Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez star in Bucks’ win over Magic
With Giannis Antetokounmpo (non-COVID illness) and Jrue Holiday (neck soreness) scratched from the lineup Tuesday afternoon, the Bucks will need the rest of the roster to step up against the Orlando Magic.
Finding the extra production didn’t end up being a problem as six different Bucks put together double-digit scoring performances, including three 20-point performances from Jevon Carter, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton, in a 134-123 win over the Magic. Carter was spectacular with 24 points (4 of 5 3-point shooting) and five assists to lead the night, but Lopez and Middleton stole the show in Orlando.
Let’s take a closer look at their performances.
Middleton looks like herself again
Since returning on Jan. 23 after missing 18 straight games with right knee soreness, Middleton’s minutes have been limited.
Before Tuesday’s game, he had appeared in 14 of the Bucks’ 18 games since Jan. 23, missing the second of the Bucks’ three back-to-back games, as well as the Bucks’ final game before the All-Star Break . In those 14 games, Middleton never played more than 27 minutes and played less than 20 minutes in seven of them, all coming off the bench.
With Antetokounmpo and Holiday out, Middleton entered the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 15, the final game of his first comeback of the season. He looked a lot like the three-time All-Star he was before missing half of this season with injuries. Middleton finished the night with 24 points, four rebounds and 11 assists in 30 minutes.
To start the game, the Bucks relied on Middleton’s ability to make plays for himself and others, and he quickly rewarded Mike Budenholzer’s decision.
Middleton assisted on three of the Bucks’ first four buckets, including this beauty for Lopez. The veteran Bucks forward came off a double screen by Lopez and Bobby Portis and perfectly read Lopez’s mistake by throwing a puck over the two Magic defenders who had been giving Middleton all of their attention.
After getting his teammates out, Middleton scored seven quick points on 3-for-3 shooting.
As he has done so often during his time in Milwaukee, Middleton manipulated his defender perfectly by catching them bending out of position for a second and creating space for himself. Just look at the intricacy of Middleton’s dribbling moves in the play above.
Middleton started a drive to his right before pushing the ball behind just as Franz Wagner tried to fight over Lopez’s screen. With Franz Wagner out of the game, Middleton focused on older brother Wagner and quickly took advantage of Mo moving back in coverage with a step-by-step move to give himself five feet of room to grab a quick jumper from the middle.
After scoring seven points and tallying three assists and two rebounds in his first seven-minute period, Middleton continued to pick apart the Magic defense with his playmaking and craftiness as a scorer. The 11-year veteran forward pulled out all his tricks Tuesday and committed six fouls on Magic defenders, which allowed him to hit 13 of 14 at the free throw line.
There may still be obstacles for Middleton. He could miss more games as the Bucks finish the regular season. But his first start in this comeback felt like an overwhelming success.
Lopez looks to score
Much of the attention Lopez has received this season has focused on his contributions on the defensive end. While that attention is deserved, it has kept people from discussing all that Lopez does for the Bucks offensively.
As covered earlier in the season in The Athletic, Lopez spent the offseason reworking his jump shot, and it has resulted in the best 3-point shooting season of his career with the Bucks big man who knocked down 38.3 percent from 3 on 4.9 attempts. for the game.
However, on Tuesday, with Antetokounmpo off the floor, Lopez showed his versatility. Instead of taking 3s on the perimeter, Lopez focused on dominating the paint, but he didn’t do it as “Brooklyn Brook,” the alter ego that Bucks teammates say looks like Lopez’s dominant presence in the post. formerly with the Nets. Instead, Lopez did his best to set screens and serve as a runner for Middleton.
After the Bucks tore apart the Magic’s defense in the first quarter, Magic coach Jamahl Mosley switched to a zone defense, which gave the Bucks trouble initially before Middleton and Lopez teamed up again. With a skillful pass to Middleton, Lopez quickly found the soft spots in the area.
Before the Magic could really settle down on the defensive end, Middleton threw a gorgeous one-handed jumper pass into the middle of the defense and Lopez finished through Bol Bol waiting for him at the rim.
Two possessions later, Middleton managed to draw the attention of multiple defenders before lofting an alley-oop to Lopez over the top of Bol.
While the stage wasn’t as big and the game wasn’t as important, Lopez’s run and finish looked like his performance in Game 5 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, when the Bucks played without Antetokounmpo for the first time in their championship run. run and Lopez scored a career playoff high 33 points.
When Antetokounmpo is active, he is the Bucks’ threat. When he’s on the bench, Lopez fills that role and showed once again that he’s more than capable of wreaking havoc around the rim, even if he does it a little differently than the Greek Freak.
(Photo of Brook Lopez: Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)