Thanasis Antetokounmpo

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Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton to miss 3-4 weeks with thigh contusion

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Khris Middleton, coming off a summer with Team USA, has quietly continued his All-Star level play this season — an efficient 18.5 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent from three but also finishing well at the rim, and the Bucks offense is 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

However, he’s not going to be on the court for a few weeks due to a deep thigh bruise, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In the third quarter of the Bucks win over the Thunder Sunday, Middleton suffered the thigh bruise, which sent him to the locker room. While he returned to the bench, he did not return to the game. Afterward, in the locker room, Middleton didn’t seem to think it was that serious.

It turned out to be a little more than that, it has to be a deep bruise to have him out for up to a month.

Kyle Korver would be next in line to get those minutes, but he sat out Sunday with a “head contusion.” Behind him look for smaller lineups with Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown, and Wesley Matthews to get more minutes, plus maybe a little Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

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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Team USA knocks off Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo 69-53

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Sometimes one stat does tell the story:

Through three quarters, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, despite being the focus of Team USA’s defensive attention, and with the entire defense collapsing on him every time he drove.

Greek players not named Giannis were 8-of-42 shooting through three (14-of-51, 27.5 percent for the game).

That had the USA up by 17 after three quarters. The Greek squad made a push in the fourth — while sitting Giannis for most of the quarter in one of the more bizarre coaching decisions you’ll ever see (they said it was to rest him for the next game) — it was too little, too late as the USA won comfortably, 69-53.

With the win, Team USA is now 4-0 overall, lead Group K and is on the verge of advancing to the quarterfinal knockout round of the tournament (where they will face France or Australia). The USA still has a game against Brazil in the second round of group play on Monday that they need to win to guarantee advancement, although even if they lose they likely advance (the scenarios where they do not are long shots).

Greek and USA players had words after the game, and there was some tension, although nothing got physical. It stemmed from a late game play when Harrison Barnes made a steal and had a breakaway dunk but Thanasis Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ brother) tried to make a chase-down block. He missed, and instead Antetokounmpo hit Barnes in the head and fouled him hard, causing Barnes to fly through the camera crews and to the ground several feet off the court. It’s a foul that would have been a clear flagrant — likely flagrant 2 with an ejection — in an NBA game but was just an ordinary foul for FIBA (even after a video review). After the game, Jaylen Brown and Myles Turner seemed to express their displeasure, particularly to Giannis. Marcus Smart was in the middle of it all, too.

That should not overshadow what was one of the better wins for Team USA in this tournament, one where the USA can build some momentum.

Coach Gregg Popovich went with more small ball in this one, with Myles Turner getting 14 minutes at center, but Miles Plumlee only had five, and Brook Lopez did not see the court. For more than half the game the USA went without a traditional center and it worked for them, in part because of Marcus Smart’s defense. It gives us an idea of what we are likely to see when games start to get tight in the knockout rounds, Popovich is going to lean on his athletic backcourt and wings and try to get by with less at the five.

This was not a stellar offensive night for the Americans, who shot 36 percent overall and were 7-of-30 (23 percent) from three. Especially when Kemba Walker sits, the USA struggles to generate consistent offense, although by the second half their ball movement had improved. The Greek defense did a good job collapsing on drivers and getting back to the paint in transition, and the USA did not make them pay with threes.

However, Gregg Popovich has wanted defense to be the USA’s calling card and on Saturday it was, holding the Greeks to 32 percent shooting and never letting Antetokounmpo really take over the game in a way he is capable. Greece was isolating Antetokounmpo on offense at points, trying to get him the ball in the post on others (Smart was among those shutting him down that way), but they don’t use him nearly as wisely as Mike Budenholzer’s Bucks (nor do they have the same shooting around him).

Kemba Walker had 15 points to lead Team USA, Donovan Mitchell added 10, and they were the only two players in double figures for the red, white, and blue. That doesn’t mean other guys didn’t contribute — Harrison Barnes had 9 points and 7 boards, Jaylen Brown had 8 points and 9 rebounds, and Myles Turner had 8 points and 7 rebounds plus got some defensive time on the Greek Freak.

Jayson Tatum did not play in this game. His sprained ankle will be re-evaluated before the Brazil game, but with advancement likely it would be a shock to see him play.

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

John Wall, Wizards ruin Rambis’ Knicks debut with 111-108 win

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NEW YORK (AP) — John Wall had 28 points and 17 assists, Bradley Beal scored 26, and the Washington Wizards beat New York 111-108 on Tuesday night in the Knicks’ first game under Kurt Rambis.

Wall made four free throws in the final 6.6 seconds and the Wizards held on when Langston Galloway‘s 3-pointer at the buzzer was just short.

Carmelo Anthony had 33 points and 13 rebounds, but the Knicks lost their sixth straight in their first game since firing Derek Fisher on Monday. They have dropped 10 of 11 and started Rambis’ era the same way Fisher’s ended, by quickly falling in a huge early hole.

Rookie Kristaps Porzingis scored 20 points, but just two after his 14-point third quarter.

Beal also took a charge against Arron Afflalo when a video replay overturned what had been ruled a blocking foul on a basket with 44 seconds left, a play that could have cut Washington’s lead to two.

Wall then kept the Wizards ahead with his free throws and they won for the third time in nine games. The All-Star made the go-ahead basket midway through the fourth, and later added a pair of jumpers before a 3-pointer that seemed to put it away at 106-96 with about 1:50 left.

The Knicks fired Fisher on Monday and appointed Rambis the interim coach through the remainder of the season. Drafted by the Knicks in the third round in 1980, Rambis said for the second straight day that it’s important for the Knicks to get into the playoffs, but that will take a huge turnaround after the All-Star break.

They allowed 63 first-half points, trying their most this season, after he said they had to toughen up their defense.

Porzingis hit a couple of 3-pointers early in the third, but his signature play came much closer to the basket, when he spun baseline around Jared Dudley and threw down a powerful dunk with Marcin Gortat nearby. That put a buzz in the building as only the rookie can and it stayed there as the Knicks caught up at 83-all to end the period.

But Porzingis was on the bench to start the fourth and the Wizards had just gone ahead for good before he returned.

TIP-INS

Wizards: Washington has won five straight at Madison Square Garden. … Guard Gary Neal missed the game with a sore right leg.

Knicks: Phil Jackson, during an interview with MSG Network, said the chances of a trade before next week’s deadline were “very slim” but that they would be looking. … Reserve forward Lance Thomas returned after missing two games because of a concussion. … F Thanasis Antetokounmpo rejoined Westchester of the NBA Development League after playing two games for the Knicks.