Preview: Bucks at Cavaliers
Giannis Antetokounmpo posted a double-double in helping the Milwaukee Bucks get a win at Toronto on Sunday and sat out a double-digit win over the Cleveland Cavaliers the following night with a neck injury.
Antetokounmpo returned Wednesday night but constantly encountered multiple Indiana Pacers trying to limit his effectiveness and it resulted in a double-digit loss.
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks hope to rebound from one of their least productive showings of the season Friday night when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Bucks will be playing their 12th road game, which is the least in the league. They are 5-6 on the road and have lost three of their last four road contests, including an overtime loss in New York on Dec. 1.
In Milwaukee’s other road losses, Antetokounmpo scored 20 in Charlotte and 33 in New York but in Wednesday’s 113-97 loss, he was held to a season-low 12 points. It was the first time he scored less than 15 points since April 11 in a 35-point loss to Philadelphia.
“I never had the ball,” Antetokounmpo told reporters “I had multiple defenders around me. I had to pass the ball and the game did not come back to me. We never as a team forced the issue for the game to come back to me. My team wants me to be unselfish, I’m going to pass the ball and that’s going to be it.”
The Bucks are 3-15 since the start of the 2016-17 when Antetokounmpo gets held under 15 points. On Wednesday, they took their most lopsided loss of the season since other than Eric Bledsoe‘s 26 points it was a struggle to score as the Bucks trailed by 22 and were held to 41.3 percent shooting.
While Bledsoe was productive and is averaging 20.5 points and shooting 54.3 percent in his last six games, Khris Middleton is struggling. He shot 4 of 18 Wednesday, shot 5 of 16 Monday and since getting 21 points against the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 24, Middleton is averaging 12.4 points on 29.3 percent (29-of-99) from the floor
“This isn’t new,” Middleton told reporters. “I’ve gone through some slumps every season I’ve been here. At some point, it’s going to come through. Just gotta keep shooting. Stay patient.”
Wednesday was Milwaukee’s fourth-lowest shooting percentage, the second time under 100 points and season-high fourth straight game less than 115 points. In the last four games, the Bucks are averaging 101 points, shooting 41.4 percent and making 30.6 percent from 3-point range.
Cleveland has split its last six games since a four-game losing streak Nov. 26-Dec. 1. The Cavaliers are aiming for consecutive wins for the second time this season (also Nov. 23-24) after holding on for a 113-106
win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday in a game they led by 22 with about seven minutes before halftime.
“When you look at our team and we have had spurts where things have not been going well, but for the most part, we are playing hard, competing and being competitive,” Cleveland coach Larry Drew said. “We are putting ourselves in some good positions. Games where we have not come out and played well and got behind we fought back into games. I can’t fault my guys for their effort. They are playing hard. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to finish some games, but I really feel they are giving their all and that’s all you can ask of a coach.”
Jordan Clarkson scored a season-high 28 points while Rodney Hood added 23 and hit the go-ahead jumper with 23.7 seconds left. Rookie Collin Sexton finished 19 while Matthew Dellavedova contributed 15, including two key free throws in the final minute of his first home game since being reacquired from Milwaukee last Friday in the George Hill trade.
Both Clarkson and Hood played through minor injuries and delivered key performances after center Tristan Thompson was lost for two to four weeks with a foot injury.
Clarkson is dealing with a back injury and was 6-of-22 from the floor in his previous two games before Wednesday. Hood is dealing with a sore toe he sustained Dec. 1 against Toronto but shot 9-of-14 Wednesday after shooting 14-of-44 (31.8 percent) in his previous five games.
Milwaukee has lost six straight visits to Cleveland and is 1-10 in its last 11 road games against the Cavaliers.