So many factors could have knocked the Milwaukee Bucks from the ranks of the undefeated at Fiserv Forum on Saturday.
They were playing the second game of a back-to-back set. They could have overlooked the rebuilding Orlando Magic because of a looming matchup with the unbeaten Toronto Raptors on Monday.
And, scariest of all for Bucks fans, superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo missed a large chunk of the game after taking an elbow to the head from the Magic’s Aaron Gordon in the first quarter.
Nonetheless, the Bucks kept on with their winning ways and cruised to a 113-91 victory over the Magic.
Milwaukee improved to 6-0, its best start to a season since the 1971-’72 team won its first seven games.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 113, Magic 91
That sets up an early heavyweight battle in the Eastern Conference with the 6-0 Raptors coming to Fiserv Forum on Monday.
The Bucks will hope they have a healthy Antetokounmpo, who was hit by Gordon’s elbow under the basket just a few minutes into the game. He kept playing after a timeout but then later exited the game and went back to the team’s training room. He soon made his way back into the game.
“I just got hit in the head,” Antetokounmpo said. “I tried to block the shot, I fell down. I don’t remember much after that, but I’ve got to be careful with that because I could have a concussion and stuff.
“We did some tests in the second quarter and then I did some tests in the third quarter. It was just a hit in the head.”
Antetokounmpo went on to say that “I was probably blacked out. Because I don’t remember. I just remember the hit. But I’m fine. I tried to return, I’m a warrior.”
He managed to play 16 minutes 6 seconds in the first half, scoring 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He also grabbed five rebounds.
But he did not play in the third quarter while he was being tested by the Bucks’ training staff.
“I think we just wanted to be extra cautious,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Make sure everything was OK and kind of give him an extra look. Everything is good.”
The collective fears of the Bucks fans at Fiserv Forum were eased after Antetokounmpo headed to the scorer’s table early in the fourth quarter. He almost immediately scored on a hard drive to the basket.
He scored six points before checking out of the game when the Bucks cleared the bench with under six minutes remaining.
The Bucks, however, did just fine without their MVP candidate. They outscored the Magic, 28-17, in the third quarter.
“(We’re) a complete team,” said guard Khris Middleton, who scored 18 points. “Giannis is one of the great players in this league. But we still have a great team.
“Guys stepped up. (Ersan Ilyasova) came in, gave us great minutes.”
Malcolm Brogdon (16) and Brook Lopez (11) also scored in double figures for a balanced Bucks effort. Ilyasova had just two points but added a team-high 10 rebounds and handed out six assists.
The Bucks also got a big lift from rookie guard Donte DiVincenzo.
The 17th overall draft pick out of Villanova scored a career-high 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting. He was coming off his previous best effort, scoring nine points against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
“I’m starting to feel a little better out there,” DiVincenzo said. “I’m more confident offensively. Defensively is where I pride myself, so as long as I am doing it on that end, I’m fine with the results on the offensive end.”
Budenholzer was pleased with his team’s defensive effort. The Magic shot just 33 of 101 (32.7 percent).
“I think the defense stood out tonight, particularly in the third quarter,” Budenholzer said. “With Giannis not able to start the third quarter, (it was big) for us to put together a defensive quarter with the guys out there with good activity, good hands, getting deflections, getting hands on balls.
“It felt like we created turnovers. I thought the defense was good and I’m proud of that.”
NO REST: The Bucks were playing the second game of their first set of back-to-back contests this season. They shot 41 of 82 (50 percent) against the Magic after going 49 of 92 in a 125-95 victory over the Timberwolves in Minneapolis on Friday night.
Milwaukee has 13 sets of back-to-back games this season, which is the league average.
BOMBS AWAY: Many NBA observers have been amazed by the Bucks’ uptick in three-point attempts this season under Budenholzer.
The Bucks entered the game against Orlando first in the league in threes made (16.0) and attempted per game (41.8).
Milwaukee shot 10 of 30 from beyond the arc against the Magic.
The Bucks have made 90 three-pointers through six games. They sank 51 threes in the first six games last season.
PAT GETS PT: Budenholzer lengthened his playing rotation for the back-to-back games.
Shooting guard Pat Connaughton, who signed with the Bucks in the off-season, played 19 minutes against the Magic after playing 17 against the Timberwolves.
His only previous playing time this season was four minutes at the end of a 118-101 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 19.