LAS VEGAS – The Milwaukee Bucks were hungry for their first win as they played against the San Antonio Spurs in Wednesday’s opening round of the NBA Summer League playoffs.
The Bucks, led by two young stars in Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, struggled to keep up with the crisp ball movement and sharp shooting that has been become the signature of the reigning champion Spurs.
The growing pains may be expected for a rebuilding Bucks team, but the losing is starting to get old even in the less-competitive atmosphere of the Summer League.
"We’re struggling right now. It’s been a tough Summer League for all of us, but hopefully we can end it with a win on Friday," a disappointed Nate Wolters said after Wednesday’s 100-71 loss. "We just haven’t played very well at all, so it’s been a little frustrating. My winning percentage as a pro hasn’t been very good. We want to win. We’re sick of losing. Hopefully we can get one at least."
Wolters, who started 31 games last season before a fractured hand ended his season, has started all four games for the Bucks despite a painful ankle sprain. He is aware that the team needs him to improve and provide valuable guard depth entering his second season.
"I missed all the practices and I’m still a little sore right now. I just have to fight through it since these are the only games we can get in the summer," said Wolters, who plans to go to Los Angeles for a workout and then home to South Dakota after this week.
But there were positives from the loss, as well. The coaching staff wanted Parker to work on getting to the free-throw line more, and that’s exactly what Parker did. After some inconsistent shooting games, Parker’s 13 free throws (10 made) added to 3-of-7 shooting on field goals for 16 points, trailing only teammate Antetokounmpo’s 20 points for the highest in the game. Antetokounmpo’s multitude of talents were on display again as he added seven rebounds and two blocks in the game.
"He can play all positions, really. He’s going to be a good player," Wolters said of the man affectionately known as the Greek Freak. "It’s fun to play with him and he’s unselfish, too. The sky is the limit for him."
Parker’s continued production spoke to his development and his ability to be coachable, as coach Sean Sweeney called it, noting that Parker "works really hard and says things like ‘what do you think I need to do better?’"
"It’s been a learning experience," Parker said of his summer-league stint. "The average person could take this (losing) as negative, but I was able to play with a lot of veteran guys, play against a lot of experience and get used to it — it’s fast — so I can prepare myself for the real games."
The Bucks’ Summer League concludes Friday against the Golden State Warriors, as the team will look for continued improvement from Wolters, Antetokounmpo, Parker and rookie second-round pick Johnny O’Bryant, whom Sweeney said "did some good things inside" on Wednesday.
Antetokounmpo had been taking the losses especially hard, earlier this week lamenting the fact that he hasn’t experienced a win in four months. But the 19-year-old Greek who is quickly becoming one of the team’s best players made a major promise to the rebuilding Bucks on Twitter after Wednesday’s game, tweeting, "I’ll never leave the team and the city of Milwaukee till we build the team to a championship level team."
GAME NOTES: Antetokounmpo, who has played significant minutes at point guard this summer, won the opening tipoff against Spurs center Jeff Ayres. . . . O’Bryant started for the third consecutive game after JaJuan Johnson got the start in the Bucks’ first game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. . . . Parker and Antetokounmpo struggled to control the ball, combining for 13 turnovers. . . . The Bucks continued to struggle defending the 3-point line as the Spurs made nine of 23 attempts, and their last three opponents have combined to make 32 of their 74 3-point attempts (43.2 percent).