If handicapping a potential NBA Finals series before Christmas is your thing, you could do a lot worse than pegging your hopes on a Lakers-Bucks matchup. Vegas might agree with you.
We took a moment the other day to tell you about the remarkable start the Lakers have had. Now it’s time to heap similar praise on the Bucks, who have been even better.
And why not? Milwaukee, eliminated by the eventful champion Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals last season, rolled off a 12th straight win on Monday – bashing the hapless and hopeless Knicks, 132-88.
The Bucks now have the league’s best record (18-3), an interesting juxtaposition, you might say, to the once-mighty Warriors, who now have the worst after their 104-79 home loss to the Hawks Monday. Golden State is now 4-18.
But enough about the Warriors and their tale of woe. The Bucks are lighting up their city in a way it has not seen in almost 50 seasons.
“We’ve got to do our job. It starts with the coaching staff, it starts with the leader. We’re not coming here and thinking about the 12 games we won,” Giannis Antetokounmpo told the media after scoring 29 points in the Knicks rout. “We’re thinking about, ‘how can I do my job? how can I win tonight?’ And that’s the most important thing. We’ve got Detroit next. How can we win in Detroit? How can we go in there and play good basketball and win.
“What we did for 12 games, I know we’re playing great basketball, everybody’s having fun but that’s in the past. We’ve got to keep getting better, keep improving our game, keep improving as a team, because at the end of the day we try to translate everything we do right now at the end of the year. We’ve got to keep taking steps forward.”
Prior to Thanksgiving, Antetokounmpo scored 50 points with 14 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 122-118 win over the Jazz. He became the only player in NBA history – other than Michael Jordan – to score at least 50 with 10 rebounds and five assists in a game without a turnover.
We have a favorite for NBA MVP. The Greek Freak, indeed.
“That’s just … it was incredible,” Bucks guard Wesley Matthews said that night. “And no turnovers. I think that might even be more incredible with as much as he attacks the basket in those crowds to step around and not get charges and take care of the ball.
“He’s a hell of a player. Glad he’s on my team.”
The Bucks are three wins ahead of last year’s pace after 21 games. But in a historical sense, 18-3 is their best start in history, better than the great teams in 1970-71 and 1971-72 that featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“I’m really happy to see the Milwaukee franchise doing well and contending,” Abdul-Jabbar recently told ESPN. “It’s a whole lot of fans here that have really been starving for a dominant team and it seems like they’ve got one now, and I hope they put all the pieces together this year and do a little bit better.”
The 12-game winning streak is the first for the organization since the 1982-83 season. According to the NBA, the Bucks became just the fifth team in history to win consecutive games by more than 40. On Saturday, the Bucks routed the Hornets by 41. Nine players scored in double figures – the third time that has happened, but the first since 1985.
The Bucks won 15 of 16 games in November, recording the league’s second-best offensive and defensive ratings. The Bucks hadn’t done anything like that in 48 years. The 1970-71 Bucks, with Abdul-Jabbar, went 31-4 in January and February on the way to their NBA Championship.
According to The Athletic, Antetokounmpo’s stat line for November was 32.7 points. 13.3 rebounds. 5.4 assists per game. Only Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor have had seasons averaging at least 30 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Antetokounmpo is not the only player off to blazing starts. George Hill is surpassing his from last season. Hill came into the Knicks game shooting over 50 percent from three-point range.
And when Khris Middleton was injured early in November, Donte DiVincenzo, the 17th pick of the 2018 draft from Villanova, stepped up to fill the role, starting the last 10 games of the month and making contributions on both ends.
“Fifteen wins in the month of November, that’s amazing,” Antetokounmpo said. “Even the one we lost, I’m still pissed about it, in Utah. … When we lose, it hurts. Obviously, you gotta keep your composure. You don’t get high when you win or low when you lose, but whenever we lose, I know that nobody likes it in this locker room.”