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Giannis Antetokounmpo aggravates ankle, leaves game vs. Clippers (VIDEO)

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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.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Clippers (45-31) with 21 points, and JaMychal Green added 16 and Wilson Chandler 15. Los Angeles finished its road trip at 3-1.

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.

Three Things to Know: MVP showdown between Harden, Giannis won by Eric Bledsoe

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) MVP showdown between James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, won by Eric Bledsoe. And Bucks. Chris Paul is right: No self-respecting MVP voter should base his or her decision on the winner of a season-long award on what happens in one game.

Because if you did that for this game Eric Bledsoe is your MVP.

In a much-hyped showdown of elite teams led by the front running MVP candidates James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe was the best player on the court. The Milwaukee guard scored 23 points on the night — 16 in a critical third-quarter run when the Bucks pulled away — leading Milwaukee to a 108-94 win over Houston.

For the record, The MVP candidates had good if unspectacular nights. Antetokounmpo finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while Harden had 23 points.

However, Harden’s 23 came on 9-for-26 shooting and just 1-of-9 from three. Bledsoe’s hounding defense was part of that. As he did the first time these teams met in January, Bledsoe parked himself on Harden’s left shoulder and gave him an open driving lane to the rim (where Brook Lopez or Antetokounmpo waited to try to block or alter the shot). What that does is take away the step-back three (specifically the preferred step back to the left) that has fueled Harden’s run this season. What Bledsoe and the Bucks also did well was not foul, Harden attempted only five free throws in a game where the referees let the teams play a little. (There were Rockets fans complaining about that on Twitter, to which I would say welcome to playoff basketball.)

There are two takeaways from this game. One is that Chris Paul’s crossover is still nasty.

The more important takeaway is the Bucks have a better team than the Rockets.

That was evident when the sides met in January, another Milwaukee victory. Antetokounmpo and his team can win a game with defense. Also, the Greek Freak has help with not just scoring but also playmaking duties, plus the system Mike Budenholzer installed in Milwaukee leads to buckets when well executed. Harden’s workload and burden with these Rockets are insane, while Antetokounmpo can trust teammates such as All-Star Khris Middleton (or even a good shooting night from Pat Connaughton, who had 14) to step up in the clutch.

How MVP voters factor all of that into their decision is the more challenging question.

2) Orlando moves into playoff position with a win over Miami. Look at the playoff chase at the bottom of the East, where 2.5 games separate the six seed Nets and the 10 seed Hornets

Orlando took a big step toward securing one of those playoff spots by knocking off Miami on Tuesday, with Nikola Vucevic’s 24 points (and 16 rebounds) leading every Magic starter in double-figure scoring.

That win — on a back-to-back for the Magic no less — moved Orlando into the eight seed (and the final playoff spot), half a game ahead of Miami. Because of Orlando’s softer schedule the rest of the way, fivethirtyeight.com’s projection model gives the Magic an 80 percent chance of making the postseason (it has Orlando and Brooklyn tied at 40-42 for the final two playoff spots).

Charlotte, however, will not go away. Led by Kemba Walker — 38 points, 11 in overtime — the Hornets came from behind to beat the defenseless (at least on the road for some reason) San Antonio Spurs, 125-116 in overtime.

That’s four straight wins for Charlotte, which is projected to have just an 18 percent chance of making the playoffs, but this team has defied the odds all season. In a tightly bunched East, anything can happen.

3) Chris Bosh gives an emotional speech as his jersey is retired in Miami. In Toronto, Chris Bosh was The Man. He was scoring 24 points a game, was the focal point of the team’s offense, was the marketing face of the franchise, and he was an All-Star.

He gave all that up to win.

Bosh came to Miami with LeBron James to join Dwayne Wade, and it was Bosh more than the others who had to make sacrifices. He radically changed his game. That final season in Toronto Bosh got 35 percent of his shot attempts around the rim and took one three about every three games. However, Miami needed floor spacing around the slashers in LeBon and Wade, so Bosh worked on his game to become a good three-point shooter. Bosh worked on his defense to become one of the best pick-and-roll stopping big men in the game. He did what it took to win, to bring two championships to Miami.

Tuesday night, Miami rewarded him by retiring his jersey. Bosh, always a class act, was clearly moved and gave a thoughtful and touching speech.

Blood clots in his legs ended Bosh’s career prematurely, and that was understandably hard to deal with for him. Bosh has finally come to peace with that, he has moved on to other things in his life and focused on his family.

It’s good to see the 11-time All-Star recognized. It was well deserved.

Report: Bucks signing Tim Frazier, waiving Christian Wood

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Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon is out through the start of the playoffs.

Now, Milwaukee is swapping a big for another guard.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Though a combo guard, Brogdon has primarily played shooting guard this season. Tim Frazier is a point guard. So, this isn’t a clear replacement.

Frazier, who spent training camp with Milwaukee, is a decent backup point guard. He’ll provide depth behind Eric Bledsoe and George Hill – depth missing without Brogdon. But Brogdon was merely insurance at point guard. His main role was off the ball.

Perhaps, with Frazier, the Bucks will use Hill more at shooting guard. More likely, they’ll continue to lean on Khris Middleton, Tony Snell, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton and Sterling Brown at the position.

Christian Wood is more than a small loss. The 23-year-old has looked good in the minor league and limited NBA minutes. He possesses long-term intrigue.

Milwaukee is rightfully emphasizing the present. I’m just unconvinced Frazier moves the needle now.

The Rock responds to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ‘I kill him’ challenge

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s confidence is turned up to 11 this season… but taking on The Rock? Dwayne Johnson. Mr. Titan Games?

It all started when the Greek Freak was lifting with Bucks teammate Pat Connaughton and Antetokounmpo said they thought they could outlift The Rock.

Antetokounmpo was asked about that at a media availability, then joked (in answer to a question) that he would “kill” The Rock in a wrestling match.

Saturday, The Rock responded.

Because Milwaukee is known for its fine tequilas?

You know this workout is coming, and that video will be awesome.

Giannis Antetokounmpo matches career high with 44 against Cavaliers

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CLEVELAND — Giannis Antetokounmpo played as if he had a point to prove.

The Milwaukee star rebounded from his worst game of the season to match his career high with 44 points and the Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-102 on Friday night despite missing two starters.

Two nights after being held to a season-low 12 points in a loss to Indiana, he was 14 of 19 from the field, made 16 of 21 foul shots, and had 14 rebounds and eight assists.

“You’ve got to put that game in the past,” Antetokounmpo said. “You put it in the past and move forward.”

Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ second leading scorer, was out with a sprained right finger. Malcolm Brogdon, fourth on the team in scoring, didn’t play because of a sore left hamstring.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer wasn’t surprised Antetokounmpo took over with his team short-handed.

“Obviously, a monster game for Giannis,” he said. “We kind of rode him pretty hard tonight. He was ultra-aggressive. He’s a competitor. He wants to be great.”

Asked what a team can do to slow down Antetokounmpo, Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said, “There’s not an answer to that. He’s a terrific player. He’s elevated his game over the years. He can hurt you in so many different ways.”

Not only was Antetokounmpo coming off a subpar game, Wednesday’s 113-97 loss was Milwaukee’s largest margin of the season.

Antetokounmpo made an instant impression after Milwaukee won the opening tip when he dunked on Osman on a set play in the halfcourt offense. He ended the half by finding Pat Connaughton for a 3-pointer.

Antetokounmpo, who had his 20th double-double of the season, admitted he was aware of his numbers.

“At some point in the game, you realize you’re scored a lot, so you look up at the scoreboard, but usually I don’t even look at it,” he said.

The Bucks never trailed and held off a late Cleveland spurt. The Cavaliers cut the lead to five midway through the fourth quarter on Cedi Osman‘s 3-pointer, but Antetokounmpo had a three-point play and an assist on Brook Lopez‘s basket that beat the shot clock, pushing the lead to 111-99.

Lopez scored 19 points and Eric Bledsoe had 16 for the Bucks, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points, and Larry Nance Jr. had 14 for Cleveland. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton had five points after scoring in double figures in 18 straight games.

Cleveland played its second game without Tristan Thompson, who could be out for a month with a sprained left foot.