With Giannis Antetokounmpo (non-COVID illness) and Jrue Holiday (neck pain) scratched from the roster Tuesday noon, the Bucks were going to need the rest of the roster to face the Orlando Magic.
Finding extra production didn’t end up being a problem as six different Bucks turned in double-digit performances, including three 20-point performances from Jevon Carter, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton, in a 134-123 victory over the Magic. Carter was spectacular with 24 points (4 of 5 3-pointers) and five assists as the starting point guard for the night, but Lopez and Middleton stole the show in Orlando.
Let’s take a closer look at their performance.
Middleton looks like himself again
Since returning on January 23 after missing 18 consecutive games with right knee pain, Middleton’s minutes have been limited.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, he had appeared in 14 of the Bucks’ 18 games since Jan. 23, missing the Bucks’ second of three straight games as well as the Bucks’ last game before the All-Star Break. . In those 14 games, Middleton never played more than 27 minutes and played less than 20 minutes in seven of them, while coming off the bench.
With Antetokounmpo and Holiday out, Middleton entered the starting lineup for the first time since December 15, the final game of his first return of the season. He looked a lot like the three-time All-Star he had been before missing half of this season due to injury. Middleton finished the night with 24 points, four rebounds and 11 assists in 30 minutes.
To start the game, the Bucks relied on Middleton’s ability to play for himself and others and he quickly rewarded Mike Budenholzer’s decision.
Middleton has assisted on three of the Bucks’ first four buckets, including this beauty in Lopez. The veteran Bucks forward came out of the dual screen of Lopez and Bobby Portis and read Lopez’s slip perfectly as he lobbed the two Magic defenders who had given Middleton their full attention.
After throwing his teammates, Middleton collected seven quick points on a 3-on-3 shot.
As he did so often during his time in Milwaukee, Middleton handled his defender perfectly, catching him hunched out of position for a second and creating space for himself. Just look at the complexity of Middleton’s dribbling moves on the play above.
Middleton started a drive to his right before pushing the ball behind his back at the exact moment Franz Wagner tried to fight over Lopez’s screen. With Franz Wagner out of the game, Middleton focused on Wagner’s older brother and quickly took advantage of Mo backpedaling into drop cover with a backing motion to give himself five feet of space to snap a quick jumper from midrange.
After scoring seven points and collecting three assists and two rebounds in his first seven-minute stint, Middleton continued to separate the Magic’s defense with his play and scoring craftiness. The 11-year-old veteran forward busted all his tricks on Tuesday and drew six fouls on Magic defenders to go 13 of 14 from the free throw line.
There may still be setbacks ahead for Middleton. He could miss more games as the Bucks wrap up the regular season. But his first start in this comeback was a resounding success.
Lopez looks to score
Much of the attention Lopez has received this season has focused on his defensive contributions. While this attention is well-deserved, it has kept people from discussing all that Lopez does for the Bucks on offense.
As overcast at the start of the season at AthleticismLopez spent the offseason reworking his jump shot, and it resulted in the best 3-point shooting season of his career, with the Bucks big man knocking down 38.3% from 3 on 4.9 attempts per game. .
However, on Tuesday, with Antetokounmpo on the ground, Lopez showed his versatility. Instead of taking 3 on the perimeter, Lopez focused on dominating in the paint, but he didn’t do it as “Brooklyn Brook,” the alter ego who Bucks teammates say looks like to the commanding presence of the position that Lopez once was with the Nets. Instead, Lopez just did her best to set screens and serve as a rim runner for Middleton.
After the Bucks tore up the Magic’s defense in the first quarter, Magic coach Jamahl Mosley switched to a zone defense, which initially gave the Bucks problems before Middleton and Lopez reunited. . With a capable passer in Middleton, Lopez quickly found weak spots in the area.
Before the Magic could really get into place on the defensive end, Middleton threw a wonderful one-handed rebounding pass through the middle of the defense, and Lopez finished through Bol Bol waiting for him at the edge.
Two possessions later, Middleton managed to get the attention of several defenders before throwing an alley-oop to Lopez over Bol.
While the stage wasn’t nearly as big and the game nowhere near as big, Lopez’s rim run and finish resembled her performance in Game 5 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, when the Bucks played without Antetokounmpo for the first time in their league. run and Lopez scored a playoff career-high 33 points.
When Antetokounmpo is active, he is the threat for the Bucks. When on the bench, Lopez fills that role, and he’s shown once again that he’s more than capable of wreaking havoc around the rim, even if he does it a little differently than the Greek Freak.
(Photo by Brook Lopez: Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)