The Milwaukee Bucks have gotten some of their mojo back.
After trading wins and losses for more than two weeks, the Bucks scored back-to-back victories, first knocking off the East-leading Toronto Raptors on the road Sunday before coming home and taking care of business against the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.
The successive wins make the Bucks 3-1 in their four games over the past week, including a lopsided victory over the Detroit Pistons and the lone loss coming to the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Stringing together this solid stretch wasn’t the result of standout individual performances. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has played well during these games – with the exception of Monday when he sat due to neck soreness – but he hasn’t been the sole actor in getting the Bucks off the win-loss roller coaster.
Rather, the Bucks have reinvested in the team aspect of the game, with numerous players stepping up and everyone keeping the ball moving offensively.
Eric Bledsoe has put together efficient scoring nights, Khris Middleton has risen to the challenge of guarding players like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Brogdon has picked his spots well, Brook Lopez has knocked down shots, Sterling Brown has been hungry off the bench and earned extra minutes and, of course, Antetokounmpo has been the linchpin in everything, steadying the team on both ends while finding opportunities for himself and others.
“Our confidence is growing in ourselves and then it’s growing in each other and the team as a whole and in Coach Bud, especially when you can go up to Toronto and win a game like that,” Brogdon said. “The confidence is only going to grow.”
Heading into a three-game trip against Central Division foes that begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Bucks are hoping to do more than just alternate wins and losses. They want to keep the ball rolling as they face the Pacers, Cavaliers and Pistons – teams they’ve already beaten once at home – for the second time this season.
They should get Antetokounmpo back for Wednesday’s game against the Pacers – winners of four in a row – and will have their first chance to do on-court work with their new acquisitions, George Hill and Jason Smith, at Wednesday’s shoot-around.
“Momentum is everything in this league,” Brogdon said. “For us, we know we’ve got a target on our back and we know we’ve got to go out and perform every night.”
Same faces, new places
John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova, traded by the Bucks on Friday, returned to Fiserv Forum on Monday. Instead of walking all the way down the hall to the Bucks locker room, they made an early turn into the visiting locker room with their new Cavaliers teammates.
“It’s obviously strange,” said Dellavedova, who had a season-high 11 points in the loss. “It’s been a pretty busy three days, but I was just happy to get out there on the court and play with these guys. … The visitor’s locker room is nice here, so they’ve done a good job.”
Friday’s trade didn’t come as a major surprise for either player, though Dellavedova had a slightly longer wait to figure out where he was going. His call with Bucks general manager Jon Horst cut out after Horst told him he’d been traded. It felt like 10 minutes but was more like one or two, Dellavedova said, before he found out he was going back to Cleveland.
For Henson, the Bucks are all he’s known since joining the NBA in 2012. He’s seen the low points and the rebuilding years, but leaves with no hard feelings as he goes from a team near the top of the standings to another rebuilding situation. With four Bucks starters either up for free agency next summer or likely to become free agents, he knew the organization would have to make some moves.
“I think you’d have to be kind of naïve not to see kind of the writing on the wall in the sense of the cap situation and all the free agents coming up and Giannis. You’ve got to make room for those guys and that’s just part of the NBA,” said Henson, noting he knew what was up when he saw Horst’s name on his phone Friday. “They’re playing well, so you want to keep that core intact and that’s what they’re going to do.”
Back in action
D.J. Wilson’s coaches and teammates all felt he had a strong summer following his rookie season last year. He was excited and ready to make more of an impact.
Then he suffered a right hamstring strain during the preseason, briefly was removed from the injury report, then landed back on it for the beginning of the season. He missed the team’s first 22 games while rehabbing that injury, which included playing four games for the G League’s Wisconsin Herd. In those games, he averaged 11.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game while shooting 59.4 percent overall and 42.9 percent on three-pointers.
Over the past week, Wilson has gotten the opportunity to finally get on the court and has performed well. In mop-up minutes against the Pistons he made a pair of three-pointers and got serenaded with enthusiastic MVP chants while shooting free throws. Then on Monday, Wilson was a regular part of the rotation, scoring seven points on 3-of-4 shooting in 13 minutes, including banking in a three-pointer and throwing down an alley-oop.
“It’s just great for him to be healthy and be able to put him into a game,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s going to kind of work through, like it’s a preseason game, just trying to figure out his rhythm and everything. Just to see him out there and healthy was great.”
Wilson said getting back on the court in an NBA game is everything he dreamed of this past summer while honing his individual skills and then while recovering from his injury. He knows the work will need to continue if he wants to get more game action, but he feels confident knowing he fits Budenholzer’s system and the organization believes in him, having elected to pick up his option for next season.
“I feel like they know what I’m capable of and what I can bring to the table when healthy and when given the opportunity,” said Wilson, who was the 17th overall pick in the 2017 draft.