The defending champions are starting to look the part again.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Milwaukee Bucks were down .500, but after a seven-game winning streak, they’re back toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Phoenix’s 16-game winning streak and Golden State’s 18-2 start to the season have cut Milwaukee’s race a bit. Now, the Bucks — and their Conference Finals opponents, the Atlanta Hawks — are showing signs that they have shaken up their early struggles.
“At the start of this season, going through some tough times, I think we were all happy that it was at the start of the season,” said guard Jew Holiday. “We know how this league runs, how the games go. It always fluctuates. We know we can score runs at any time.”
The Bucks haven’t lost a game when Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Chris Middleton have all played. An ankle sprain left the season nearly two weeks early, and when he returned, Milwaukee took a 21-point lead in their November 5 loss to the Knicks.
When Milwaukee faced Atlanta in a conference final rematch on November 14, the Hawks were on a six-game losing streak and the Bucks entered the season 6–7. Atlanta went on to win 20, beginning a series of victories in seven matches that pushed the Hawks above .500. That run ended on Saturday, but Milwaukee hasn’t lost since that setback against Atlanta.
The Bucks’ streak began when Middleton returned from an eight-game COVID-related absence on November 17. Antetokounmpo scored 47 points in the win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
While the Warriors and Suns have opened some distance to the rest of the West, the Bucks (13–8) are one of four teams within 1 1/2 games of east-leading Brooklyn (14–6). There have been a few surprises at the top of the convention. Chicago (14-8) and Washington (13-8) have had early success after significant off-season changes, and Charlotte (13-10) is not far behind.
Not that the top half of the conference was expected to see, but it took Milwaukee a while to make progress, and even after a recent winning streak, Atlanta (11–10) did not top the play-ins. is area. Philadelphia (11-10) have lost 8 of 11.
It’s no shock to see that the Bucks look less than impressive from time to time. He finished last season with the seventh-best record in the league before winning the title as the No. 3 seed.
Recently, they have taken advantage of quite a favorable program. The first five games of his winning streak were at home when he faced the Lakers with LeBron James, then Oklahoma City, Orlando twice and Detroit. They then went on the road and beat Denver with Nikola Jokic before winning in Indiana.
To their credit, the Bucks’ recent victories haven’t been so close. The difference between the last four is 31, 21, 11 and 18 points.
Coach Mike Budenholzer said, “Maybe we cut them down with Khris and Giannis, then Jew comes and one of them hopefully breaks the wall, breaks the dam.” “We’ve been able to do something different.”
Three of Milwaukee’s past four opponents have scored 100 or less.
“Just connectivity, people are working and covering and scrambling for each other,” Budenholzer said. “Right on the defense front and I think Bobby (Portis) is improving and giving us a lot of little things and drama and effort. People are just competing, trying to stop.”
Milwaukee’s next game is against Charlotte at home on Wednesday night, a matchup that will be a good test for the Hornets. However, the highlight of the Bucks’ upcoming event may be meetings with Miami (13-8) over a period of five days – Saturday night in Milwaukee and again on December 8 in Miami.
When the teams met on October 21, the Heat registered a 137–95 win over the Milwaukee team, missing Holliday, Portis, and Brooke Lopez. Antetokounmpo and Middleton played less than half the game and the score got out of hand.
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports