Mike Budenholzer says the Milwaukee Bucks showed their strength in depth by reaching the Eastern Conference playoff semi-finals without Khris Middleton.

The defending champions beat the injury-hit Chicago Bulls 116-100 in Game 5 at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday to advance from the first round of the postseason.

Middleton sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the fourth quarter of Game 2, but the Bucks proved they could cope without the All-Star.

Budenholzer confirmed Middleton will miss the start of the playoff semi-final series against the Boston Celtics.

But the Milwaukee head coach is confident other players can continue to step up in his absence.

"We've been talking about the depth of the roster, the quality of the roster, a lot this season," Budenholzer said.

"Other guys have gotten opportunities and played well. Our defense has tightened up, and we've leaned hard on that these three games. We've got depth. We've got a good group.

"We miss Khris; I don't think anybody underestimates how important and how effective he is for us. While we don't have him, we've got to be our best all up and down the roster."

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo played a big hand as the Bucks ended the Bulls' season, putting up 33 points and nine rebounds in Game 5.

The two-time MVP said being "desperate" to get the job done in the absence of Middleton was vital.

"After Game 2, the team knew what the deal was," Antetokounmpo said. "We knew what we had to do, we had to be desperate.

"We had to go out there and compete at a high level. Pay attention to detail as much as possible. Help one another defensively. We've got to do it as a team. It's not a one-man show or two-man show.

"Now we're going to a different series, playing a different team, a very, very good team, and hopefully we can do it again."

Three-time All-Star Khris Middleton will miss the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks' first-round series against the Chicago Bulls after spraining a ligament in his left knee.

Middleton, 30, averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game this season, but has been diagnosed with a sprained MCL after coming down awkwardly in the fourth quarter of Game 2 against the Bulls.

The scoring forward played a key role in the Bucks' championship last season, increasing his averages to 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists while playing over 40 minutes per contest during the 2020-21 postseason.

In the 16 games Middleton has missed this season, the Bucks are 7-9, going 3-5 on the road. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo has played in nine games this season without his All-Star teammate, and has scored 26.6 points per game at 49 per cent shooting – both down from his full-season averages of 29.9 points at 55 per cent.

However, in the one game this season between the Bucks and Bulls where Middleton was absent, Milwaukee dominated 126-98, as Jrue Holiday picked up the slack with 27 points and seven assists.

According to the Bucks, Middleton will be re-assessed in two weeks.

The series is locked at 1-1 after two games, and heads to Chicago for Game 3 and Game 4.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says being without Khris Middleton for any length of time would be a "tremendous loss" for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Middleton sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the fourth quarter of the Bucks' 114-110 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

Head coach Mike Budenholzer confirmed Middleton will undergo an MRI scan on Thursday to determine his status for the rest of the first-round playoff series, which is level at 1-1.

At the very least, the 30-year-old faces a race against time to be ready for Game 3 on Friday, and Antetokounmpo acknowledged that would be a huge blow for his side.

"We need this guy. When he asks for a sub, you know that it's bothering him because he doesn't leave the game," Antetokounmpo said.

"You expect him to get up and walk it off and get back to the game, but you see he was limping and limping and you're thinking like, 'Oh, I hope it's not bad, I hope it's not bad."

Middleton had scored 18 points and provided eight assists before leaving the game and has averaged 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists this season.

He averaged at least 21.5 points in the past four playoff series and had 24 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in the NBA Finals.

"We have a job to do here," Antetokounmpo added. "Khris is one of the best players on the team, if he's not able to be with us, it's going to be a tremendous loss for us."

Antetokounmpo led the scoring for the Bucks with 33 points, but that was not enough as the Bulls – inspired by 41-point DeMar DeRozan – levelled up the series.

The Bucks also lost Bobby Portis in the first quarter after being caught in the face by an elbow from Tristan Thompson, but Budenholzer is optimistic he can make a swift return.

"We anticipate he should be fine with some time and that he should be good," Budenholzer said.

DeRozan's career playoff-high scoring return ensured the Bulls beat the third-seeded Bucks for just a second time in 19 meetings.

"No matter what you did in the regular season, this is a brand new start and new mindset," DeRozan said. 

"You could see it in all the guys. It doesn't matter if we'd lost 20 times to those guys. This is an opportunity for us to compete. We've got to take advantage of it."

Giannis Antetokounmpo came up with a game-winning block on Joel Embiid after scoring 40 points in the Milwaukee Bucks' crucial 118-116 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo rose to block Embiid's attempt to level the scores with less than two seconds left on the clock, with head coach Mike Budenholzer labelling it "special".

The Greek superstar finished with 40 points on 66 per cent shooting with 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.

The Bucks win is significant in the race for Eastern Conference seeds, moving Milwaukee (47-28) into second behind the Miami Heat (48-28), while the 76ers (46-29) slip to fourth.

Khris Middleton added 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Jrue Holiday contributed 18 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists.

Embiid finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, while James Harden had 32 points making four-of-10 from beyond the arc, with five rebounds and nine assists.

 

George returns in Clippers comeback win

Paul George marked his first game since December 22 with 34 points including six three-pointers as the Los Angeles Clippers fought back from 25 points down to win 121-115 over the Utah Jazz who have lost five in a row. The Clippers finished the game on a 34-12 run.

Kevin Durant scored 41 points with 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocks while Kyrie Irving managed 24 points in his second home appearance as the Brooklyn Nets won 130-123 over the Detroit Pistons.

The Chicago Bulls found some form after winning only four of their past 15 games with an important 107-94 win over the Washington Wizards led by DeMar DeRozan with 32 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

 

Lakers slide continues

The Los Angeles Lakers' struggles continued with a heavy 128-110 loss to the Dallas Mavericks as Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. The Mavs led by as much as 37 points. The Lakers, who were without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, are 31-44 and slip to 11th out of the west's play-in spots.

Demar DeRozan was a man looking for answers after his Chicago Bulls were handed a demoralising 126-98 defeat at the hands of the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks.

DeRozan, who at one stage this season was considered a real MVP candidate, had a sub-par 23 points on 23 field goal attempts in the loss, which moved the Bulls to a record of 3-9 in their past 12 games.

Three of the Bulls' past four games have now resulted in losses of at least 15 points against strong playoff contenders in the Utah Jazz (125-110) and the Phoenix Suns (129-102) before Tuesday's loss to Milwaukee.

Speaking to post-match media, DeRozan said it was evident what makes the Bucks a great team.

"Playing against the defending champs – seeing, feeling, understanding how hard they compete, and how well they execute," he said.

"Their physicality, everything that comes with it, it's how they got what they deserved last year, so that's what I take away from [this game].

"It's definitely not a talent issue at all – we've proven we are a great team – it's just execution, especially when you're playing against top-notch teams that understand the value of executing on both ends, and understand their assignments every time they stop out on the court.

"Those teams are always on a string, and we show it through spurts through a game, but the good teams that go far do it as close to 48 minutes as possible – not just a quarter, or half a quarter.

"You need to be as close to perfect through a 48-minute game as possible."

Seth Curry's 23-point arrival helped the Brooklyn Nets snap their 11-game skid in a 109-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Monday.

Curry landed four three-pointers with seven rebounds and five assists while fellow debutant Andre Drummond added 11 points, with Ben Simmons still out despite being present for the pre-game shootaround.

The Nets led from start to finish but were propelled by a 54-37 second half with LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 19 points with eight rebounds off the bench.

Bruce Brown had season-high returns with 19 points, six assists and five steals for the new-look Nets who improved to 30-27.

De'Andre Fox had a game-high 26 points for the Kings who were limited to 34.4 per cent shooting (31-of-90) overall.

 

Steph stars but Warriors lose

Stephen Curry made eight three-pointers in a 33-point haul but it was not enough to get the Golden State Warriors past the Los Angeles Clippers who won 119-104. Terance Mann scored 25 points with seven rebounds and six assists for the triumphant Clippers.

Julius Randle had a triple-double with 30 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists but he was overshadowed by Rookie of the Year contender Josh Giddey as the Oklahoma City Thunder won 127-123 in overtime. Giddey also had a triple-double with 28 points including three triples along with 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic starred with 26 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists as the Denver Nuggets brushed aside the Orlando Magic 121-111, while Donovan Mitchell had 30 points with six rebounds and seven assists in the Utah Jazz's 135-101 victory over the Houston Rockets.

 

Middleton loses radar as Bucks go down

Khris Middleton almost had a triple-double but shot poorly, going three-of-15 from the field and one-of-eight from beyond the arc as the Milwaukee Bucks went down 122-107 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Anfernee Simons scored 31 points for the Blazers, while Middleton had 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the Bucks lost in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence due to a sore ankle.

Giannis Antetokounmpo produced another eye-catching display to help the Milwaukee Bucks to victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and was hailed by team-mate Khris Middleton for "making it look easy".

The two-time NBA MVP scored 44 points on 17-for-20 shooting, while registering eight assists and 14 rebounds as the Bucks earned a 131-116 victory in Tuesday's contest at the Crypto.com Arena.

In doing so, Antetokounmpo joined legendary figures Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as only the third person with 40+ points, 10+ rebounds and five-or-more assists on 85-per-cent-plus shooting in a game.

Indeed, the 27-year-old has now had three games with 40+ points, 10+ rebounds, five-plus assists and no turnovers. Over the past 30 years, only David Robinson and Dirk Nowitzki have achieved that feat, doing so once each.

Middleton, who scored all 21 of his points in the first half, was blown away by the ease in which Antetokounmpo took apart the lacklustre Lakers, who had LeBron James and Anthony Davis in their line-up.

"He made it look easy, honestly," Middleton said. "That just shows the level of how he's playing. 

"He was knocking down his jump shot. He's got guys going for his pump fake. Just the way he let the game come to him and stay patient, it was pretty fun to watch."

 

The 44 points registered by Antetokounmpo was his second-highest tally of the season, behind only the 47 he managed against the same opponents on November 17.

He is third in terms of points scorers in NBA this season with 1,343, behind DeMar DeRozan (1,360) and Trae Young (1,364), while only Joel Embiid (29.4) averages more points per game than his 29.2.

Reflecting on another good day both personally and for the Bucks, who have now won four in a row to move to 35-21 for the campaign, Antetokounmpo said: "Obviously when you make shots, the game is a lot easier, looks a lot better.

"I know I'm going to try to get my team-mates involved and look for the best way to help the team, but sometimes when you start making shots, you feel better about yourself, you defend better. Today was one of those games."

The victory was perhaps not as straightforward in the end as it might have been for the Bucks, who led by 30 points midway through the third quarter, only to let the Lakers back into the game.

But the hosts could only claw back to within 10 points of their opponents and have now lost five of their last seven games, seeing them fall back to three games below .500.

"We played a terrible defensive half," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "Disposition, competition, the level of competitive spirit we showed for a big game was very disappointing. 

"Two straight games we started with a terrible defensive half. We've got to get that right."

The Lakers will get that opportunity to put it right when they take on the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, while the Bucks are next in action on Thursday with a showdown against the NBA-leading Phoenix Suns.

Darius Garland and Fred VanVleet have both been selected to the NBA All-Star Game for the first time as Eastern Conference reserves.

After the 2022 captains and starters were announced a week earlier, the rest of the pool of players was filled out on Thursday.

Garland, having led the Cleveland Cavaliers into fifth place in the East, was a popular pick.

Charles Barkley said on TNT: "I like it when they earn it. They don't just get the fan vote, like a lifetime achievement award. This kid deserves to be at the All-Star Game."

Third-year point guard Garland becomes the first Cav to be recognised since LeBron James left the team, rewarded for averaging 19.8 points and 8.2 assists this season.

He is not the only new face, however, as VanVleet also made the cut in a career year. The 2019 champion is leading the Toronto Raptors in scoring with his 21.5 points.

Fellow pick in the East James Harden is far more familiar with this stage, included for a 10th consecutive season. Only James (18) is on a longer active streak.

Jimmy Butler, Zach LaVine, Khris Middleton and Jayson Tatum all also return.

LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Tyler Herro and Jarrett Allen were among the players to narrowly miss out in a hugely talented Eastern Conference.

In the West, Chris Paul makes his 12th appearance, and Luka Doncic is also included.

Paul is joined by Phoenix Suns team-mate Devin Booker, while Draymond Green boosts the number of Golden State Warriors to three, alongside starters Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins.

Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Karl-Anthony Towns complete the roster.

Injured Warriors forward Green, speaking in his role as a pundit, said he hoped the San Antonio Spurs' Dejounte Murray would be called up in his place.

Earlier on Thursday, the NBA unveiled new designs for the trophies to be handed out across All-Star Weekend – including the Kobe Bryant Trophy, awarded to the All-Star Game MVP.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drove the Milwaukee Bucks home with a triple-double as they bounced back with a 112-98 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 33 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists, including 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Bucks closed it out on a 17-4 run. The Greek forward was scoreless in the first quarter.

The Wizards, missing Bradley Beal to a wrist injury, had rallied from a 17-point deficit to be within contention in the final period but the reigning champions pulled away.

The Bucks had lost 136-100 to the Denver Nuggets in their last game and Antetokounmpo was delighted to put that behind them as they improved to 32-21.

Jrue Holiday provided good support with 22 points, five rebounds and two assists and Khris Middleton caught fire late to add 13 points and five rebounds.

 

Warriors win without All-Stars

The Golden State Warriors put aside the absence of All-Stars Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson as they beat the San Antonio Spurs 124-120. Jordan Poole starred with 31 points, six rebounds and five assists as Golden State won after a 35-16 fourth quarter rally.

The Chicago Bulls reinforced top spot in the east with a 126-115 victory over the Orlando Magic led by DeMar DeRozan with 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Zach LaVine chipped in with 26 points.

Karl-Anthony Towns (24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) got the better of Nikola Jokic (21 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists)) as the Minnesota Timberwolves won 130-115 over the Denver Nuggets.

 

Harden shooting cools down

James Harden returned from a hand injury but went six-of-19 from the field and four turnovers as the Brooklyn Nets went down 121-111 to the streaking Phoenix Suns. Harden had 22 points and 10 assists while Kyrie Irving hit 26 points. Devin Booker scored 35 points while Chris Paul added 20 points with 14 assists.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic triumphed against Giannis Antetokounmpo as the Denver Nuggets routed the reigning champions Milwaukee Bucks 136-100 on Sunday.

Jokic almost recorded his 13th triple-double of the season, while he matched his season-high for assists with 13.

The Serbian had 18 points, nine rebounds and 15 assists for the Nuggets, while Aaron Gordon contributed a team-high 24 points including four triples as Denver dominated the second half 71-43 after leading by eight points at the long break.

Antetokounmpo, who won the 2019 and 2020 MVP awards, finished with 29 points but only managed seven in the second half. The Greek forward also had nine rebounds and two assists.

Khris Middleton was kept quiet offensively with nine points, five rebounds and seven assists while Jrue Holiday added 14 points, five rebounds and eight assists.

The Nuggets improve to 28-21 overall aided by a five-game win streak, including four on the road, while the Bucks slip to 31-21.

 

Suns fight back for 10 straight

The table topping-Phoenix Suns overturned a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to clinch their 10th straight win, beating the San Antonio Spurs 115-110. Devin Booker top scored with 28 points including four three-pointers, while Chris Paul was exceptional with 20 points, eight rebounds and a season-high 19 assists.

Trae Young starred with 36 points and 12 assists as the Atlanta Hawks extended their winning streak to seven games with a 129-121 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without LeBron James for the third straight game with a knee soreness. Malik Monk scored 33 points for the Lakers.

Luka Doncic recorded a triple-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists but the Dallas Mavericks lost 110-108 to the Orlando Magic, while 2021 top draft pick Cade Cunningham claimed a second career triple-double in the Detroit Pistons' 115-105 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

Jazz starter suffers worrying injury

Utah Jazz swingman Joe Ingles went down with an apparent knee injury in the second quarter of their 126-106 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz confirmed Ingles will undergo an MRI in Salt Lake City on Monday.

Khris Middleton said the Milwaukee Bucks are having to learn how to win in different ways after impressing in the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo against the Sacramento Kings.

Having needed to rely on an impressive defensive showing against the Chicago Bulls, it was the turn of the offense to turn it on in a 133-127 triumph against the Kings.

Middleton had 34 points, while Jrue Holiday put up 26 as the Bucks chalked up another tick in the win column despite Antetokounmpo missing out with soreness in his right knee.

"We just need to be able to win different type of ballgames," Middleton said after the defending champions moved to 29-19 on the season. 

''Every game is not going to be perfect, every game is not going to be pretty. To get defensive stops, to get 50-50 balls like we did [against the Bulls], it helps. 

"When you hit shots like we did tonight, it also helps."

Middleton made a key three-pointer with one minute and nine seconds remaining on the clock, with the Kings having fought back to within three points.

Holiday felt Middleton's effort was key in helping the Bucks get over the line.

"I feel like this is what he has been doing," Holiday said. ''He makes timely threes. He makes big shots, especially in that moment when they had momentum. He just came down and laced them, took advantage."

Donte DiVincenzo (20 points), George Hill (17) and Pat Connaughton (15) all made valuable contributions for Milwaukee to earn praise from Middleton.

"I think they were great," he added. 

"Pat got hot for us. George did a great job at the point guard position, just controlling the team. Defensively he was all over the place, coming down for rebounds and helping box out. 

"Pat has played so many different positions. It's weird to see him playing the center. He's a selfless guy doing anything that can help."

Khris Middleton wants the Milwaukee Bucks to "own it and learn from it" after another painful defeat again highlighted their struggles without Jrue Holiday.

Going down 121-114 to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday meant the Bucks have lost four of their last five games.

Middleton's 34 points, and 27 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, could not propel Milwaukee to victory as they conceded 38 points in the fourth quarter.

The team's ball handling in Holiday's six-game absence has often not been clever, and the sooner the starting point guard returns, the better for the Bucks.

The Bucks have a 4-9 record when Holiday has been absent from the team this season, and his latest absence has been them slide to 27-19 for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Sidelined by ankle soreness and COVID-19 protocols, Holiday also missed the win over the Brooklyn Nets that preceded the slide. Before that, he was showing exemplary form, averaging 23.9 points and 7.9 assists in his most recent 10 games, way above his season averages which now stand at 18.4 points and 6.7 assists.

"I've been playing with Giannis for years, so I know his spots where he wants the ball, how to get it to him, but Jrue adds another layer of that, where he's able to attack and get other guys going, including Giannis," Middleton said.

"I don't think it's on me to get Giannis going. I feel like Giannis gets himself going for the most part. Every now and then, I feel like I'm able to get him an easy one, but same thing with Jrue.

"We're just missing an extra playmaker, extra scorer, extra defender, an extra player out there."

Antetokounmpo had eight-of-20 shooting from the field in Monday's setback, and managed just six rebounds. Only once this season has he had fewer rebounds.

The Greek superstar leads the team with averages of 28.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and a field-goal percentage of 53.5 per cent, but there are nights when he cannot make a match-winning difference.

Middleton said the Hawks game "was a tough one to drop", and now the Bucks must regroup for a tussle with the 31-15 Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

"We need to find a way to be smarter, be better," Middleton said. "Just gotta own it, learn from it, try to be better."

Coach Mike Budenholzer struck a similar tone, saying the reigning NBA champions have "a lot of areas where we need to be significantly better", adding: "We need more from everybody."

Thursday's clash between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors was already an enticing one, but will arguably now be even more intriguing with two of the NBA's best heading into it on the back of defeats.

Reigning champions Milwaukee sit fourth in the Eastern Conference on 26-17 after back-to-back defeats on the road to the Charlotte Hornets, while the 30-10 Warriors were beaten at the Memphis Grizzlies last time out.

The star duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry will be the main attraction, as both usually are wherever they go, sitting fourth (966 points) and second (993 points) respectively in the league for points scored this season.

Golden State, currently second in the Western Conference, will be the favourites on Thursday, and despite their setback in Tennessee on Tuesday, Steve Kerr's men have been boosted by the timely return to action of Klay Thompson.

The 31-year-old tore an anterior cruciate ligament in 2019 before tearing his Achilles tendon during his recovery, but came back in style as he played his first game in over 940 days in style as he shot 17 points from just 20 minutes in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, before managing another 14 in similar court time in Memphis.

Curry will, as ever, be the Warriors go-to man. He managed a triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the defeat to the Grizzlies, though surprisingly, hit just two of his nine three-point attempts at FedExForum.

He recently broke the all-time three-point record in the NBA and still leads the league by a distance in successful shots from downtown, with 186 to his name this season, well clear of Buddy Hield (154) and Fred VanVleet (134), having even played six fewer games than Hield.

The Warriors are expected to be without Draymond Green, who played just seven seconds of Sunday's win against the Cavaliers before withdrawing with a calf issue he apparently sustained in the warm-up and then missing the defeat in Memphis.

Green has the highest number of defensive rebounds for the Warriors this season (219) and is 22nd in the league overall.

The Bucks could also still be missing a key player in Jrue Holiday, who was sidelined from Monday's loss to the Hornets with an ankle injury.

Holiday has missed the last three games, but when he has been able to take to the court this season has often shone, averaging 18.4 points per game, including shooting 40 in the December defeat at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Despite Curry so often catching the eye with threes, where Golden State often win games is in the paint and in the restricted area, currently leading the league for highest team field goal percentage in both (60.1 and 64.4). The Bucks are eighth and seventh in the league in the respective areas, with percentages of 56.8 and 61.0.

However, in Antetokounmpo, the Bucks boast a player who leads the league in field goals made in the paint (266) and in the restricted area (228), so if they can get it to the Greek often and in space, he could just beat the Warriors at their own game.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Milwaukee Bucks – Khris Middleton

Middleton is in a solid run of form, which is a good thing for a player who has clustered his best work throughout this season. The 30-year-old began the season by scoring 20 or more points in three of his first four games, before a period out through illness.

He returned and took eight games to manage over 20 points again, before doing so for seven in a row. After missing three more games with a knee issue, Middleton has come back to score 20 or more in eight of his last 10 outings, and will back himself to do so again here.

Middleton got the most points and assists for his team last time out (27 and 11), and is third in the league for most field goals made from the baseline (37) behind only Kevin Durant (64) and DeMar DeRozan (45).

Golden State Warriors – Klay Thompson

Although it was technically a work event, there was a party atmosphere as the Warriors welcomed Thompson back to the court on Sunday against the Cavaliers, and while his numbers were impressive enough for someone who has spent the best part of three years sidelined, it is the less tangible positive vibes his return has brought that could be the difference-maker for Golden State.

Prior to his comeback on Sunday, Thompson boasted a career average of 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, while shooting at 45.9 per cent from the field and 41.9 from three-point range.

He may only get 20 minutes, as he has done in his two games back so far, but his sheer presence on the court could be enough to inspire his team-mates, such is the obvious delight among his fellow Warriors that he is finally fit and playing again.

 

KEY BATTLE – Rebounds to give Bucks an edge?

Milwaukee leads the Eastern Conference in rebounding, averaging 47.1, while Antetokounmpo boasts the third-highest number of defensive rebounds in the East this season with 325.

Golden State are fourth in the Western Conference for rebounds at 46.1, but as mentioned, look set to be without their stats leader in defensive rebounds in Green. The best offensive rebounders in both teams are Bobby Portis and Kevon Looney, who both have 97 to their name this season.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

This is their first meeting since April 2021, which the Warriors won 122-121, but the Bucks have won four of the previous six games between the two dating back to March 2018.

Khris Middleton said he was "definitely concerned" and stand-in head coach Darvin Ham bemoaned another defeat as the Milwaukee Bucks tripped up once more against the Charlotte Hornets.

The Bucks have followed a run of six consecutive wins with four defeats in five games, the latest being a 103-99 setback to the Hornets at Spectrum Center.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists, while Middleton had 27 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists, yet the Bucks delivered an incomplete performance.

The Hornets improved to 22-19, while the sliding Bucks are now 26-17 for the season, following up their championship campaign in 2021 with something not quite so persuasive.

It was a second loss to the Hornets in three days for the Bucks, who, like so many other teams, are feeling the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Jrue Holiday has joined the ranks of Bucks stars sidelined and isolating due to the NBA's health and safety protocols, and inevitably his absence was felt. Holiday averages 18.4 per game this season and leads the team for assists (6.7)

Acting head coach Darvin Ham, leading the Bucks with Mike Budenholzer in health and safety protocols, could not coax out of the team a match-winning display, as James Borrego's Hornets extending their winning streak to three.

"My hat's off to Charlotte," Ham said. "JB has a great young group, it's a hell of an offensive team. And we just didn't make enough plays tonight.

"We just try to get to the game and as a staff, put our brains together and put together the best package possible. It's not going to be perfect, circumstances are what they are.

"I feel we're still in a position to win a game and we came up short."

From 99-99 with under half a minute remaining, LaMelo Ball sank the decisive shot and Miles Bridges made sure with two late free throws.

The Bucks looked to Middleton and Antetokounmpo in those late stages, which Ham said was the sensible play.

"Down the stretch you want the ball in the hands of your two best players and that was definitely deliberate," Ham said.

"Time and time again ... they've won a championship playing that way. There's not a better option in my opinion."

It gets no easier for the Bucks, who must tackle the Western Conference-leading Golden State Warriors on Thursday, albeit this time with home advantage.

Middleton, who had a fourth consecutive 20-plus point game, wants to see this slide halted as soon as possible.

He said: "I think you're definitely concerned – you never want to lose four out of five, you never want to lose two in a row."

Quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Middleton said: "We understand the circumstances. We're not using that as an excuse. Everybody's going through it.

"So we still have to find a way to… compete and give ourselves a chance to win, which we have these last two nights, we just couldn't pull it out."

Giannis Antetokounmpo extended his run of 30-point games to eight in a row but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks lost 114-106 to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP piled on 21 points in the final quarter to finish with 43 for the game as the Hornets held off the Bucks' charge, with Charlotte guard LaMelo Ball scoring 19 points, with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Antetokounmpo also recorded 12 rebounds and two blocks in a final all-round game for the Bucks, who were missing Jrue Holiday and head coach Mike Budenholzer due to the league's health and safety protocols.

Khris Middleton had a near triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, including shooting four triples.

The result means the reigning champions hold a 26-16 record having lost three of their past four games, while the Hornets are 21-19.

Sabonis silences Jazz, Brown triple-double

Domantas Sabonis piled on 42 points, making his first 10 shots of the game, as the Indiana Pacers won 125-113 over the Utah Jazz minus Rudy Gobert.

Jaylen Brown recorded his first career triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Boston Celtics defeated the New York Knicks 99-75.

Jaren Jackson Jr scored 26 points with eight rebounds and five blocks as the Memphis Grizzlies, without Ja Morant, improved to a 27-14 record with a 123-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Leaders cooled by Heat

Chris Paul was quiet with nine points, seven assists and four turnovers as the table-topping Phoenix Suns lost 123-100 to the Miami Heat. Devin Booker had 26 points but shot five of 15 from the field, while Tyler Herro scored 33 points off the bench for the Heat.

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