Bucks' Antetokounmpo faces big test against Cavaliers (Oct 20, 2017)
MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Bucks opened the season on a high note, knocking off last season's top Eastern Conference playoff seed on the road in Boston.
Now, they will be tested again as they welcome the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers to the Bradley Center on Friday night for the home opener.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been mentioned as a potential MVP candidate this season, and he looked the part against the Celtics, scoring 37 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in Milwaukee's 108-100 victory.
"We always hold the bar high for Giannis," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "For his opening-day performance, he set the bar high now, and we're going to hold him to that."
But as was often the case last season, Antetokounmpo spent much of the game carrying his team on his back. The Bucks went ice cold after halftime, and the Celtics opened the third quarter with a 16-4 run while Milwaukee scored just 18 points in the period.
The Bucks will need to correct those issues quickly, especially if they want to hang with the Cavaliers, the consensus pick to win the East for a fourth straight season, or join their ranks among the conference elite this season.
"I think we're capable of doing big things this year," Antetokounmpo said. "We've just got to stay focused, stay grounded ... and try to have the same mentality. We're the underdogs. We're not a big-market team, we're not a big team, we're young, so we've just got to play with a chip on our shoulder and hopefully this season we can be one of the best teams in the East."
Cleveland should be well-rested after holding off Boston in its season opener Tuesday night.
LeBron James scored a team-high 29 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the contest. Kevin Love also finished with a double-double, adding 15 points and 11 rebounds as he adjusts to playing center, a move made with the hopes of opening the floor more for newly acquired shooting guard Dwyane Wade.
"It's going to be tough for 5s (opposing centers) to move around with him," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "When we run pick-and-rolls, they can't really get out and show. He's going to have a lot of open shots, and we know Kevin, he can make shots.
"When we play big and Tristan (Thompson) goes to the 5 and (Love) goes to the 4, we're back to our normal positioning. We're going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he's enjoying it."
Love faced Milwaukee only once last season, scoring 13 points with 13 rebounds in a 118-101 loss on Nov. 28. In 17 career games against the Bucks, he is averaging 19.4 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 32.6 minutes.
James played 41 minutes in the opener despite missing all but one preseason game because of a sprained left ankle. He was listed as questionable on the Cavs' injury report for the season opener but plans to be ready Friday.
"I just want to get to where I should be," James said after participating in practice Thursday. "The ankle and the foot injury just kind of kept me out and set me back further than I would like, but I got some time now along the course of these games that we got. We got two back-to-backs coming up, so that's going to help and we have some opportunity to get some practice time in as well."
The Cavs have won three straight and eight of their past 10 meetings with the Bucks.