MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to fight through a right ankle injury that has hampered him over the last two weeks.
But the Milwaukee Bucks forward may need some rest to get fully healthy before the playoffs start in mid-April. And his status was of prime concern after the Bucks’ 128-118 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.
Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and grabbed nine rebounds before aggravating his ankle injury in the fourth quarter as the Bucks snapped Los Angeles’ six-game winning streak. Milwaukee (57-19) reduced its magic number to two for clinching home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Antetokounmpo went to the floor and held his right ankle after dunking with 7:46 left in the game, and he immediately went to the bench and didn’t return. He missed two games last week with a sprain to the same ankle, initially suffered on March 17 vs. Philadelphia.
“I’m definitely working on it, trying to get it healthy, stronger,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m trying to get my mobility back. It’s not going to be easy.
“Usually when you sprain your ankle, you stay out for two, three, four games. But I don’t like missing games. I’ve got to work through it while playing. I’ll be ready to play until coach (Mike Budenholzer) tells me not to play.”
The Bucks open a three-game trip in Atlanta on Sunday before finishing the season with three home games.
“I think we all are hoping he can push through and be healthy going forward,” Budenholzer said. “We’ll see how he’s feeling after tonight and either bring out the bubble wrap or keep playing.”
Khris Middleton had a season-high 39 points with eight rebounds and five assists as Milwaukee won its fourth straight. Eric Bledsoe added 15 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and Sterling Brown finished with 15 points.
Middleton hit 16 of 24 shots from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“I’m feeling good,” Middleton said. “The Houston game was just a dud. I had a lot of great shots and air-balled most of them, I felt like (on Tuesday in the Bucks’ victory). Tonight, I came out with the same mentality, just being aggressive and pick my spots. I was just trying to find a rhythm.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers was impressed with Antetokounmpo’s play and joked that the Bucks star and Houston’s James Harden should share the MVP award so “everybody in the world is happy.”
“The thing I like about Giannis the most is his temperament,” Rivers said. “He is not messing around. He is not there to put on a show. Every game is a competition for him. I love that. For me, of all the things he does, that is the No. 1 thing that stands out with me.”
The Bucks led 67-46 at halftime as Antetokounmpo had 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Middleton added 15 points and Brown 10 as Milwaukee shot 55.8 percent from the field (24 of 43).
“I think the second quarter stood out,” Budenholzer said after his team outscored the Clippers 39-21, in the period. “We were able to get quite a bit of separation and weather the storm in the second half.”
Los Angeles went on an 8-1 run to open the second half, cutting its deficit to 14 and forcing Budenholzer to call a timeout.
The Bucks led 79-69 before going on a 9-2 run capped by a 3-pointer by Pat Connaughton, putting them ahead 88-71 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.
Middleton completed a four-point play late in the quarter and had 13 points in the period as the Bucks took a 100-77 lead entering the fourth.