Coaches and teammates celebrate Middleton’s career night

Khris Middleton walked out of Fiserv Forum on Monday night with a bag of food in his right hand and the game ball under his left.

Same ear-to-ear smile he always has after a Milwaukee Bucks win.

No extra pep in his step.

If you hadn’t seen the box score, you wouldn’t know whether or not Middleton scored 15 or 50 points against the Washington Wizards. You’d assume it was just another efficient night at the office.

That’s just Middleton’s demeanor. Lucky for him, 17,000 plus fans and a bench full of teammates gleefully celebrated his 51-point 10-rebound stat line.

“Just a special special night from Khris Middleton,” head coach Mike Budenholzer said to open his post-game press conference. “51 (points) on 26 shots is impressive. And we kind of needed him. (The lead) got to eight at one point in the fourth quarter. Phenomenal effort by Khris and the group.”

Middleton started his career night by connecting on his first seven three pointers.

He finished the game shooting nearly 62 percent from the floor, 70 percent from three and a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line. Those percentages aren’t out of character whatsoever, either. Over his last ten games, Middleton is averaging 24.2 points on 57 percent shooting, 53 percent from three and 90 percent from the line.

The only time Middleton acted out of character was when he drove down the middle of the lane and threw down a thunderous dunk for his 50th and 51st points of the night.

“I was tired, I’m not going to lie,” he said about the dunk. “To score, to try and put up shots to be aggressive the whole game, that’s tough. But I was definitely trying to save a little bit of legs. Didn’t think I was going to get there, but somehow I willed myself to get a dunk.

“It was pretty cool to have that as my 50 piece.”

The home crowd, flooded with emotion, heavy hearts and Kobe Bryant jerseys, erupted to in celebration. Milwaukee’s fan section broke out their “two-time-all-star” chants.

“He got in a rhythm pretty early,” Budenholzer added on the performance. “It looked like every shot he was taking, I think he was 9-of-10 at half. Just coming off of his hand well. It had good pop and good bounce. I think everybody was feeding him, playing off of him and celebrating him.

“Such a good player. Such a good teammate. It’s great to see him have a night like this and have everyone enjoy it.”

Middleton secured the double-double stat line thanks to the awareness of Donte DiVincenzo. Instead of snatching a late game rebound for himself, DiVincenzo let Middleton secure it.

“I was going to take it, I was going to take it,” DiVincenzo said laughing. “But, I knew he had nine.”

Before the game, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks emphasized that Middleton was definitely an all-star player and received his vote for a spot on the roster. All-Star reserves are set to be announced on TNT this Thursday, Jan. 30.

“It definitely gives me confidence, knowing that coaches around the league appreciate what I do,” Middleton said.

He added that he doesn’t pay much attention to critics of his game. Or whether or not voters will elect him to represent the East in Chicago this February.

“I just think he’s underrated,” Budenholzer said adamantly. “He’s very nuanced and can sneak up on you and how he gets his baskets. I think the rest of the league is appreciating him more and more.

“I think people that understand the sport know how good he is. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter how he’s rated. As long as he’s with us that’s all we care about.”

Middleton said post-game that the entire league is playing with heavy hearts, grieving the loss of basketball legend Kobe Bryant. The Bucks and Wizards took part in tribute, posting an eight and twenty-four second violation to start the game.

“I definitely dedicate that game to him as a thank you for what he did for the game,” Middleton said.

Antetokounmpo: I grew up with Kobe

Would Giannis Antetokounmpo be “Giannis Antetokounmpo” without the influence of basketball legend Kobe Bryant?

“I remember the first game I watched was a Kobe game, against the Celtics,” a quiet Antetokounmpo said following Milwaukee Bucks’ practice on Monday. He recalled that it was his first experience watching the NBA.

“(Kobe) was big, man. He was big. And you could feel it. You could definitely feel it in the air. From yesterday, what happened around the world and how many people reached out to him and to his family, you realize how big he was.”

Antetokounmpo was born in December of 1994. Bryant was drafted in June of 1996 and played 20 seasons before retiring in 2016.

“I grew up with Kobe. Kobe influenced my life,” he added. “Looking up to him, one of the reasons that I started playing basketball. He’s one of the reasons that I am here today.

“Kobe is one of the best players to ever play the game. He was put on this earth, obviously, to be one of the best.”

Antetokounmpo worked out with Bryant during the summer of 2018.

During an interview with Jim Paschke, recorded shortly thereafter, he told the story of showing up to the workout with a notebook full of questions, but didn’t want it to seem as if he was interviewing his childhood hero. Antetokounmpo also took pride in beating Bryant to the facility that day.

Based on comments, quotes and stories from Bryant’s former teammates and coaches, no one ever beats Kobe to the gym. No one ever stayed later than him either. It’s part of the legend. Part of the Mamba Mentality.

The two stars have shared multiple interactions since. However, Antetokounmpo made it a point to keep those encounters private. When asked repeatedly about memories, conversations or text messages exchanged between them, Giannis said that he intended to keep all of that nonpublic as well.

Antetokounmpo walked slowly to and from the corner of Milwaukee’s practice facility where he fielded questions. It didn’t take a body language expert to recognize that he was there out of obligation.

Talking was not a necessity in his grieving process after losing a friend. But, he shared pieces of his raw emotion with the world for a tough nine minutes and 50 seconds.

“Everybody deals with tragedy in their own way. I dealt with tragedy a few years ago, with my dad, and didn’t come out and speak about it at all.” he said. “All I can say is that I pray for the people who were affected by it.

“Yesterday was a horrible day, for basketball and for everybody.”

Mike Budenholzer met with reporters as well.

He memorialized Bryant as a fierce competitor. The Bucks head coach even cracked a smile to light-heartedly say he had “bad” memories of Kobe. Bryant played for the Lakers while Budenholzer was an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs. Budenholzer had to help game plan to beat the 18-time all-star and 5-time champion.

From 1996 to 2013, Budenholzer’s complete tenure in San Antonio, the Spurs lost to Bryant and Los Angeles in four post-season series.

“It’s almost impossible to articulate the tragedy, all of the emotions that you feel and how important Kobe is to his family, to his daughters, to his wife,” coach said. “His greatness. I watched a lot of TV yesterday, and one of the things I heard someone say was ‘sometimes you just can’t describe or articulate greatness.

“That’s kind of how I would just like to leave it. You can’t put it in to words, the greatness that is Kobe Bryant.”

The Bucks posted Giannis’ entire interview to their Twitter feed.

Paying tribute

Bryant’s impact is obvious when you just look at the footwear on an NBA court. Multiple players wear his signature sneakers during games and practices. At least five Milwaukee Bucks’ players wore Kobe’s during Monday’s practice. That’s not abnormal whatsoever. Similar to Giannis, the league is full of players who “grew up” on Kobe.

Milwaukee forward Ersan Ilyasova wore a pair of white and black Kobe’s. After practice he told The Zone that he “loves” the shoe, always has and always will.

Wisconsin athletes remember Kobe Bryant

Ryan Braun had already completed his obligatory media availability during the Milwaukee Brewers annual ‘On Deck’ fan fest on Sunday afternoon.

Braun discussed his off-season, the possibility of retirement and how often he’d play first base this season.

A few hours later, Braun stepped in front of the cameras again. This time, the conversation was somber. Emotional. And nothing that anyone there wanted to be talking about.

“Incredibly inspiring,” Braun said when describing the character of NBA legend Kobe Bryant. “For all of us as athletes, we all aspire to have the impact off-the-court that he’s been able to have. Just to see how many lives he’s positively impacted. To see some of the different business endeavors he has taken on and the success he has had with those things, it’s inspiring in itself as well.”

News surfaced that Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna and other passengers, passed away in a tragic helicopter accident in California.

Braun grew up as a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and called the loss “devastating” and “heart-breaking.”

Brewers second-baseman Keston Hiura is also a California native. Visibly shook by the news, he spoke on his personal fandom of the Black Mamba, calling Kobe Bryant his biggest idol.

News spread quickly, and athletes across the state publicly displayed their condolences for the Bryant family and the loved ones of everyone else involved in the tragedy.

Aaron Rodgers took to Instagram to pay his respects.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams displayed a “two” and “four” after scoring a touchdown in the Pro-Bowl.

https://twitter.com/tae15adams/status/1221576224885166083

Meanwhile, Za’Darius Smith planned for the NFC’s defense to recreate Bryant’s patented double-jab-step fade-away.

The Milwaukee Bucks released the following statement, citing Kobe’s impact on the game as “legendary.”

Bryant entered the league in 1996, and played 20 seasons with the Lakers. A majority of the players on current NBA rosters, if not all of them, watched, and idolized, Bryant’s game.

George Hill posted pictures defending Bryant during his time with the San Antonio Spurs.

DJ Wilson was in denial, hoping the initial reports on Twitter would come out as a hoax.

This was one of numerous tributes Pat Connaughton posted.

https://twitter.com/pconnaughton/status/1221545921529380865

The Bucks don’t play again until Tuesday when they host the Washington Wizards.

All-Star Antetokounmpo

Captain Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the second straight year, the Milwaukee Bucks superstar received the most votes among Eastern Conference players, and will captain the 2020 All-Star team. This game will be a rematch of last year’s marquee, as LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers will captain the Western Conference yet again.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 30 points and nearly 13 rebounds and 6 assists per game this season, leading Milwaukee to a league best 39 wins.

The other East starers are Joel Embiid (Philadelphia), Kemba Walker (Boston), Trae Young (Atlanta) and Pascal Siakam (Toronto).

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Antetokounmpo will team up with the other East representatives in Chicago on All-Star Sunday, though. He and James will host a draft, live on TNT, to select from the starter pool and then the reserves.

Last year the game was hosted in Charlotte, Giannis scored 38 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Per Eric Woodyard of ESPN, Antetokounmpo is set to wear a new colorway of his signature Freak 1, the “Employee of the Month” edition, in the game. They’re the third rendition in the sneakers’ ‘Coming to America’ line.

The game uniforms are sponsored by Jordan Brand.

What do Bucks fans care about most when it comes to the game? Probably whether or not Khris Middleton will join Giannis in Chicago. The reserves will be announced on January, 30.

This All-Star appearance for Antetokounmpo is his fourth consecutive honor, making him the first player in franchise history to start in four straight games.

#BucksInParis

The Milwaukee Bucks are on an international business-trip.

Yes, they have some contractual obligations, playing the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, but as any employee knows, when your organization sends you out of the office, it’s your responsibility to enjoy the local dining and attractions.

While filing a lengthy expense report, of course.

Below is a chain of different tweets showcasing the Bucks’ current French adventure, featuring content from the team’s account, players, employees and reporters who also made the trip.

Updated on Thursday, Jan. 23.

https://twitter.com/malika_andrews/status/1220309397299253250

https://twitter.com/BucksBango/status/1220304809556938754

From Wednesday, Jan. 22.

https://twitter.com/Bucks/status/1220024386285187079

https://twitter.com/PSG_inside/status/1220002069672755200

https://twitter.com/pconnaughton/status/1220018412073689089

Tip-off in Friday’s game is scheduled for 2 pm central time. You might not be on a work trip, but hopefully your boss allows you to sneak away to catch the game on NBA TV.

And, just in case you missed this ‘Prelude to Paris’ video that aired at Fiserv Forum before the team took flight.

https://twitter.com/Bucks/status/1219786505922568194

Giannis “10K” Antetokounmpo

Less than two months after his 25th birthday, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo scored his 10,000th career point.

“I got a long way to go, but glory be to god,” he told reporters about reaching the milestone. “Being in this position, I could never imagine myself coming in the NBA and now I have 10,000 career points. I can get to 20,000. I can get to 30,000. It’s up to me.

“Extremely blessed, extremely proud of what I have accomplished. So happy for the people that have helped me, my teammates have helped me. People that have helped me get to this point.”

Antetokounmpo is just the seventh player in Bucks’ franchise history to secure this accomplishment.

Marques Johnson is currently in sixth place with 10,980 career points.

“Job is not done though. Job is not done.” Antetokounmpo added. “Take a moment to reflect, know where you’ve came from or what you’ve accomplished, but at the end of the day, it’s like ‘okay, what’s next?’

“We got a long way to go and I got to keep it moving forward.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 14,211 points. Glenn Robinson, Sidney Moncrief, Michael Redd and Bob Dandridge round out the top-five.

Korver: (Middleton) is a great basketball player

Khris Middleton was going through his normal routine.

He calmly walked down from the three-point line to the foul-line, mentally preparing to shoot two second-half free throws against the Boston Celtics.

“Two-Time-All-Star (Clap. Clap. Clap, clap, clap). Two-Time-All-Star (Clap. Clap. Clap, clap, clap).”

A new chant rained down from the Milwaukee Bucks’ cheering section.

Officially, he has only been named to the NBA’s All-Star roster one time during his career. Milwaukee fans are feverishly voting for his second.

A spirited debate takes place any time his name is brought up surrounding this conversation, and whether or not Middleton will make the all-star roster in consecutive seasons.

On the pro-side of his case, Middleton is averaging nearly 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game for the team with the NBA’s best record. On the negative, he missed seven games with a thigh contusion and, albeit unfair, it’s very easy to credit all of Milwaukee’s success to the MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Giannis’ greatness can overshadow a lot of things sometimes,” Kyle Korver said following the Bucks eventual win over the second-place Celtics. “And that’s fine, we’re all totally fine with that. But, Khris is a great basketball player. He doesn’t have a weakness to his game.

“I’ve been surprised, being on his team now, seeing how good of a passer he is and seeing how well he reads the game. He can do a lot with the ball in his hands.”

Don’t get it twisted, although he doesn’t publicly lobby about the honor for himself, Middleton wants the recognition of being named to the all-star team. It’s natural for a professional athlete, and competitor, to strive for elite status.

He also, more than anything, wants to win a championship, and knows the role he needs to play for the Bucks to achieve that ultimate goal.

“We just work off of each other,” Middleton responded to a question about Antetokounmpo’s ability to takeover a game. “He does it every night. My job is to back him up. I think all of us, no matter good or bad, he does cover up a lot of mistakes. He tries to make the game as simple as possible for us.”

Antetokounmpo is not shy when campaigning for Middleton to get the all-star nod. On camera, or on his personal social media accounts, he is trying to ensure the dynamic duo has a chance to reenact this performance from last year’s festivities.

Against Boston, Middleton finished the game with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Right on pace with his season averages.

Budenholzer: (WNBA) players are incredibly important, incredibly talented

Today the WNBA and the WNBA’s Player’s Association announced that they’ve come to terms on a collective bargaining agreement effective through the next eight seasons.

Terms of the ground breaking agreement include increased pay for players, improved child care and maternity leave benefits, increased mental health resources, among other aspects such as revenue sharing and in-season bonuses.

Although Milwaukee doesn’t have a team (yet) head coach of the Bucks, Mike Budenholzer, has coached in Atlanta, an NBA city that was also home to a WNBA franchise, the Dream.

Before his team took the floor against the New York Knicks, Budenholzer was asked about the profound impact the WNBA has had on the popularity and accessibility of basketball.

“Any time the WNBA can take a step forward, their players are incredibly important, incredibly talented. They’re exciting to watch,” he said. “I think if they’re being rewarded and taking steps forward, I think that’s a huge positive.

“I think what (the late) David Stern has done with the WNBA and growing the sport, it’s for men and women. It’s for all the boys and girls that are growing up in grade schools and parks and wanting to play and watch our game and participate in it. I think it’s a great thing. I hope the league does well and anything they can do to advance it is a good thing.”

See the announcement from a live segment on Good Morning America.

The Milwaukee Bucks are title contenders if (fill-in-the-blank)

The Milwaukee Bucks are exactly halfway through the 2019-20 regular season.

At 35-6, they’re off to the best start in franchise history, one win better than the 1970-71 team that went on to win the NBA Championship.

Will this version of the Bucks claim the same hardware at season’s end? Or at least make it to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974?

On the surface level, they’re top-three in the league in offensive rating, No. 1 in defense and their net rating is 11.7, a whole 3.6 points higher than the second ranked Los Angeles Lakers. Their lead in the Eastern Conference is a whopping seven games.

After falling short last season, the team doesn’t appear to care about a 70-win pace or league-leading statistics whatsoever. Each time you have a basketball related conversation with one of the players, it isn’t about their current winning-streak, or all-star voting, the mindset quickly changes to how their latest game, or practice, is preparing them for April, May and June.

“I don’t want to say we think about it too much,” Khris Middleton told reporters in Portland on Saturday night. “We know you can’t win a championship in the regular season. Just to keep playing, man. It’s a long season, we got a long way to go.”

If the Bucks are going to make it to the Finals, they have to continue to grow in all facets of the game. However, here are three things to specifically keep an eye on during the final half of the regular season.

That Mob Mentality

Rotations shrink in the post-season. Coaches who have the assets to rotate in more than 10 players during the regular season, tend to minimize that number to just eight or nine during the playoffs. Without back-to-back games, and travel days being accounted for, the need for rest and management lessens.

However, the Bucks have legitimate depth on their bench. And, if they continue to produce the way they have been, they may have the luxury of playing nine guys solid playoff minutes. It would be huge to minimize the wear and tear on their starters until later rounds.

Currently they have six bench players who average more than 15 minutes per game. That unit is led by veteran guard George Hill, shooting an unprecedented 54 percent from the floor, 51 percent from three and 81 percent from the free throw line.

Second-year man Donte DiVincenzo has caught the league’s attention as well. Despite streaky shooting this season, his defensive prowess, and ability to jump passing lanes has been beneficial for the Bucks. His minutes average (22.7) is a little skewed because he entered the starting lineup when Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe were out with injury, but the experiences he gained were invaluable and his production warranted the opportunity.

Robin Lopez will protect the rim at any given moment, and provide his twin brother Brook with a needed breather. Kyle Korver can shoot his patented high percentage three. Meanwhile, Pat Connaughton, Ersan Ilyasova and Sterling Brown are also all dependable substitutes.

Milwaukee has developed so much faith in their bench this season that every time the “bench mob” scores more than 30 combined points in a game, a $500 donation is made to a local non-profit organization.

As long as the these role players are hitting their shots, they’ll prove to be a great compliment to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe. Especially when Antetokounmpo is double or triple teamed in the paint.

Speaking of “containing” Giannis

San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich is the gold standard for NBA coaches. When his team visited Milwaukee, they took the approach of fouling Antetokounmpo “unintentionally” every time he drove the ball towards the basket.

In total, he shot 18 free throws in 29 minutes.

This season he is shooting 61 percent from the line. When the Spurs tested his abilities, Giannis converted 15 of the 18 attempts. Had he shot closer to his average, the game would have been separated by possession at the end. He won that chess match.

Antetokounmpo has improved his free throw percentage every month this season. Although he is not at his career-best, the relentless work he puts in is showing dividends. In October he shot just 55 percent from the line, in January he’s up to 67 percent for the month. Steady improvement, trending towards effective numbers in the spring.

During a recent episode of The Hoop Collective Podcast with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, it was pointed out how “Hack-a-Shaq” is in the NBA vernacular because of the way it is implemented against a dominant interior force. If a player of Antetokounmpo’s impact doesn’t show the ability to hit free throws consistently, a team will undoubtedly play the odds and put him at the foul line instead of giving up a dunk.

The hosts also pointed out that during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the Bucks lost three games by exactly six points. In those losses, Giannis never shot higher than 60 percent from the foul line. In the team’s two wins, he was at 75.

Antetokounmpo will have to continue to prove consistency from the charity stripe.

Khris ‘needs to keep playing like an all-star’ Middleton

Name a more “controversial” player in the league who consistently puts up nearly 20 points and six rebounds per game, plus has eternal trust from the league MVP.

Maybe it’s just #BucksTwitter who can’t decide whether or not they love or hate Middleton? Maybe if his financial compensation wasn’t disclosed to the public he wouldn’t get so much backlash?

In reality, Middleton won’t ever be judged by the numbers he puts up. He’ll forever be compared to the other “sidekicks” in NBA dynamic duos.

The question is whether or not his output can match the output of the rest.

When you think of legitimate NBA title contenders. The Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets instantly come to mind. LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden run those teams, respectively. Their No.2’s are Anthony Davis, Paul George and Russell Westbrook.

Where would you rank Middleton among those secondary stars?

However, in his last ten games Middleton is averaging nearly 23 points per game. More importantly, it’s on an efficient 48 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Only Davis is shooting a higher percentage from the floor in that span.

More than likely, Middleton will never be considered to be in the same tier as those other three. Antetokounmpo probably won’t shoot 90 percent from the free throw line for an entire season. And, the Bucks bench will have very untimely bad shooting nights.

But, if these aforementioned trends continue, the combination of an MVP, all-star numbers from Middleton, and solid shooting contributions from the bench, it gives them a great shot at making it one series further than they achieved last season.

NFL rivalry in the Bucks locker room

Sports gambling, in any way shape or form, is prohibited in all locker rooms.

Friendly wagers between teammates, when their alma maters or favorite teams in other sports are squaring off, are great for team camaraderie, and entertaining for the rest of us.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks may have to make things interesting with forward D.J. Wilson this week.

Wilson, a native of Mount Shasta, CA., tweeted that the Green Bay Packers will be “eazy work” for his San Francisco 49ers next Sunday. The support of his home team came in response to Antetokounmpo’s “#GoPackGo” tweet after Green Bay beat the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.

This isn’t the first rivalry in the Bucks locker room this season either.

Earlier this year, the Marquette Golden Eagles hosted Villanova at Fiserv Forum. Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo won two National Championships while playing for the Wildcats. Meanwhile Wesley Matthews had an illustrious career for the Golden Eagles.

Although the two said there was wager on the game, both confirmed that their text messages chains contained a little more trash talk than usual.

Marquette upset the No.10 ranked Wildcats 71-60.

It’s on record that the Packers have been big supporters of the Bucks. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers does hold a minority ownership stake in the team and multiple players have shown up to watch games this season. Green Bay’s entire defense sat in a suite for a “team-bonding” night out, financed by the rookie class.

Za’Darius Smith actually showed his support for Milwaukee, and fellow Kentucky Wildcat Eric Bledsoe, before their playoff win over Seattle.

https://twitter.com/EBled2/status/1216516765104119809

And, no one can forget the infamous chugging competitions that started with Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari sitting courtside.

Last week the Bucks and Packers announced a t-shirt collaboration, cheering on the Packers while raising money to fight hunger in the state of Wisconsin.

Other NBA players are fans of the green and gold as well. Chicago native Anthony Davis flew to Green Bay for Sunday night’s game, reportedly bringing teammates Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with him.