Robin Lopez

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Minnesota’s Jarrett Culver dunks all over Robin Lopez, stares him down (VIDEO)

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Jarrett Culver can get up and throw it down.

Which is exactly what the Timberwolves rookie did on a drive Wednesday night — and the Bucks’ Robin Lopez was the victim.

After the play, Culver stares down Lopez, the veteran big man does not like it one bit and lets Culver know about it. There’s even a little shove from Lopez, but in the end the refs give Culver the technical foul for taunting. Welcome to the NBA, rookie.

Milwaukee got 32 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and hung on to get the win, 106-102.

Giannis Antetokounmpo returns, scores 23 points in 27 minutes, leads Bucks to win

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CHICAGO — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 23 points and 10 rebounds after missing two games with a sore back, and the Milwaukee Bucks pulled away in the second half for a 123-102 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.

Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s second-leading scorer with an average of 30.5 points per game entering this one, played only 27 minutes and sat out the final 5 1/2 because of the lopsided score. He was 8 for 14 from the field with six assists.

Khris Middleton scored 25 points for the Bucks and Eric Bledsoe had 15 points in 16 minutes after missing the previous eight games with a fractured right leg. Milwaukee improved to a league-best 30-5.

Zach LaVine scored 19 points for Chicago but shot just 7 for 23 from the field. Lauri Markkanen and Coby White had 18 points apiece and Wendell Carter Jr. added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls.

Milwaukee jumped out to an 8-0 lead as Chicago missed its first six shots. The Bucks led 31-20 at the end of the first quarter and stretched it to 33-20 early in the second on a basket by Robin Lopez.

But the Bulls — after shooting 9 of 29 in the first — suddenly got hot from behind the 3-point arc. White and Markkanen each had three 3-pointers in the second to trim the Milwaukee advantage. Chicago was 8 for 14 on 3s in the quarter.

With just under two minutes left in the first half, White hit a driving scoop off the glass to give the Bulls a 52-51 lead, their first of the game.

Antetokounmpo quickly answered with a putback on the other end to put the Bucks back on top. Milwaukee led 55-52 at halftime thanks in part to a 15-0 advantage in free throw attempts (making 12).

Any chance of a Chicago upset was quickly dashed in the third. The Bucks opened with a 17-4 run for a 72-56 lead — with Antetokounmpo capping the spurt with a thunderous dunk that drew a loud roar from the United Center crowd.

Milwaukee led 95-77 after three quarters. Kyle Korver hit a 3-pointer 2 1/2 minutes into the fourth for a 105-81 advantage, the Bucks’ biggest of the game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s tip-in forces overtime, where Bam Adebayo block keys Heat win

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Milwaukee was in complete charge in their home opener against Miami, leading by double digits most of the second and third quarters and by as much as 21. The game seemed all but over.

Then the fourth quarter came — and Miami was not ready to go home.

The Bucks seemed to take their foot off the gas and went cold, missing nine straight threes while the Heat went on a 20-5 run, putting up 39 points in the fourth and knocking down six threes. Eventually, Miami took the lead and control down the stretch, Milwaukee was stunned and the Heat just had to hit their free throws to secure the win…

Except they didn’t. Bam Adebayo missed one, then Justise Winslow missed two gift ones (after a rebounding foul by Robin Lopez where he just turned and pushed Winslow rather than box out) and it left the Heat a chance, down 121-119 with three seconds left. The ball goes to All-Star Khris Middleton, who goes up for a contested three to win it, and in flies Giannis Antetokounmpo to save the day.

Most players spectate on those shots. Antetokounmpo didn’t. Kelly Olynyk did rather than put a body on Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Once in overtime things seemed to keep going the Heat’s way, where four Adebayo free throws had the Heat ahead, and then Antetokounmpo fouled out. That’s two straight games the Greek Freak has fouled out, but this time his teammates did not bail him out. He finished with 29 points, 17 rebounds, and nine assists.

Milwaukee had a chance late. Down three 19.6 seconds left, Goran Dragic missed two free throws, Eric Bledsoe got the rebound on the second one, raced down the court, thought he had an uncontested dunk — and then Adebayo flew in.

That block essentially sealed the win, although Middleton got a look to send it to a second overtime and missed.

Dragic led the Heat with 25 points, Adebayo had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Middleton had 25 for the Bucks, and Kyle Korver had 14 off the bench.

That is a quality win for Miami, who was without Jimmy Butler (with his family for the birth of his child). It’s a punch to the gut loss for the Bucks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he’s going to be ‘more vocal’ this season

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MILWAUKEE (AP) Last season’s loss to Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals stung Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So much so that the NBA MVP admitted it took several days for him to be able to sleep at night after he and the Milwaukee Bucks blew a 2-0 lead against the eventual NBA champion Raptors.

Antetokounmpo said his priority during the offseason was to become a better leader, both on and off the court.

“Mostly, you just gotta be more vocal,” Antetokounmpo said. “You gotta lead by example. You gotta be able to accept criticism by your coach, by your teammates, and be OK with it. That’s what a leader does. I know that my team knows who I am. They trust me. They know I’m going to put my body and everything I have on the line for this team. By doing that, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Bucks won a league-best 60 games a season ago, and took home MVP, Coach of the Year (Mike Budenholzer) and Executive of the Year (general manager Jon Horst) honors. But their goal was to bring the city of Milwaukee its first NBA title since 1971. That didn’t happen.

Now, with both Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James out west, Kevin Durant on the shelf in Brooklyn and the core of Antetokounmpo, fellow All-Star Khris Middleton, first-team all-defensive guard Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez back together, anything less than another deep playoff run for the Bucks will be deemed a failure.

“The message to the team won’t be that different than what it was going into last season,” said Budenholzer, who is entering his second season in Milwaukee. “Really, our attack point is just what are we doing every day? How are we getting better every day? How are we competing every day? Are we playing unselfishly? Are we playing together? All those things that are just our core beliefs. If we’re doing those on a day-in and day-out basis, the chips will fall where they may.”

The Bucks open the season Oct. 24 in Houston.

Kyle Korver

Bucks guard Kyle Korver said his new team is like a “more organized version” of the Cleveland Cavaliers teams he played on with LeBron James.

“I think that there’s a ton of freedom here for players to do what they do,” he said. “There’s a lot of special talent – unique talent – on this team, and (Budenholzer) gives us a lot of freedom to kind of figure some things out, and we did that in Cleveland, too. Let the great players be great, and just kind of give them space, and we all find our spots to contribute and to be effective.”

Korver signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee in July. The 17-year veteran reunites with Budenholzer, who coached Korver in Atlanta in 2015, when Korver made his only NBA All-Star team and Budenholzer won his first NBA Coach of the Year award.

Korver ranks fourth in NBA history in 3-pointers made with 2,351.

BROGDON OUT, MATTHEWS IN

The Bucks lost former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to Indiana in free agency. Budenholzer said he thinks the additions of sharpshooter Korver and veteran two-way wing Wes Matthews will help fill the void. Matthews was the 2005 Wisconsin Mr. Basketball and played his college ball at nearby Marquette.

“Coming back home, it’s a sentimental feeling and one you can’t quite describe,” Matthews said. “To see the success, the growth of the city and the growth of the state, what this Bucks team and organization has done, I come back and I don’t even recognize some of this stuff around here. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

BAND OF BROTHERS

Milwaukee will start the season with two pairs of brothers, as Robin Lopez joins twin brother Brook, and Giannis will have his older brother, Thanasis, on the roster. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who last played in the NBA in 2016 for the Knicks, signed a two-year contract in July.

“What a great story for Giannis and Thanasis and Brook and Robin to play together,” Budenholzer said. “There’s probably a few little things that we’ve got to be conscientious of: Make sure that they’re not always together, so on so forth. And Robin and Brook, there’s been a lot of comments about how we’re going to manage them in the locker room.”

DONTE’S PEAK

Milwaukee’s 2018 first-round pick Donte DiVincenzo will look to re-establish himself after dealing with a heel injury last season. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 4.9 points on 40.3% shooting in 27 games a season ago.

“(I just want to) keep getting better,” DiVincenzo said. “Keep getting better every day, keep building my confidence, figure my spots because it’s a long year.”

LOOMING QUESTION

How much longer will Giannis Antetokounmpo be in Milwaukee?

Antetokounmpo can be an unrestricted free agent next summer. At that point, the Bucks can offer him a five-year supermax extension. Horst told a crowd at an offseason fan event that he intends to offer the extension to the three-time All-Star (and was fined for saying so by the NBA).

“I’m not going to talk about it a lot,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think it’s disrespectful toward my teammates talking about my free agency and what I’m going to do. So when the time is right, we’re all going to talk about it.”

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With Bucks hoping to take off, leaving behind Malcolm Brogdon a risky choice

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Next season is the Bucks’ time.

They shouldn’t wait.

They can’t wait.

Milwaukee is very good. Good enough to win a championship. There are no overwhelmingly dominant-looking teams this year. Most of the top contenders will beat up on each other out West. In the Eastern Conference, the 76ers must develop chemistry after a major roster makeover, and Kevin Durant‘s injury puts the Nets another year away from title contention. The Bucks got a necessary and hard-learned lesson in how to compete deep in the playoffs last season. They look primed now.

Giannis Antetokounmpo will also be eligible for a super-max contract extension next offseason. His willingness to re-up might depend on Milwaukee’s success this season. The Bucks remaining elite is totally predicated on keeping the 24-year-old MVP. His satisfaction with the team must be the priority.

With all that swirling, Milwaukee parted with restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon.

A young talented guard the Bucks held matching rights on – gone. In return, they got absolutely nothing that will directly help them in the ultra-important upcoming season.

Maybe that was the right call. By signing-and-trading Brogdon to the Pacers, Milwaukee got a first-rounder and two second-rounders and avoided paying a red-flagged player $85 million over four years. There’s a case the Bucks got enough value and preserved enough flexibility to justify the move, even considering next season’s high stakes.

But this was also an essential decision for avoiding the luxury tax. That can’t be dismissed. If Milwaukee weakened its roster due to a refusal to pay the luxury tax this season of all seasons, that’d be incredibly disappointing.

This could be a choice that significantly shapes the Bucks for the next decade. I wish I had a better sense of their motivations.

At least Milwaukee got done the rest of its heavy lifting this summer and even rebounded nicely from the loss of Brogdon.

The Bucks re-signed Khris Middleton for less than the max (five years, $177.5 million). It was essential to keep Antetokounmpo’s lone supporting star.

Brook Lopez – with his 3-point shooting and interior defense – is even more important to Milwaukee’s identity. In a tricky situation due to holding only his Non-Bird Rights, the Bucks cleared enough cap space to re-sign him for four years, $52 million.

Milwaukee also had enough cap space to re-sign George Hill (three years, $28,771,806 with $20 million guaranteed). Hill played well in the playoffs. He’s also 33. It’s worth signing Hill to this deal. He can back up Eric Bledsoe, who struggled the last two postseasons, and help at shooting guard with Brogdon gone. But it’s far from certain Hill will live up to this contract.

The Bucks found surprising reinforcements at shooting guard with Wesley Matthews (1+1 minimum) and Kyle Korver (one-year minimum). Both are past their primes, but that’s tremendous value for those two. The big question: Would they have come to Milwaukee if Brogdon hadn’t left open so much playing time? That must be considered in the Brogdon evaluation, but again, it’s difficult to discern.

Robin Lopez signed for the room exception on 1+1. He’ll back up his twin brother. The Bucks could use Robin’s size at the position, especially with Joel Embiid and Philadelphia looking like the top threat in the East.

These are all good deals for Milwaukee. This offseason could have gone far worse for the Bucks given the steps they had to take to open cap space for Brook Lopez and Hill.

Milwaukee traded the overpaid but still helpful Tony Snell and No. 30 pick to the Pistons for Jon Leuer then waived Leuer, accepting a $3,169,348 over the next three years. That was a nasty set of transactions, but it was necessary. The Bucks also lost Nikola Mirotic, who returned to Europe.

After that, it was standard low-end roster moves. Adding Dragan Bender is intriguing. Adding Thanasis Antetokounmpo is the cost of doing business.

It just keeps coming back to Brogdon. How much will the Bucks miss him? How much did his departure improve their ability to lure Matthews and Korver? What will Milwaukee do with the draft picks acquired from Indiana?

That last one is a biggie. Trade those picks in the right deal, and the roster next could be even than it would have been with Brogdon – especially if ownership is willing to enter the luxury tax.

I just have a hard time figuring out where the Bucks stand on that, and it makes me uneasy about their summer.

Offseason grade: C