Red hot Bucks, wealthier Eric Bledsoe roll into matchup with Jazz

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Eric Bledsoe celebrated landing a $70 million extension with his highest-scoring game of the season.

The 29-year-old point guard will attempt to follow up the stellar showing one night later when the Milwaukee Bucks visit the Utah Jazz on Saturday.

Bledsoe agreed to the four-year extension on Friday afternoon and then recorded 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists as Milwaukee posted a 131-120 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers to become the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff spot this season.

The Bucks closed the game with a 15-2 run to post their 10th straight road win, the longest single-season streak in franchise history.

“We stayed poised, stayed with our game plan and just doing what we’ve been doing all season,” Bledsoe told ESPN during a postgame television interview. “It was time for us to step up.”

The comeback gave the Bucks their seventh straight victory and 19th in the past 21 games.

That winning feeling — Milwaukee has an NBA-best 48-14 record — was a big factor in why Bledsoe passed up a shot to be an unrestricted free agent this summer by electing to stay with the Bucks.

“Right now, we have a great chemistry,” Bledsoe said. “I’m around a great group of guys, they are like brothers to me. They took me in with open arms last season and it is paying off right now, so why not?”

Bledsoe is averaging 15.9 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds in his second season with the Bucks after being acquired from the Phoenix Suns early last season.

“Beyond excited about Eric and what he’s done to date,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters prior to Friday’s game. “He’s certainly earned our appreciation and we’re glad he’s going to be with us for the next four years.”

Bledsoe was one of seven players who scored in double digits against the Lakers. The list included guard Malcolm Brogdon (21 points) along with forwards Khris Middleton (18) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (16 points, 15 rebounds).

Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 10 rebounds against Utah on Jan. 7 when the Bucks notched a 114-102 home win over the Jazz.

The victory was Milwaukee’s second straight against Utah after the Jazz prevailed in 21 of the previous 25 meetings.

Utah star guard Donovan Mitchell made six 3-pointers and scored 26 points in the January contest.

The Jazz have won three straight games and 17 of their last 23 after posting an impressive 111-104 road win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.

Mitchell scored 24 points to reach the 20-point mark for the 21st time in the past 22 games.

Veteran swingman Kyle Korver matched his season-best of 22 points and hit 6 of 10 3-point attempts after being just 9 of 32 from long range over the previous nine contests.

Korver, who turns 38 on March 17, has played 39 games for Utah after being acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I think he’s made everybody a little better,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told reporters. “That’s hard to do across a spectrum — from the coaching staff to the players. He truly is a student of the game.”

Utah could be without point guard Ricky Rubio (hamstring) for the second straight game.

Milwaukee is expected to sign veteran center Pau Gasol, who reached a buyout with the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.

 

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.