The Bucks are still a behemoth on the prowl

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BOSTON – Mike Budenholzer greeted Ime Udoka with a hug and a smile in a hallway at TD Garden after the former San Antonio Spurs assistants first met as head coaches. The latter’s Boston Celtics just gave the defending Premier Milwaukee Bucks an overtime loss. Budenholzer retreated to his coaches’ locker room, where he was greeted by a handful of guests wearing Celtics gear from the pro shop.

“I just forgot about the loss,” he said, his friends instantly removing the sting of a less than 0.500 start.

Budenholzer is at ease, perhaps for the first time in his 25-year NBA career. His Bucks are 6-8, 11th in the East, but the hot seat that nearly burned his butt in Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals has cooled in his fourth season on the Milwaukee bench. A glance at the injury report is enough to explain the slow start, and Budenholzer’s accusations reflect the confidence of a coach who knows they’ll be there again at the end.

“Adversity is always going to strike at some point,” Bucks big man Bobby Portis said. “The teams are thriving right now. Adversity is going to hit them too. The biggest test is how you deal with that adversity and how you fight against it. We’re going through it right now. We’ve been going through it ever since. training camp, but that’s going to make us stronger at the end of the day. Once we have our strength again, we’ll be a load on the league, and the league will be notified. They’ll hear about the Bucks. again. We’re not done, man. ”

Playing their third game in four nights on Friday, the Bucks were without Giannis Antetokounmpo (ankle), Khris Middleton (COVID-19) and Brook Lopez (back), the core of a team that has won over 70% of their games since 2018, winning seven playoffs, including last season’s championship. And they’ve always given the Celtics whatever they can handle, rallying to a six-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to force overtime.

“I would love to learn from a win, but if there are positives to lose, we learn to play with each other,” said Bucks winger Grayson Allen, who they acquired in August. against silver and Sam Merrill, the 2020 draft pick final. “We’re showing a lot of fighting. A lot of guys are stepping up at a time where we’ve consistently missed a couple of starters all season long. good to be competitive in these games. “

The Bucks have beaten their opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions in the 104 minutes Grayson Allen, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo have played together this season. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

Allen is one of the many new positives for the reigning champions. He shoots 43.8% on 8.6 attempts at 3 points per game, among the league leaders in both categories. The Bucks ripped a sniper out of thin air to bolster spacing around a generational superstar thriving there. Jordan Nwora shows tremendous promise in his second season, showing off a shooting creation in addition to his shooting.

“It’s easy to work with Grayson,” said Bucks goaltender Jrue Holiday, who also missed six games. “Honestly, you just have to give him the ball. Either you give it to him where he wants, and if not, he’s going to do a play for himself or for someone else. I like to play with it. Grayson – how threatening he is from the 3-point line. You have to respect him. And he finishes very, very well around the basket, a very nice touch. “

Holiday called Nwora a “favorite player” at the start of the season. “He’s going to be really good in this league,” he said. “He’s like a young Khris [Middleton]Asked by the Milwaukee media contingent on Friday whether Allen had replaced Nwora in this regard, Holiday joked, “It’s still Jordan. I’m trying to bring Jordan a few more touches. I would like to see a little more of the ball in his hands. “In the absence of victories, it is at least a chemistry.

Allen has barely played with Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday since opening night, when they outscored the Brooklyn Nets by 16 points in nine minutes together. Holiday returned from a sprained ankle 10 days ago. Antetokounmpo only missed one game with his ankle injury. Middleton is expected to return from health and safety protocols on Wednesday. The Bucks really are a behemoth on the prowl.

They will wait longer for the returns of Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo. Until then, Budenholzer and Bucks general manager Jon Horst take a long look at who might fill their playoff rotation. Allen doesn’t escape the spotlight of a team surrounded on everyone’s schedules. Nwora could get there by the end of the season. Pat Connaughton is enjoying a year of career. Bobby Portis carries too heavy a burden as the only central option behind Lopez. Semi Ojeleye may not be the PJ Tucker replacement they were hoping for.

Far better to sort this out now, when almost everyone is still finding their balance after a second consecutive shortened offseason, than looking for answers at the trade deadline. The Bucks will do very well, and in the meantime, they’ve learned more about themselves – a luxury for a defending champion.

“We had a lot of opportunities for young guys or guys who don’t play as much to get really good minutes,” Holiday said after the Bucks played their fifth nationally televised game in 13 outings. . “That’s why we’re playing the game. All these young guys are eager to do it, and they’re ready to come here and show what they can do. I just think in the long run, have that advantage now. prepare them for later. “

It might sound like empty words, if the Bucks weren’t so convincing as to believe it.

“We need to play better, and we’ll play better,” Antetokounmpo told reporters after Sunday’s 20-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the end of a five-game road trip. “Once everyone comes back, once Khris comes back, we start to play well and everyone goes to their roles… we’re going to beat a lot of people.”

There is a calm that comes with reaching the top of the NBA. Losses are different when you know the wins will come, and there’s a palpable feeling around the struggling Bucks that a climb is just around the corner.

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Ben rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach



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