NBA

Antetokounmpo's Bucks beat the Lillard-less Trail Blazers, Brunson carries the Knicks

By Sports Desk November 22, 2022

The Milwaukee Bucks own the second-best record in the NBA after their 119-111 home win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday gave them 12 wins from their first 16 games.

With six-time All-Star Damian Lillard ruled out for the Blazers due to a calf injury, the Bucks were strong favourites, and they used a dominant third quarter to pull away.

On the back of a big game from Anfernee Simons, scoring 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting, Portland trailed by only two at halftime – before Giannis Antetokounmpo took over.

The former Defensive Player of the Year and two-time league MVP controlled the third quarter at both ends, helping to hold the Blazers to 18 points, while scoring 19 himself on his way to a game-high 37 on 16-of-24 shooting. 

While Antetokounmpo is once again a Defensive Player of the Year candidate – having made four consecutive All-Defensive First Teams – perhaps his biggest competition is his own teammate, Brook Lopez.

In his 15th season, the seven-foot Lopez is averaging a career-high and league-leading 2.6 blocks per game, and he improved upon that figure with five blocks and a steal against Portland.

Having played in 15 games this season, it is the fourth time he has tallied at least five blocks, and the Bucks are undefeated in those contests.

Milwaukee have made Fiserv Forum a fortress this season, now 9-1 at home and 3-3 on the road.

Brunson out-duels Gilgeous-Alexander

Jalen Brunson continues to make a case as the most impactful free agent signing from the offseason, scoring a season-high 34 points in a 129-119 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

After leaving the Dallas Mavericks, Brunson is averaging career-highs in points per game (20.0), assists (6.5), steals (1.2) and minutes (32.5). His 34 points against the Thunder tied his most ever in a regular season game, although he had 41 in a playoff win against the Utah Jazz in April.

He shot 14-of-20 from the field, and in an encouraging sign, backcourt partner R.J. Barrett also had an efficient outing, scoring 25 on 10-of-16 shooting.

Fourth in the NBA in scoring at 31.1 points per game, Oklahoma City's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had another 30 on nine-of-22 shooting, adding seven assists and five rebounds.

Bulls snap nine-game Celtics winning streak

The Boston Celtics had their winning streak cut short one game shy of double-figures, going down 121-107 to the Chicago Bulls.

Chicago's shooting was the story of the game, hitting 14-of-29 three-pointers (48.3 per cent), including their starters combining to shoot 11-of-19. 

Traditionally a mid-range scorer, DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 28 points on 11-of-24 shooting, hitting all three of his long-range attempts, while Zach Lavine was five-of-10 on three-pointers for his 22 points.

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves are top of the Western Conference but know they will have to "maintain that edge" as they return to action following the NBA All-Star break.

    Minnesota have not been beyond the first round of the playoffs in 20 years, yet they are in position to earn the number one seed through 55 games, boasting a 39-16 record and a 1.5-game lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    The All-Star break has been a busy one for the T-Wolves, with Chris Finch coaching the West outfit, which included Anthony Edwards and team-mate Karl Anthony Towns, who scored 50 points.

    The team have also agreed a two-year contract extension with guard Mike Conley Jr., according to reports. He had been set for free agency at the end of the season.

    Finch is now hoping he will find a focused team in Minnesota as they seek to build on a superb start to the year.

    "We've just got to try to pick up where we left off," he said. "We know the intensity in these games are going to ramp up more and more.

    "We've got to make sure that we maintain that edge. We've done a good job of developing a good offensive rhythm in the past few weeks, so we've got to maintain that.

    "Hold serve at home; we've got a lot of home games coming up here out of the break. There's lots of things we can do to keep furthering ourselves."

    There was an unfamiliar feeling for Finch in the All-Star Game, seeing his team handily beaten by the East in an encounter that drew criticism for its lack of competitive play.

    The format may no longer be widely popular, but Finch certainly enjoyed the rare opportunity to coach players like LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

    "Looking around the locker room, there's probably 12 first-ballot Hall of Famers in there," he said. "It's something I'll remember forever."

    The Timberwolves return against the Milwaukee Bucks at Target Center on Friday.

  • Nets fire head coach Vaughn Nets fire head coach Vaughn

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    Brooklyn is 21-33 and in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but the club is only 2.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for a spot in the Play-In Tournament.

    The Nets said “an interim head coach will be named in the near future.”

    “This was an incredibly difficult decision, but one we feel is in the best interest of the team going forward,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a statement.

    Vaughn was promoted to head coach early last season following the dismissal of Steve Nash after Brooklyn opened with five losses in seven games.

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  • Damian Lillard honoured to match Michael Jordan feat in All-Star Game Damian Lillard honoured to match Michael Jordan feat in All-Star Game

    Damian Lillard was honoured to achieve a feat only previously accomplished by Michael Jordan on the NBA's All-Star weekend. 

    Lillard saw off competition from the Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns and the Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young to win the 3-point contest on Saturday, then he dazzled again one day later.

    The Milwaukee Bucks guard was named All-Star Game MVP after putting up 39 points as the Eastern Conference All-Stars recorded a 211-186 win over their Western Conference counterparts. 

    Chicago Bulls legend Jordan is the only previous player to complete such a double, having taken the 1988 dunk contest before winning the first of his three All-Star MVP trophies.

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    "Anytime you're mentioned in the same category as Mike, it's an honour, it's a major accomplishment, even if it's All-Star weekend," Lillard said during his post-game news conference. 

    "Because if it was that simple, more people would have done it. I'm a vet in the game at this point. Why not go and try to get an MVP? I've been here enough."

    However, a perceived lack of competitiveness in Sunday's All-Star Game – the highest-scoring in history – led to criticism from some quarters. 

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    "But I think that's just what it is. Guys are talented, they make a lot of shots. We hit a lot of 3s, and that was it."

    Lillard joined the Bucks in a blockbuster trader from the Portland Trail Blazers ahead of the season, but his first campaign in Milwaukee has been a turbulent one. 

    The Bucks fired coach Adrian Griffin last month, bringing in Doc Rivers after a short interim stint for Joe Prunty. They sit third in the Eastern Conference with a 35-21 record, but have lost five of their last seven games.

    "It's been a tough year with the transition to a new team, we've had three coaches since I've been there," Lillard said.

    "Anytime you have these types of experiences where you have adversity, that's the time you've got to show who you really are. 

    "Keep doing what you do, keep believing, and when you do that, usually it comes back to you. You just can't fold."

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