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Bucks roll past Pistons 121-86 in series opener

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points and 17 rebounds in just 24 minutes, and the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks showed they were serious about making a playoff run with a 121-86 rout of the Detroit Pistons in Game 1 on Sunday night.

The MVP candidate ran and dunked all over the Pistons, who only really caught him when center Andre Drummond shoved him to the ground with both hands late in the third quarter after Antetokounmpo grabbed an offensive rebound with Detroit trailing by 41 points.

Drummond was given a flagrant 2 foul and ejected. He threw a kiss to the Fiserv Forum crowd as he was escorted off the court.

Antetokounmpo struggled at the foul line, making only 5 of 12 attempts, but was 9 for 17 from the field and 1 of 5 from 3-point range.

Seven Bucks players scored in double figures. Eric Bledsoe had 15 points, and Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton each added 14. George Hill scored 16 points off the bench.

Luke Kennard paced the Pistons with 21 points off the bench and Drummond had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Reggie Jackson also had 12 points. Detroit played without forward Blake Griffin, who sat out with a left knee injury.

Detroit shot 38% from the field, converting 35 of 92 attempts.

The Bucks rolled to a 27-point lead in the first half, taking a 70-43 margin at halftime. Antetokounmpo had 14 points and 10 rebounds while Lopez added 14 points and Hill contributed 13.

Detroit shot 34% in the half (18 of 53) and made just 3 of 14 3-point attempts.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey said his team made a big step forward in qualifying for the playoffs but vowed to fight against the heavily favored Bucks.

“We’re not in the class of where Milwaukee is with their program right now,” Casey said. “They were not two or three years ago.

“I remember coming here a couple years ago (with Toronto) and playing against them. They were getting started, building what they’ve got now. Their patience has paid off. It’s a great experience for us to come in and play against a great team like Milwaukee.”

TIP-INS

Detroit: Casey said Griffin was “day-to-day but too sore to go” in Game 1. The Pistons forward averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 75 games in his first full season with the Pistons. … Griffin was called for a technical for protesting Drummond’s ejection . Former Bucks forward Thon Maker faced his former team and started in Griffin’s place. He avoided a flagrant foul when he brought Antetokounmpo to the floor in the second quarter. Maker came to Detroit in the three-team trade in February that brought Nikola Mirotic to the Bucks from New Orleans. He had four points and four rebounds in 22 minutes and was booed heavily by the home crowd. “You don’t have to say giddy-up to Thon Maker,” Casey said. “He wakes up in the morning ready to go.” . Former Bucks assistants Sean Sweeney and Tim Grgurich are on the Pistons’ staff. . Detroit entered with a 14-3 playoff record against Milwaukee, winning all four series.

Milwaukee: Mirotic was available and played 15 minutes while scoring four points. “He’s just getting back in conditioning and health and everything like that,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. Mirotic had missed the last 11 regular-season games after fracturing his left thumb on March 19 against the Los Angeles Lakers. . The Bucks’ 70 points were the second-most in a first half in franchise history. They scored 77 in March 1970. . Budenholzer said he was concerned about the rebounding battle and going against league-leading rebounder Drummond (15.6 per game). “It’s going to take our whole group to make sure we’re taking care of the defensive boards. It’s not the big guys’ job or the center; we have to do it collectively,” Budenholzer said. The Bucks had a 54-46 rebounding advantage.

UP NEXT

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Milwaukee.

Luke Kennard flips on-the-run, over-the-shoulder alley-oop pass to Thon Maker (video)

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The Pistons haven’t sought much playmaking from Luke Kennard, who showed potential in that area at Duke.

But Kennard delivered this sweet pass to Thon Maker in Detroit’s win over the Raptors yesterday.

Report: Wayne Ellington signing with Pistons

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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The Pistons just traded their best wing (Reggie Bullock) and another rotation wing (Stanley Johnson). And Detroit was already thin at the position.

Yet, the ninth-place Pistons – 1.5 games out of postseason position – also insist they’re still trying to make the playoffs.

Wayne Ellington will make that more feasible.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Like with Wesley Matthews choosing the Pacers, this is another surprising post-buyout decision. Both wings were likely pursued by better teams.

The sharp-shooting Ellington will likely start in Detroit, though it’s possible Luke Kennard or Bruce Brown starts and gets partnered with a bigger wing than Ellington. Either way, Ellington is primed for a bigger role than he had with the Heat. That’s clearly part of the reason he approved a trade from Miami/buyout from the Suns.

The Pistons have $2,889,072 of their mid-level exception remaining, but they’re also just $2,634,613 below the luxury-tax line. I’d be shocked if they go into the tax for Ellington. Still, Detroit can beat the pro-rated minimum Ellington could get from most other interested teams today ($762,306).

This signing casts the Pistons’ pre-deadline moves in a better light. Detroit got a younger players in Thon Maker and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk plus a second-round pick. Though the immediate downgrade on the wing stands, Ellington softens the blow.

Five big takeaways from NBA trade deadline

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So much for a quiet trade deadline — from when New York surprised Knicks’ fans by trading their favorite player, through the end of the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, there were more than 20 NBA trades.

A few that shifted the landscape, a lot that were more about the salary cap or setting things up for the future. And the biggest trade of all did not happen.

Here are the five big takeaways from the NBA trade deadline.

1) Anthony Davis is still a Pelican, now Boston gets into the mix and this saga will drag out into the offseason. Rich Paul’s gambit failed. He told the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis would not re-sign with the team — which wasn’t surprising news to the New Orleans front office — and then demanded a trade. Then leaked that trade news to the press (and got Davis fined for it). Everything was orchestrated to get Davis to the Lakers to team up with LeBron James (another Paul client). The Lakers were all-in on the idea and put everything they could into an offer – Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, first-round picks and more were all on the table — to the point it has led to team chemistry issues.

And the Pelicans didn’t want to play. They listened to the Lakers, but never seriously engaged. Part of the reason for that, according to sources, is that people high up the food chain in the New Orleans organization didn’t want to be pressured into making a trade on someone else’s terms, to just blindly trade Davis where he wanted to go. They wanted some control over the process.

The other main reason for the delay is the Pelicans wanted Boston to get involved. While trades in the last few days weakened a couple of Boston’s potential first-round picks — the Clippers now will likely fall out of the playoffs and keep their pick; Sacramento got better so that pick gets a little worse — the future Memphis pick looks even better as the Grizzlies start their rebuild. Plus, if Jayson Tatum is in the mix, the Pelicans want him — almost every team/scout I have spoken to has him rated much higher than any of the young Lakers.

Add to all that Pelicans want to see how the draft lottery shakes out — if the Knicks get the No. 1 pick things get interesting. They want to see if a surprise team — maybe the Clippers now? — get in on the bidding. They want to wait.

This will get resolved by early July at the latest. But for now, Anthony Davis is a Pelican and the Lakers are worse for it.

2) There was an arms race at the top of the Eastern Conference and the East playoffs are going to be insane. Starting with the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, it could be a bloodbath. As happened in the West for many years (but not this one, at least not at the top), there was an arms race among the top teams.

It started when the Sixers traded for Tobias Harris from the Clippers — Philly now has the second-best starting five in the NBA. At least on paper. Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid can match up with anyone. The team needs to add depth, and the Sixers stars need to show they are willing to sacrifice points/touches for the betterment of the team, but the Sixers just got demonstrably better.

That woke up the other teams in the East.

Milwaukee responded by trading for Nikola Mirotic, the sharpshooting big man who will be a great fit with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Mirotic will thrive the same way Brook Lopez has in coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. Remember how much Mirotic looked good playing next to Anthony Davis in the Pelicans’ playoff run last season? Now the Bucks add that to the team with the best record in the NBA already.

The Raptors topped that with the addition of Marc Gasol in a trade from the Memphis Grizzlies. He provides floor spacing shooting, strong rebounding, fantastic passing, and just a high IQ game that Nick Nurse can use to great effect. Gasol is versatile and gives Toronto more ways to matchup in the postseason.

All of those teams got better, and the team we haven’t mentioned Boson — they have won 9-of-10 and have looked like the East favorite we expected of late. (And they got what they wanted at the deadline with Davis not getting traded.) Boston could still come out of the East.

The playoffs cannot get here fast enough.

3) The Clippers, Knicks, and Mavericks set themselves up to be big-time players this July. While a few teams went all in on right now, a few teams made some shrewd moves thinking about July.

The Clippers are at the top of that list. Los Angeles made the calculation that they could fight for the eight seed in the West, win it, lose their first-round pick this year (to Boston, lottery protected) and get smacked around by the Warriors in the first round. Or, they could trade Tobias Harris, takes some steps back out of the playoffs, keep their pick, get a haul of draft picks from Philadelphia in the deal — including a much coveted Miami 2021 unprotected first rounder — and clear out one max cap slot, plus set themselves up to have two (if they can trade Danilo Gallinari after the season). The Clippers have been all but stalking Kawhi Leonard and are in the mix for him this summer, Los Angeles has the assets to tempt teams with a big trade (Davis?), and they can chase a second free agent. This is a team poised to make a move.

The Knicks are right there with the Clippers in bold free agent planning — and what they did created a lot of buzz around the NBA. By trading Kristaps Porzingins and the nearly dead money contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, the Knicks now have two max cap slots open next July (plus the Knicks picked up picks in the trade). Do they know something about Kevin Durant? KD hates that speculation, but it is all over the NBA (not the media, I mean front office types), as is the idea Kyrie Irving will follow him. The playoffs can change a lot of plans, but the Knicks seem confident.

Dallas did more than just add Kristaps Porzingis to Luka Doncic this deadline — although that in-and-of-itself was a bold move that could give the franchise two cornerstone pieces for a decade (if Porzingis can come back from his ACL injury to full unicorn status). However, moving Harrison Barnes to Sacramento also freed up cap space, and the Mavericks could have nearly $30 million of it next summer. Want to come play with Porzingis and Doncic? Dallas is setting itself up to be very good soon, if things break their way.

4) The race for the eight seed in the West is going to be fun. As of the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Clippers are the eighth seed in the West and with that own the final playoff spot. (The Spurs and Jazz hold down the six and seven seeds, but neither of them looks like they are going to fade away.)

As noted above, the Clippers traded their best player and have made a conscious effort not to chase the eight seed hard (not that they will admit that). It opens the door.

The Sacramento Kings are trying to barge through it. The team with the longest playoff drought in the NBA (12 years) is a surprising 28-26, just 1.5 games back of the Clippers. They traded for Harrison Barnes to give them the big wing/four they have needed in the rotation, a guy who can be a shot creator (mostly for himself) and get buckets in addition to De’Aaron Fox. While it’s fair to question the long-term ramifications of this move for the Kings, but in the short term Sacramento got better and they want that spot.

Just behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers. They were a playoff team in the East before LeBron James injured his groin, the conventional wisdom has been they would return to that form and own the spot. But Lonzo Ball is injured, and the Anthony Davis drama took its toll on the Lakers’ psyche, and it showed when they got blown out by 42 in Indiana. The Lakers are on the road (the Grammys forced them out of Staples Center) and are in the toughest stretch of their season. If the Lakers stumble a little, can they still catch the Kings?

This race got fun.

5) Markelle Fultz is getting a fresh start. Could Carmelo Anthony get one, too? The trade deadline saw a few players who wanted or needed a change of scenery getting one. Thon Maker wanted out of Milwaukee, now he gets a chance to come off the bench in Detroit. Stanley Johnson is out of Detroit and is now in New Orleans getting a chance, and Marquese Chriss will get some run and opportunity in Cleveland.

Nobody needed a fresh start more than Markelle Fultz, however. And he got it, the former No. 1 pick is now a member of the Orlando Magic.

Fultz was drafted with a lot of fanfare and a lot of pressure to be the third part of a “big three” in Philly with Embiid and Simmons, but after a short but decent Summer League, Fultz showed up at training camp with a new shooting form that was a disaster. Whether it was due to injury or trainers or alien abduction, it was a mess. Fultz missed most of the season getting injury treatment, spent the off-season working with a shot doctor, and by the end his confidence was clearly shot. He was in his own head. Then Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and spent most of this season in rehab.

Orlando traded Fultz for Jonathan Simmons, a top-20 protected first-round pick (via Oklahoma City) and a second-round pick (via Cleveland). The trade raised a lot of eyebrows around the league because it was more than most thought they would get.

Orlando is a perfect spot for Fultz — not a big market, not as bright a spotlight, less pressure, and some other young stars he can grow with. Orlando has a lot of player development to do, but they have potential on that roster. We’ll find out what Fultz really has.

One other guy to watch: Carmelo Anthony.

The Lakers made a two-for-one trade sending Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac down the hall at Staples Center to the Clippers for Mike Muscala — who can help the Lakers as a pick-and-pop big who will stretch the floor. But that’s not why everyone is talking.

That move opened up a roster spot on the Lakers, LeBron has said he wants Anthony on his team, and the Lakers have said the thing holding them back was a lack of a roster spot. Now they have one. Word is the Lakers are going to check out the full buyout market and see if they can land someone who can help them get to the playoffs, but don’t be shocked if that slot ends up going to Anthony. Which would send Lakers’ nation into a frenzy.

Report: Bucks trading for Pelicans’ Nikola Mirotic

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The Pelicans are in turmoil with Anthony Davis asking out.

The Bucks want to avoid that situation with Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So, Milwaukee is vulturing the wreckage in New Orleans for Nikola Mirotic. To do so, the Bucks will turn their not-yet-official Thon MakerStanley Johnson trade with the Pistons into a three-way deal involving the Pelicans.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

The team with the NBA’s best record and best net rating just improved. Mirotic is a high-quality stretch four. His outside shooting and defensive competitiveness will fit Milwaukee perfectly. Essentially, the Bucks upgraded on Ersan Ilyasova, who was their top free agent last offseason but has underwhelmed.

Mirotic is on an expiring contract, and New Orleans was unlikely to get much value from him the rest of this season or retain him. Four second-rounders are a nice haul and will help into a post-Davis future.

Mirotic’s impending free agency will soon become the Bucks’ problem. They already have four starters – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon – heading into free agency. Keeping all four could be difficult, and re-signing Mirotic now adds another challenge. On the other hand, Milwaukee gains leverage in negotiations if it tries to keep four of the five. Previously, that would have been four of four, giving the players an upper hand.

Stanley Johnson and Jason Smith, also on expiring contracts, were likely included primarily for salary-matching. At least Johnson is a decent flier. The Pelicans can make him restricted this offseason.

Thon Maker is still headed to Detroit.