Roy Hibbert, Andre Drummond

Pacers improve to 9-0 with blowout win over Bucks

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The Pacers remain undefeated after running their league-best record to 9-0 with a blowout 104-77 win over the Bucks.

Milwaukee is a depleted team right now due to multiple players being injured, and there’s not nearly enough depth to sustain even one starter being out, much less multiple productive players. Larry Sanders, Caron Butler, and Ersan Ilyasova were all unable to go due to various issues.

Then again, it might not have mattered who the Bucks rolled out given the way that Indiana has started the season.

The Pacers have gotten off to their strong start by bringing a level of intensity on both ends of the floor that their opponents have rarely been able to match. Roy Hibbert has been dominant in anchoring the defense, and Friday night was no different. Hibbert finished with a dominant line of 24 points on just 10 shots, to go along with 10 rebounds and eight blocked shots.

Milwaukee shot just 34.1 percent from the field, and O.J. Mayo, the only credible offensive threat on the floor for the Bucks, was held to 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting.

The bench was the weakness of this Pacers team a season ago, but offseason upgrades have seemed to address that issue. Luis Scola and C.J. Watson continue to be regularly reliable contributors, and Indiana has proven to be so deep that Chris Copeland, who showed promise with the Knicks last year, has yet to see substantial minutes.

The Pacers will be tested on Saturday, playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road against the Bulls in Chicago. Derrick Rose sat out of his team’s win on Friday, and if he should similarly miss the contest against Indiana, the Pacers would have a great chance to remain undefeated through the first 10 games of the season.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.