AP

Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘Lot of things have changed’ since last year’s loss to Celtics in playoffs

11 Comments

Much has changed since the Celtics outlasted the Bucks during their seven-game slugfest in the first round of last year’s NBA playoffs.

For starters, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are both healthy after injuries sidelined them for the entire postseason last year.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is having a career season and is one of the leading contenders for league MVP honors.

And it is East top-seeded Milwaukee and not Boston that will tipoff Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with home-court advantage and as the favorite to advance to the conference finals.

“A lot of things have changed,” Antetokounmpo said. “They haven’t changed as much. They play great basketball. They defend aggressively. They’re going to play with a lot of pace. Obviously, they have Kyrie this year. We’re just going to go out there, play hard and try to win games.”

And Antetokounmpo has bigger goals than just trying to avenge last year’s first-round loss – though the sting of that setback remains with the Bucks.

“It’s a different situation, but there’s always ego and pride,” he said. “You want to win and avenge the loss last year. I don’t think the guys who were here last year forgot what we went through. We lost Game 7. Hopefully we have that in our mind, focus on what we’ve got to do now and try to win this series. And not repeat what we did last year.”

Milwaukee has thrived in their first season under coach Mike Budenholzer, posting a league-best 60-22 record during the regular season and sweeping the Detroit Pistons in the first round, winning by an average of 24 points per game.

The Celtics had an up and down year but found some missing cohesion during their first-round sweep of Indiana. They’ve been led by big scoring games by Irving, an increased comfort level by Hayward that was missing in the regular season and some late-game poise across the board.

While Irving respects how much the Bucks have improved, he doesn’t see Boston as an underdog just because they are the lower seed.

“To be honest, I don’t really care about the seeding. As long as we’re in there. It’s an even playing field,” he said. “All the regular season stats and the hype around the regular season? You can have it.

“At this point, it’s five versus five, and who’s better at the end of the day.”

Here are some other things to watch for in the Eastern Conference semifinals matchup between Boston and Milwaukee:

INJURY UPDATE

Both teams will be short-handed in Game 1. Boston guard Marcus Smart is still recovering from the partial tear to his left oblique abdominal muscle that he suffered on April 7. And Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon is out for Games 1 and 2 as he continues deal with plantar fascia in his right foot.

Smart was originally given a 4- to 6-week recovery window for the injury and sat out the entire first-round series with Indiana. But he was shooting and running sprints after practice on Friday.

Coach Mike Budenholzer said they remain hopeful Brogdon can return at some point during the series.

“He’s been on track but he’s still got some hurdles to cover,” Budenholzer said. “We’ll assess it when we get through this next little wave.”

CLOSE GAMES EXPECTED

The Bucks won two out of the three meetings with Boston during the regular season, with their wins coming by single digits.

Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez believes the familiarity the teams have with each other will play a factor.

“It’s going to be those kind of games where you have to grind it out, earn every possession and you can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “It’s about going out there and outworking the other team.”

NOT JUST ABOUT GIANNIS

As much confidence as the Bucks have in putting the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands, Khris Middleton said they know everyone will have to be playing at their best to close out games against the Celtics.

In their first-round series the Pistons never got within five points of the Bucks in the final five minutes of any of their four games. The Celtics have had only one double-digit win in the series.

“Last year me and Giannis carried a lot of the load. (Eric Bledsoe) too,” Middleton said. This year we’re a complete team from top to bottom. Giannis is going to do his thing, I’m going to do my thing, Bled is going to do his thing. But the supporting cast is much more ready this year to step up and provide big minutes for us.”

Freelancers Bob Schron in Boston and Charles Gardner in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Watch James Harden score 55, including 10 threes, to beat Cleveland

Leave a comment

CLEVELAND (AP) โ€” James Harden scored 55 points – 20 in the fourth quarter – and Russell Westbrook added 23 points as the Houston Rockets withstood an unexpected scare from Cleveland and held on for a 116-110 win Wednesday night over the free-falling Cavaliers, who have lost eight straight and 14 of 15.

Harden matched Kyrie Irving‘s arena record for points in a game, and his fourth with 50 or more this season bailed out the Rockets, who allowed the Cavs to score 24 straight points in the second half.

Cleveland was still up 108-107 when Harden, who came in leading the NBA in scoring at 38 points per game, dropped a floater in the lane. After a turnover by Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson, P.J. Tucker hit a 3-pointer from the corner and Clint Capela had a dunk following another Cleveland miscue.

The inexperienced Cavs crumbled in the final minute, making three turnovers.

Capela added 13 rebounds for Houston, which figured to have an easy time with the Cavs, who are struggling under first-year coach John Beilein.

Cleveland, though, came to play and was led by rookie Kevin Porter Jr.‘s season-high 24 points. Collin Sexton added 18 and Kevin Love had 17 points and 11 boards.

Harden connected on a pair of 3-pointers during a 16-2 run in the third quarter when the Rockets, who were sleepwalking through long stretches of the first half, appeared to take control.

But Houston relaxed, and Cleveland went on a jaw-dropping 24-0 run – all without Love, who was on the bench with a head laceration – over a 4:43 stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters to a take a 99-88 lead on Porter’s bucket.

 

Grizzlies’ Ja Morant absolutely destroyed Aron Baynes with dunk (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

We may have a new Dunk of the Year.

Memphis rookie Ja Morant is an athletic freak, one confident enough in his skills to go right at a big switched onto him. Say Phoenix’s Aron Baynes. On a critical fourth-quarter possession.

RIP Aron Baynes.

Memphis won the game 115-108.

Victor Oladipo not near return to Pacers rotation

Associated Press
Leave a comment

“But heโ€™s still a ways away.”

Those are not the words Pacers fans want to hear about Victor Oladipo. Their team is playing well โ€” 15-9 with a top-10 defense โ€” but they are not a real postseason threat without their best player, who is recovering from a ruptured right quadriceps tendon. Before the season, Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said he was “hopeful” Oladipo would be back in December or January.

It looks like it’s going to be the back end of that timeline. At best. From J. Michael of the Indy Star, speaking to coach Nate McMillan.

Oladipo will have to be eased back in when he does return, he’s not going too hit the ground running at 40 minutes a night.

The Pacers look like a lock playoff team in the East even without Oladipo, they can afford to bring him along slowly. The hope would be to have the All-Star up to speed and integrated into the offense when the playoffs do start. If that happens, the Pacers become that team that the elite squads want to avoid early.

Lakers outscore Magic 26-9 in the first quarter. It got uglier after that.

Associated Press
Leave a comment

As has gotten a lot of publicity this season, the Lakers have one of the best defenses in the NBA, sixth in the league in defensive rating coming into Wednesday night. Their combination of length and activity has thrown teams off their games.

Less well publicized, the Orlando Magic have been bad on offense this season, fifth-worst in the NBA.

What happens when the immovable object met a very soft force on Wednesday night, well…

Orlando shot 4-of-21 in the first quarter, missing all six of their threes, plus turned the ball over four times just to make things a little worse. Itโ€™s not that the Lakers were exactly tearing it up, as a team they shot just 35.7 percent in the first quarter (Orlando is a good defensive squad), but Anthony Davis saved their bacon with seven points plus three assists (all for threes, so 16 points generated by him in the first).

The Lakers stretched that out to a 24-point lead in the second quarter before a combination of Orlando stepping up their play and the Lakers taking their foot off the gas a little led to an 18-3 Orlando run that cut the lead to 13 at the half. LeBron James had 16 points to lead the Lakers.

By the middle of the third, Orlando had made a game of it.