Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks cap first half vs. Grizzlies

NBA

The Milwaukee Bucks visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday in their last outing before the NBA All-Star break.

The Grizzlies have won three of their last four games, including a 125-111 win at Washington on Tuesday. Each of Memphis’ victories over the current stretch have been by double digits.

On Feb. 25, the Grizzlies routed the Los Angeles Clippers, 122-94, then on Feb. 28, decimated the Houston Rockets, 133-84.

A different scorer led Memphis in each of those games. Tyus Jones scored 20 points against the Clippers; Justise Winslow notched 20 points against Houston, in just his fourth game of the season back from a hip injury; and Ja Morant posted 35 points to go with 10 assists at Washington.

The Washington win further reflected the Grizzlies’ depth with De’Anthony Melton shooting 6-of-10 from 3-point range en route to 20 points.

Melton also helped limit Bradley Beal, the NBA’s leading scorer at nearly 33 points per game, to 23.

“It’s being disciplined,” Melton said of perimeter defense. “We just want to make it as difficult as possible for them (to score). … Not foul them, not give them easy points at the free-throw line. It also takes the team, though. No one player is going to go out there and lock them up.”

The defensive emphasis turns to the interior on Thursday against reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.1 points per game and shooting 63 percent from inside the 3-point line. With a yield of 53.8 percent on two-point field-goal attempts, Memphis ranks in the bottom third of the NBA.

Antetokounmpo scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting his last time out, but was one of only three Bucks to score in double figures in a 128-97 loss to Denver on Tuesday.

The blowout defeat snapped a five-game winning streak, which solidified Milwaukee in third place of the Eastern Conference after it endured a five-game losing streak before that stretch.

Khris Middleton scored 20 points on Tuesday. He shot 3-of-6 from 3-point range, a bright spot in an otherwise dismal, 11-of-40 shooting performance from beyond the arc against the Nuggets zone defense.

“We’ve got to shoot it better. We got to the rim; we got several dunks early. Then we missed a few shots, and then the zone kind of gave (Denver) momentum,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said in his postgame press conference.

Milwaukee’s poor 3-point shooting on Tuesday was a departure from its season-long performance. The Bucks rank near the top of the NBA at 39 percent from outside, paced by Middleton’s 43.6 percent.

Memphis is shooting 35.9 percent from 3-point range, but hit 44.8 percent at Washington despite the absences of Grayson Allen and Kyle Anderson. The duo, two of the Grizzlies’ best outside shooters on the year at 39 and 40.7 percent, were sidelined due to concussion protocol and an illness, respectively.

Milwaukee was without Jaylen Adams due to COVID-19 protocols on Tuesday, and Jordan Nwora due to ankle injury.

–Field Level Media

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