Preview: Bucks at Hornets
CHARLOTTE -- Two of the Eastern Conference's leading scorers go head-to-head Monday night when the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Charlotte Hornets in a rematch of an opening night thriller.
Charlotte's Kemba Walker outscored Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo 41-25, but the Bucks prevailed 113-112 in the earlier meeting when the Greek star hit two go-ahead free throws with 23.7 seconds left.
Walker had a chance to win it for the Hornets but misfired on a driving attempt from short range with 3.4 seconds left.
"I just missed it," Walker explained to reporters after the game. "I took my eyes off the rim. I'm (upset). It's going to eat me up."
If the Charlotte point guard has used the miss as inspiration, it's worked. Walker has gone on to score 30 or more points six more times, giving him the top scoring average in the East at 28.2 points per game.
Unfortunately for Walker, he suffered a similar experience Sunday in Atlanta as he did in the opener against the Bucks.
Walker gave Charlotte, playing the front end of a back-to-back, a one-point lead over the Hawks with a jumper in the final minute, only to see Atlanta's Kent Bazemore put Atlanta back on top with a driving hoop in the final seconds.
Walker had a shot at the win, but John Collins blocked his 10-footer, leaving Charlotte one point short.
Walker finished with 22 points.
Charlotte came up short in the opener against Milwaukee thanks not only to Antetokounmpo's late free throws but also due to his all-around brilliance. He complemented his 25 points with 18 rebounds and eight assists.
The East's third-leading scorer at 27.2 points per game had a similar outing in the Bucks' most recent game, a 135-129 home win over San Antonio. He contributed 34 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists to the win.
The win completed a 4-2 homestand for the Bucks and they improved to 5-0 in games immediately following a loss.
"It was a big game today," Antetokounmpo told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "We're a winning team now. Always, no matter what's going on, no matter if we lost the game before, we're always going to try to bounce back and get back on track. That's what we did today."
Milwaukee and Charlotte have alternated wins and losses in their last four head-to-heads, with all four games featuring triple-digit scoring by both teams.
Walker and Antetokounmpo have done their part in driving up the scores.
The Charlotte star averaged 29.5 points in the four games. Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, went for 21.7 a game, sitting out once with an injury.
Bucks defensive ace Eric Bledsoe indicated his team learned a little something about how to defend Walker as the earlier meeting this season went along.
"He's a tough guard, man," he told reporters after the game. "I thought everybody locked in on him down the stretch and kind of helped me out a little bit. It's a team game."
No doubt, the Hornets will have to take a similar approach to Antetokounmpo, who has scored 21 or more points in 17 of his 18 games this season.
One thing he has not done well this season is shoot 3-pointers. He's gone 5-for-45 (11.1 percent) from outside the arc.
Inside the line, he leads the NBA in baskets made with 183, shooting 65.1 percent.