Giannis Antetokounmpo’s lowest-scoring output of the season didn’t hamper the Milwaukee Bucks.
But Milwaukee certainly hopes its star attraction is back on track when it visits the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday.
Antetokounmpo tallied just 13 points and took only nine shots (making four) during Friday’s 127-106 road victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer downplayed Antetokounmpo’s recent back soreness as a reason for the off night, instead focusing on the way forward Khris Middleton and point guard Eric Bledsoe took over.
Middleton recorded 27 points and 11 rebounds and Bledsoe scored 17 of his 24 points in the first half as Milwaukee didn’t skip a beat.
“It’s big-time. Those two guys were phenomenal,” Budenholzer said afterward. “I think Giannis has a lot of faith and a lot confidence in his teammates but it is good for those guys to come through on a night like tonight.”
Antetokounmpo did collect 10 rebounds for his 33rd double-double of the season, but the reigning MVP has shot below 50 percent on each of the first three stops of a four-game road trip. He is 24 of 52 on the trip while making just 2 of 14 from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, Middleton made 9 of 12 field-goal attempts and Bledsoe hit 10 of 17 on Friday. Middleton may have had the higher point total but he insisted Bledsoe fueled the victory.
“He played aggressive, which is what we need him to do,” Middleton said during a postgame television interview. “He is head of the snake for us, so as long as he is playing well, it makes it a lot easier for the rest of us.”
The victory also allowed Milwaukee (34-6) to post the best 40-game start in franchise history. The 1970-71 team led by Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar started 33-7.
Also, the Bucks reached the 100-point mark for the 64th straight time, the longest streak since the Dallas Mavericks had a 67-game run from Jan. 15-Dec. 10, 1986.
Milwaukee has won eight of the last 10 meetings with Portland, including a 137-129 home victory on Nov. 21. Bledsoe scored 30 points while Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum poured in a season-best 37.
The Trail Blazers are experiencing a dismal stretch in which they have lost seven of their past nine games.
Portland just completed a 2-3 road trip with a 116-102 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday as effort and shooting were problem areas.
Portland outplayed the Timberwolves in the first quarter before being outscored 72-40 during the middle two stanzas. The Trail Blazers shot just 36.5 percent in the humbling setback.
“That edge and that energy just wasn’t there,” star guard Damian Lillard said afterward. “After a solid first quarter, you think that you are going to carry it over to the second and we just didn’t. It just turned into a rough night and we just didn’t have it.”
Lillard scored 20 points but was just 6-for-17 shooting. Forward Carmelo Anthony (eight points on 3-for-10 shooting) and guard Kent Bazemore (two points, 0-for-8) also endured rough shooting performances.
Center Hassan Whiteside recorded 15 points and 14 rebounds despite being bothered by a upper respiratory illness, and he is a game-time decision on Saturday.
Whiteside has registered seven straight double-doubles and not having him would be a blow for Portland.
“We’re capable of finding ways to rebound the ball. The thing is, it has to be from every position,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told reporters. “You got to do it by committee, and when Hassan is out there, obviously, he can get a lot of them, but when he’s not, it has got to be a team thing.”
–Field Level Media