The Milwaukee Bucks are playing their best basketball of the season, but the spotlight that hovers over the team hasn’t been as bright as the past few seasons.
That doesn’t bother two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo as his team goes for their 12th win in 13 games when they host the Indiana Pacers on Monday night, live on Sky Sports.
Milwaukee have won a season-high six straight games and are one of the hottest teams in the league.
But the team was just three games over .500 four-plus weeks ago. That slowed the national hype over the Bucks being the favourites to win the Eastern Conference.
Antetokounmpo sees it this way: The less chatter, the better.
“We don’t play for people to talk about us,” Antetokounmpo said after Saturday night’s 120-113 home win over the San Antonio Spurs.
“I kind of like it. I just want to be left alone. I never liked bright lights. I never liked people talking about us. It just adds pressure to me and my team-mates to come in and do what we do.
“I kind of like to be under the radar and we just come in, enjoy one another, enjoy playing basketball and we’re just getting the job done. But, yeah, there’s gonna be times they’re gonna talk about us, there’s gonna be times they’re not gonna talk about us, but personally, as I said, I just like being under the radar.”
Live NBA: Indiana @ Milwaukee 22.03
Tuesday 23rd March 1:00am
There was no way to avoid discussing Antetokounmpo after his performance against the Spurs. He matched his career-best of 15 assists and has reached double digits in that category in four of the past five games. He also had 26 points and eight rebounds.
Khris Middleton added 23 points and Jrue Holiday had 21. Newcomer PJ Tucker also made his Milwaukee debut and had three rebounds in 13 minutes.
“You can see the intensity,” Middleton said of Tucker, acquired from the Houston Rockets. “He’s going to be a great fit for us.”
The Bucks are looking to defeat the Pacers for the seventh time in the past eight meetings. However, they will have to do so without their star forward after announcing that Antetokounmpo will miss the fixture due to a left knee sprain. This will be only the second game he has sat out during the season.
Milwaukee made 21 three-pointers in a 130-110 home win over Indiana on February 3. Antetokounmpo had 21 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for one of his seven triple-doubles on the season.
Pacers star Domantas Sabonis had 33 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in that match-up.
Sabonis had team-highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds on Sunday when Indiana notched a 109-106 overtime win over the host Miami Heat.
Justin Holiday scored 15 points and made the two biggest shots for the Pacers.
Miami led by five in overtime before Holiday hit back-to-back three-pointers to put Indiana ahead for good.
“The first one that I shot – if you look back and watch it – I was able to run into it and know that nobody was there,” said Holiday, the older brother of Milwaukee’s Jrue.
“So, it was like the most rhythm I could have to go into a shot, and the momentum I needed. I knew that one was going down. And then, after that, the next shot I was shooting was going down.”
A pleasing sight to Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren was the balance.
Seven players scored at least 12 points as Indiana prevailed despite shooting just 38.8 per cent from the field.
“As I look at this box score, there were seven guys between 12 and 17 points,” Bjorkgren said. “That’s our guys sharing the basketball. They’re doing that very nicely. If we’re not open, we’re passing it to the open man. And you’ll get some final stats that look like that.”
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