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Despite losing skid, Bucks have ‘belief’ in what they have and what they can do



Despite losing skid, Bucks have ‘belief’ in what they have and what they can do

MILWAUKEE — Greater than an hour after the Milwaukee Bucks misplaced their fourth straight sport, a dispiriting 122-109 defeat to the New York Knicks on Sunday through which they had been outscored 72-48 within the second half, Giannis Antetokounmpo sat alone at his locker in a quiet, near-empty locker room in Fiserv Discussion board considering the Bucks’ slide.

Most nights, Antetokounmpo tends to be one of many final gamers out of the locker room as Pat Connaughton will probably be preparing a couple of lockers away or Giannis’ brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, will probably be chatting with him in Greek. On Sunday, Giannis and Thanasis had been the final two gamers out. There was little dialog between them.

When Giannis Antetokounmpo finally spoke with the media, he addressed the Bucks’ spirit amid their struggles. Whereas answering a query about his group being unable to seek out and play with pleasure of their latest play, he discovered himself asking, and performing out, a collection of rhetorical questions.

“When was the final time Malik did…” Antetokounmpo requested earlier than performing out teammate Malik Beasley’s trademark 3-point shimmy celebration.

“When was the final time Pat hit a 3 and did…” Antetokounmpo requested earlier than signaling a 3 and wiping it throughout his chest as Connaughton does after hitting an enormous shot from deep.

“When was the final time Jae hit a 3, went again and he swags again like…” Antetokounmpo requested as he pretended to backpedal down the ground like Jae Crowder.

“When was the final time I dunked on someone and went ‘Ahhhhhh!,’” Antetokounmpo requested as he pretended to yell at an imaginary, sold-out dwelling crowd after an enormous dunk.

“It’s virtually like we’re going by means of the motions,” Antetokounmpo stated. “We gotta discover our pleasure again.”

Pleasure has been troublesome for the Bucks to return by not too long ago, as they’ve misplaced six of their final seven video games and discover themselves of their longest shedding streak of this season. The Bucks (47-31) are nonetheless second within the Japanese Convention standings, as a variety of the opposite groups in the course of the East playoff image have struggled as effectively. However the Knicks and Orlando Magic are a single sport behind Milwaukee.

As they strategy the common season’s ultimate week, the Bucks are taking part in a few of their worst basketball, however they haven’t stopped making an attempt to proper the ship earlier than the postseason and dealing towards their finish aim of an NBA championship.

On Saturday, based on sources briefed on the assembly, Bucks coach Doc Rivers held a movie session with the group’s high 9 veteran rotation gamers in Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Beasley, Bobby Portis, Patrick Beverley, Connaughton and Crowder. Throughout that session, every participant was given an opportunity to talk his thoughts and clarify what they’ve been seeing from their very own perspective, in addition to how they imagine the group must function selflessly as a unit shifting ahead.

“It’s solely the beginning of those powerful and vital conversations,” one supply described the session.

Towards the Knicks on Sunday, although, the Bucks had been unable to place that dialog towards a win. The sport began off effectively because the Bucks constructed a double-digit lead within the first half, however issues shortly deteriorated.

With 6:12 left within the second quarter, Middleton left the sport after receiving a tough shot to the face from Donte DiVincenzo following a miss on the rim by the Knicks guard. Whereas not intentional, as he was touchdown, DiVincenzo’s fist appeared to strike Middleton’s face. Middleton instantly began to bleed from his mouth as he sat on the ground underneath the Knicks basket.

“Khris was nice to start to the sport; he was completely incredible,” Rivers stated after the sport. “You simply really feel unhealthy for him. The man can’t catch a break. I imply, what are the percentages you go right into a sport, ‘OK, tonight, it will likely be my tooth will get knocked out.’

“He’s having a kind of seasons proper now, however that’s OK as a result of it may all flip for him. I assumed he got here with nice spirit tonight, too, so simply powerful luck.

Middleton didn’t return, leaving the world instantly after exiting the sport for an emergency journey to a dentist, based on Rivers.

Shedding Middleton was unlucky, as Sunday was the primary time the Bucks had their large three of Antetokounmpo, Lillard and Middleton on the ground collectively to begin a sport in additional than per week and simply the eighth time they began a sport collectively underneath Rivers this season. In actuality, it’s nearer to simply six video games, as Middleton has left two of these video games early — with a left ankle sprain vs. the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 6 and Sunday evening in opposition to the Knicks — as a consequence of damage.

If the Bucks are going to discover a approach to make a deep playoff run, they may want a wholesome roster, however additionally they must construct higher chemistry between their three greatest offensive gamers.

“We began getting a two-man factor working and dealing and dealing, however it was simply me and Giannis on the market,” Lillard stated of the Bucks’ offensive move underneath Rivers. “We gotta have the ability to have issues working when it’s me, Khris and Giannis on the market, and that’s all a part of a course of.

“You’ll be able to’t simply put it on the market and say, ‘Do it,’ and it simply flows easy. We acquired a brand new coach coming in and there’s issues that he needs to be accomplished and he needs it to be accomplished a sure manner.”

With out Middleton within the second half, the Bucks offense began to stall and revert to an excessive amount of isolation play, a daily drawback this season. After helping on 17 of their 20 first-half baskets, the Bucks stopped shifting the ball and their offense stalled. Within the first six minutes of the second half, the Bucks scored six factors and noticed an 11-point halftime lead disappear, and the Knicks shortly rattled off 20 factors to take a 70-67 lead with 6:03 remaining within the third quarter. The Knicks didn’t relinquish the lead, remaining comfortably in management for the ultimate quarter and a half on their approach to a 13-point win.

Regardless of their latest struggles, although, the Bucks’ group leaders proceed to share positivity, and their inner perception within the means to contend for a championship this season has not wavered.

“I imply, as loopy as it would sound, I really feel good,” Lillard stated. “Clearly, I hate how the final two weeks or so, nevertheless lengthy it’s been, has gone. It’s uncomfortable and it’s irritating to lose video games that we should always win after which have a sport like tonight the place we begin off taking part in effectively after which have a nasty third quarter and get these guys believing after which they take over the sport. However after I look across the locker room, I simply be ok with it.

“I see Giannis, Khris, Bobby and Brook and Jae and Pat, Beas. Once I go searching, I simply have a real perception in what now we have, our expertise, how lengthy we’ve been round. And I do know that typically it will get darkish. This league is a troublesome league. Typically you will have onerous instances. And I feel that’s what it’s for us. And when this sort of stuff occurs, all people’s going to say how unhealthy it’s. And ‘That is the issue.’ (or) ‘They gotta do that; they gotta try this.’ However whenever you simply preserve combating in these conditions, you by no means know when it’s going to show.

“That’s why you gotta keep collectively, you gotta preserve believing. And these are the moments the place you discover out who’s an actual one and who’s not, as a result of all people’s going to be saying unfavorable stuff and the way improper it’s and the way unhealthy it’s, and you’ll fold or not fold. That’s what we’re going to study ourselves going into the playoffs, based mostly on the expertise that we having proper now.”

Whereas positivity and a robust perception are good to own and preserve, the Bucks must flip issues round shortly as a result of the Boston Celtics, the NBA’s greatest group, are coming to city on Tuesday, and the Bucks solely have one week remaining within the common season to organize themselves for the postseason.

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(Photograph of Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Doc Rivers: Patrick McDermott / Getty Pictures)

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