a significant period of the season.”

Middleton made the Bucks a better team last season, shooting 36 percent collectively from beyond the arc when Middleton was on the floor, as compared to 31 percent when he was out of the game.

Milwaukee can recoup some of the loss of contract money owed to Middleton by claiming a disabled player exemption ($5.6 million) but he would not be able to return to game action this season even if he becomes healthy before the season is over. The Bucks would also need to clear a spot on their roster of 15 guaranteed contract if granted the exemption.