Playoff nerves? Experience in Greece helps calm Giannis

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he is relaxed and ready for his first playoff series, starting Saturday against the Bulls.

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Not much has fazed Giannis Antetokounmpo over his first two seasons in the NBA. So it comes as no surprise that he laughed off a reporter’s question inquiring into his nerves before his first playoff game Saturday.

"I know it is tough and the intensity is high, but it is not the end of the world," Antetokounmpo said following Friday’s practice at the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin Training Center. "I’m going to sleep well and get ready."

Antetokounmpo learned a valuable lesson three years ago as a 17-year-old playing in Greece’s second-tier league.

If Filathlitikos won its final game of the 2012-13 season, it would have been promoted to the top basketball league in Greece. Antetokounmpo psyched himself out so much before the game that he was a nervous wreck by the time the game arrived.

"I was feeling so much pressure," Antetokounmpo said. "A lot of scouts came and watched me because I was about to go into the draft. I was feeling so much pressure and I didn’t have fun."

He also didn’t play well.

Antetokounmpo finished with just four points on 2-of-8 shooting and fouled out of Filathlitiko’s 89-81 triple-overtime loss to the Athens-based Neas Kifisias.

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One tweet from a draft expert in attendance that night called Antetokounmpo a "a deer in the headlights," describing his play as "tired and pretty passive."

"It was bad," Antetokounmpo said. "After the game I was like, ‘Why didn’t I play hard? Why didn’t I try my best? Why did I feel pressure? Why was I nervous?’ I’m not going to look back and say that again."

With just over 24 hours to go until he makes his NBA playoff debut in Game 1 of Milwaukee’s best-of-seven first-round series against Chicago, Antetokounmpo described his mindset as "hyped."

Bucks center Zaza Pachulia, who leads the team with 40 playoff games played in his career, said he plans on having a conversation with Antetokounmpo and the other young players on the roster.

"You don’t want it to be a surprise to them," Pachulia said. "We all went through this situation. Hopefully it is only going to take a couple of minutes to adjust and then it is back to normal, back to playing basketball.

"Once they witness it they will understand it better. You can tell the stories as much as you want, but once you experience it, it is something you will never forget."

As evidenced by a 9 p.m. Thursday trip to the team’s training facility to shoot and watch film, Antetokounmpo wants to feel prepared in order to avoid playing like he did three years ago in Greece.

"I always go back and remember that game," Antetokounmpo said. "I said to myself that was never going to happen to me again. I don’t care where I am. I learned. I’m just going to have fun and play as hard as possible. Nothing is going to be given to you. You have to go take it.

"It is a seven-game series. It is not like the regular season. Every game matters right now, every possession matters. I’m going to play as tough as I can to try and help my team."

Injury update: Forward Jared Dudley (back) and guard Jerryd Bayless (sore neck) were able to go through the full practice for the second consecutive day Friday, leaving them probable for Saturday’s Game 1.

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For the Bulls, guard Kirk Hinrich (left knee) is questionable, while forward Taj Gibson (left shoulder), center Joakim Noah (left hamstring tendonitis) and guard Derrick Rose (left knee) are probable.   

Abdul-Jabbar has surgery: Former Bucks and NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is recovering after undergoing quadruple coronary bypass surgery Thursday in Los Angeles.

Dr. Richard Shemin, UCLA’s chief of cardiac surgery, performed the surgery at the school’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center.

Abdul-Jabbar was admitted to the hospital earlier in the week with cardiovascular disease. According to Shemin, the surgery was successful and the Hall of Famer is expected to make a full recovery.

In the release sent out by UCLA, Abdul-Jabbar asks "that you keep him in your thoughts and, most importantly, cherish and live each day to its fullest."

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