The Bucks are playoff bound, so now what?

The Milwaukee Bucks have already clinched a 2020 playoff berth.

Posting the league’s best record at 49-8, the team has 25 games remaining before the start of post-season play.

Here are 25 facets of their game to pay attention to as they inch closer and closer to their first playoff series.

In no particular order…

25. Now that it’s officially official, and the Bucks will play post-season basketball for the fourth straight year, how many more regular season games will Giannis Antetokounmpo play? He’s averaging just under 31 minutes per game, but that will certainly increase in April, May and possibly June. Coach Mike Budenholzer knows that it’ll always be a fight to sit the MVP, so will he?

24. How will Milwaukee continue to seamlessly work newly acquired veteran Marvin Williams into the mix? Historically, buyout players haven’t made a huge impact on championship teams but the team feels that Williams impact can be felt beyond the box score.

23. Donte DiVincenzo is averaging 22 minutes and nearly 10 points per game this season. He wasn’t available in the playoffs last year. How will the sophomore guard continue to mature as a contributing NBA player?

22. He’s back from a hamstring injury. Potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate George Hill is an extension of Budenholzer when he’s on the floor running the second unit. Although the minutes may shrink slightly, they need the impact of his leadership and efficient scoring.

21. This topic is gaining more steam as of late, but the evolution and addition of a turnaround jumper to Antetokounmpo’s game.

20. Ersan Ilyasova is technically Giannis’ backup. The team doesn’t ask him to be Antetokounmpo when he’s on the floor, but they need him to be in a healthy rhythm when the season winds down. He could give them effective playoff minutes, and maybe even draw a charge or two.

19. Another ‘beyond-the-box-score’ player, Wesley Matthews was signed to defend and be a leader. We’ll see how Budenholzer uses him down the stretch, because when the team faces All-NBA type talent, they need his defensive prowess to be fresh.

18. Giannis started the season shooting 55 percent from the free throw line in October, and 59 in November. In December he increased to 64 percent and in February he’s up to 66 percent from the charity stripe. See a trend here? He doesn’t need to shoot 90 percent from the line, but the more he can stay north of 65 percent, the team should feel really good about their chances.

17. Similar to No.21, as Antetokounmpo continues to develop an inside jump shot, his ability to hit a three will loom huge for Milwaukee as well. He’s not Kyle Korver, obviously, but if he can be a minimal threat, and make defenders think about closing out on him, it causes a problem for the opposition’s entire defensive scheme.

16. Speaking of Kyle Korver, he also needs to get in a consistent rhythm before the playoffs begin. His instant offense, and skillset in the half-court offense will pay dividends.

15. Don’t stop the wrestling matches. Keeps the team loose.

14. Do you like your Robin Lopez to sip tea or hit a left handed hook? Either way, his ability to contribute on both ends of the floor, especially when brother Brook is out, is beneficial.

13. The Bucks don’t really have any players who can only play offense or only play defense, do they? Is anyone on their roster an extreme liability on either end of the floor? That’s a good sign.

12. Keep an eye on the competition. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are playing really well as of late, and gaining confidence. Both teams have recent playoff history with the Bucks as well.

11. On the flip side, the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat are experiencing injury issues. That doesn’t mean they won’t be a threat, but these two teams, as well as the Indiana Pacers, are getting bit by the injury bug at the worst possible time.

10. Khris Middleton is on the brink of joining the 40-50-90 club. That means he finishes the season hitting 40 percent of his three point attempts, 50 percent from the floor and 90 percent from the line. This is an exclusive and elusive club and would be a major accomplishment for the two-time all-star.

9. Will Antetokounmpo repeat as league MVP? He’d trade two MVP trophies for a championship trophy, no doubt, but it will be interesting to see how strong he finishes the season and how the votes shake out.

8. Don’t let teams hang around. It was an issue for the team early, then they fixed their late game intensity levels. This issue is creeping back up for the Bucks as of late, especially when they give up monster performances to star opponents. Once you build a lead, you have to keep it. Especially when the other team is far inferior.

7. Brook Lopez has 7 technical fouls this season. Will he hit double-digits? Curious if there are Vegas odds on how many techs Lopez finishes with this season.

6. 70 wins would be one heck of an accomplishment. The players will tell you that they’re only focused on the end goal of a championship. However, who wouldn’t want to say that they won 70 out of 82 regular season games.

5. He doesn’t care if he hits them, he needs to continue to shoot them and gain confidence. Talking about Antetokounmpo from beyond the three point line. Let it fly. Yes, this is a repeat. But, it’s important for him to continually develop the confidence, and the success, to hit threes during a live game.

4. When Eric Bledsoe gets hot from three, the team plays on a whole other level as well. Watch for the team to get him involved from beyond-the-arc early in games, which will then open up the rest of the half-court offense for their point guard to operate. Looking ahead, the team will look for Bledsoe to play superior defense in the post-season too, especially if they square off against elite guards Kyle Lowry or Kemba Walker.

3. Budenholzer is going to decide how many players he rotates in during a playoff series. How guys play in the final 25 games, as well as matchup advantages, is going to play a big part on how far he looks down the bench come April.

2. Shoot to get hot. Shoot to stay hot. Mentioned this with Ilyasova, and Korver, and Hill among others. Horst has done a phenomenal job surrounding Giannis with shooters. When Giannis sees a double team, or triple team, or teams take away his ability to drive, these shooters, from Pat Connaughton to Matthews to DiVincenzo, have to knock down open looks and keep defenders on their feet. It’s all about the rhythm.

1. STAY HEALTHY! Here’s looking at you, Giannis.

Bucks, Giannis roll to easy win in Detroit

Milwaukee returned from the NBA All-Star break Thursday night and did so in impressive fashion.

Powered by 33 points and 16 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks rolled to a 126-106 rout of Detroit.

The game was over almost before it began. With key injuries and a lot of roster turnover, the Pistons were no match for Milwaukee. The Bucks led by 14 at the end of the first quarter, by 29 at the half and by 31 in the third quarter. Detroit outscored Milwaukee by seven in the fourth quarter but it was not nearly enough.

Milwaukee got 28 points and eight rebounds from Khris Middleton, while Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez combined for 37.

The Pistons were led by former Bucks forward Christian Wood. He had 18 points and 11 rebounds. Another former Milwaukee player, Thon Maker, had 11 points.

Milwaukee has now won the first three games in the series against Detroit and haven’t actually lost to the Pistons since Feb. 28, 2018.

The Bucks improved to an NBA-best 47-8 with the win, including a 22-5 mark on the road. They’ll come home now to face Philadelphia on Saturday.

Bucks fall at Indiana in final game before All-Star Break

The Milwaukee Bucks are no longer undefeated this season without Giannis Antetokounmpo.

With the reigning NBA MVP back in Milwaukee caring for his newborn son, coach Mike Budenholzer’s club fell 118-111 to Indiana in the final game before the All-Star Break.

The Pacers led by as many as 25 in the first half, but the Bucks rallied, cutting the deficit to 11 at the end of the third quarter and getting within four points in the fourth quarter. Indiana had an answer, though, building the lead back to 17 and were never really challenged the rest of the way.

Second-year guard Donte DiVincenzo led the way for Milwaukee, scoring 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds, as the Bucks fell to 5-1 without Antetokounmpo. Forward Khris Middleton added 17, while guards Eric Bledsoe and Sterling Brown combined for 29. In his debut with the club, forward Marvin Williams had nine points and four rebounds. With him on the floor, Milwaukee outscored the Pacers by 20.

Indiana got 35 points from forward T.J. Warren and 17 points from former Bucks’ guard Malcolm Brogdon.

The game was the final one before the NBA All-Star Break and it left Milwaukee at 46-8 on the year. That’s the best record in the league and gives the Bucks a 6.5-game lead on Toronto for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Milwaukee is now off until next Thursday when it will face Detroit on the road.

Bucks announce signing of Marvin Williams

Marvin Williams is officially a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.

The team announced the signing late Monday afternoon. Milwaukee requested waivers on forward Dragan Bender earlier in the day to make room on the roster.

Williams joins the Bucks after having his contract bought out by Charlotte. He was averaging 6.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game for the Hornets, while shooting 37.6 percent from beyond the arc.

The second pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, (one pick after Milwaukee took Andrew Bogut) Williams spent time with Atlanta and Utah before playing for Charlotte since 2014. For his career, Williams shot 36.2 percent on 3-pointers.

Williams, 33, will bring some postseason experience to the Bucks bench, having played in 49 playoff games during his career.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound, Williams will wear No. 20 with Milwaukee.

Report: Bucks to sign Marvin Williams, cut Bender

The Milwaukee Bucks were quiet at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, but they’re reportedly making some noise on the buyout market.

Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting that Marvin Williams is planning to sign with Milwaukee, after he was bought out by the Charlotte Hornets.

Williams, 33, is averaging 6.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1 assist per game this season, but is known more for his veteran presence, defensive prowess and ability to hit catch-and-shoot three-point shots.

In 2005, the Bucks held the NBA’s No.1 overall draft pick and were torn between drafting Andrew Bogut and Williams. Ultimately, the team selected Bogut and Williams was picked No.2 by the Atlanta Hawks.

He has played for three teams throughout his 15 year career, Atlanta, the Utah Jazz and Charlotte.

Well respected amongst his peers, Williams was thought to be a hot commodity after his buyout. Kemba Walker of the Boston Celtics, who played with Williams in Charlotte, admitted he spent a month trying to recruit him to Boston.

Walker’s reaction when learning that Williams selected Milwaukee, was, in a word, priceless.

To make room for Williams, Bucks general manager Jon Horst had to cut one member of the current roster. ESPN’s Adrain Wojnarowski reported on Saturday morning that the team would release Dragan Bender.

Bender, a former No.4 overall pick, was signed as a free agent this summer and contributed sparingly, but made multiple stints for the Wisconsin Herd, Milwaukee’s G-League affiliate.

Fantasy draft: Team Giannis

The rosters are officially set.

Sitting in the Milwaukee Bucks locker room on Thursday night, in front of a TNT camera crew, Giannis Antetokounmpo drafted NBA superstars Kemba Walker, Trae Young and Jimmy Butler, among others to compete on Team Giannis during the NBA’s 2020 All-Star Game.

Loyalty runs in Antetokounmpo’s DNA, though. With the first pick of the reserve pool, he stuck to his word and drafted teammate Khris Middleton.

The duo is averaging a combined 50.5 points per game this season.

Antetokounmpo said he was looking to draft players who are going to “play hard” and help his team win. His competitive nature is always on display, knowing he wants to avenge last year’s 178-164 loss to Team LeBron.

LeBron James drafted Damian Lillard with his first pick of the reserves.

The rest of the Team Giannis roster includes Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam, Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Lowry and Donovan Mitchell.

Team Giannis is playing to benefit “After School Matters,” a charitable organization that focuses on providing after school activities, mentoring and tutoring.

Milwaukee Bucks: News and notes

The Milwaukee Bucks are 43-7 and currently hold a seven game over the Toronto Raptors for first-place in the Eastern Conference. Their central division lead over the Indiana Pacers is a whopping 12-game advantage.

February will be an interesting month for the team. Not only do they have an eight-day vacation thanks to the NBA’s annual All-Star weekend, but they also play the Philadelphia 76ers twice and Raptors once during an eight-game stretch.

Milwaukee lost to Philadelphia in a rather non-competitive game on Christmas Day.

The other teams they play during that span include the Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Five opponents with an above .500 winning percentage in eight games.

March will come in like a lion as well, with three consecutive games against the Miami Heat, Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers.

News and Notes

They let Pat dunk

Reserve guard Pat Connaughton knows he’ll be an underdog in the 2020 slam dunk contest, but that doesn’t mean he’s backing away from the challenge. It was officially announced this past week that he’ll compete against Derrick Jones Jr., Dwight Howard and Aaron Gordon as part of All-Star Saturday night in Chicago.

https://twitter.com/pconnaughton/status/1224908067780907008

All around game

Two-time all-star Khris Middleton will represent Milwaukee in the game on Sunday, but he’ll also partake in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday night. Middleton dribble and shoot his way around a course against the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie, Patrick Beverly, Derrick Rose, Jayson Tatum and others.

Middleton has played in 43 games this season, he missed seven due to a thigh injury. In those games he’s managed to keep his membership in the 50-40-90 club. He’s currently averaging 51 percent shooting from the floor, 44 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Confidence through the roof

Off-the-court, Donte DiVincenzo seems rather calm and cool at all times. On-the-court, he’s a fiery competitor who hasn’t shown signs of shying away from the big moment. Over his last ten games he’s averaging 11 points per game on 50 percent shooting.

Not news

This will be news when it doesn’t happen. Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for January. He has won the award in every month of this season, plus eight of the last nine awards overall. Spoiler alert, Antetokounmpo will more than likely be named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month in February as well. Probably March.

They’re letting Pat Connaughton dunk

The Milwaukee Bucks have been campaigning for reserve guard Pat Connaughton to get a spot in the NBA’s annual Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend.

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium is reporting that #LetPatDunk has been successful and the fifth-year player out of Notre Dame has received and accepted an invite to compete on Feb. 15 in Chicago.

Connaughton will be the first Milwaukee Bucks’ player to take part in the competition since Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2015.

On a national level, Connaughton may be more of an after thought. But, his contributions to the Bucks this season have been important en route to their league best 42-7 record. Despite just averaging 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, he’s a solid wing defender and has put his flat out athleticism on display at any given opportunity.

At the NBA combine in 2015, he posted a 44-inch vertical, one of the highest in league history.

Enjoy the sampling of Connaughton highlight dunks, because who doesn’t love a great NBA mixtape…

And, of course, the time he tried to posterize Antetokounmpo.

A dream fulfilled for Giannis and Thanasis

The Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night, snapping their nine-game winning streak.

Following a week of mourning horrific tragedy, the NBA community and basketball world was reminded that there is more to life than just wins and losses. It’s about appreciating your loved ones, and cherishing the memorable moments you spend together. Because, truly, you just never know.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ older brother, said he learned about two hours before tip-off that he’d be making his first career start. Their very proud mother, Veronica, cheering in the crowd.

“Just enjoy it,” Thanasis recalled head coach Mike Budenholzer telling him before the game. “You’ve been working really hard.

“To be able to start with my brother, on the same team, and my family in the stands. And, to be able to have coach trust me, to say ‘go guard (Nikola) Jokic and keep him off his game,’ it’s big.”

An audience of Greek fans, celebrating Greek Heritage Night at Fiserv Forum, were in attendance as well. All of them ecstatic to see both Antetokounmpo brothers on an NBA floor at the same time, for the first time ever.

“That was amazing, man,” Giannis said. “Great feeling. I don’t think we ever started in a game together. Not for the national team. Not for the team we played for before we became pro. Just being able to start with Thanasis, it’s something that is always going to stick with me.

“I think he did a great job, was able to bring some energy, get some deflections and get some easy ones. He did a good job.”

One minute and two seconds into the game, Thanasis took a steal coast-to-coast and threw down a thunderous fast-break dunk that sent fans into an uproar.

Less than 90 seconds later, he slashed through the lane, catching a pass in-stride and rose for a made layup and an and-one opportunity.

The pass came from his little brother. Giannis fist-pumped in celebration as if he scored the basket himself.

“I know Thanasis as a player,” Giannis said about the play. “I know whenever somebody drives the ball, he’s going to cut and go for an offensive rebound. I was able to get a lane. I saw (Jerami) Grant taking a step and I saw Thanasis coming full speed.

“I think it was a bounce pass, I don’t remember, but he was able to get it and finish.”

These moments, whether it be the dunk, or the assist, or Thanasis not knowing where to go when the starters were being introduced and Giannis having to direct him to sit down until his name was called, these moments will never be forgotten by the ‘Antetokounbros.’

They never thought these dreams would actually come true.

“Think about this,” Thanasis said to discuss how far the two have come. “Think about if you’re like 14 years old, right? And you’re in your room and you’re talking with your brother like,’oh, imagine if we played on the same team, and the gym is packed with 20,000 people and we pass the ball to each other and we score.’

“Legit today, I was running, I saw him and he was going for a layup, so I was like ‘let me chase the ball as he goes up’ and (Giannis) stops mid-air and passes me the ball and I score. Then I realize, it just happened. So, it’s surreal.”

Brotherly and teammate chemistry is clearly real, seeing as how Giannis knew that Thanasis would follow the ball, looking for an offensive rebound. Instead, Giannis was able to assist his brother’s scoring efforts. In front of 20,000 fans, just as they dreamt it.

“It’s crazy, man. It’s really insane,” Giannis replied when asked about the surreal moment. “When we were growing up we never thought we’d be starting an NBA game, playing together in NBA minutes.

“I’m proud of him. I’m happy for him. I know my mom in the stands, she’s really happy about it. I just am happy that Thanasis got the opportunity and was able to do something with it and play hard and help the team.”

After the game the duo signed bobblehead boxes before going out to the court to take photos, and sing and talk to the contingent of Greek fans who were there just to see them play basketball.

Milwaukee may have lost the game. The film will undoubtedly showcase some defensive deficiencies and areas for improvement.

But tonight, Giannis and Thanasis experienced something they will never forget. Memories that will last forever. And when the final buzzer sounds, isn’t that really all that matters anyways?

Khris Middleton: NBA All-Star, again

End the debates, the news is officially official.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton is headed to his second consecutive NBA All-Star weekend. He was voted in as an eastern conference reserve.

Middleton joined the NBA on TNT pre-game show shortly after the announcement and was asked about achieving all-star status two seasons in-a-row.

“Being an all-star last year was a huge goal of mine,” he said. “You never want to take a step back.”

Despite missing seven games with a left thigh contusion earlier in the season, Middleton is averaging 20.2 points and nearly six rebounds and four assists per game.

He’s currently part of the elusive 50-40-90 club. Averaging a better than 50 percent completion percentage from the floor, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

“I’ve been counted out a lot in my career,” he said following a 51 point performance against the Washington Wizards on Monday night. “That’s what motivates me in a lot of ways. Everybody has their opinion on who should be an all-star and who not.

“There’s a lot of great players in this league.”

Never one to boast about himself, Middleton was answering a question about some analysts thinking he isn’t worthy of a spot on the all-star roster.

Although he’s technically representing the east, All-Star rosters are divvied up by a player draft. This year’s captains are LeBron James and Middleton’s running mate, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“I’d be pretty upset if my teammate didn’t pick me first,” Middleton said during the TNT interview. “We’re loyal guys over here, so I don’t expect anything different from Giannis right now.”

Antetokounmpo signed back in to his social media accounts, after deactivating them over the weekend, to voice his displeasure in the Bucks only having two all-star representatives.

The NBA is changing the scoring format for the game this season, working in a charitable component and paying tribute to the late Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter.

The Bucks were quick to celebrate Middleton’s accomplishment via social media.

Middleton showed out in last year’s game in Charlotte, scoring 20 points.