Darvin Ham insisted Russell Westbrook is one of the best players the NBA has ever seen upon his announcement as Los Angeles Lakers head coach on Monday.

The nine-time All-Star and former MVP had a patchy first season in the purple and gold despite averages of 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.1 assists.

The 33-year-old was widely regarded as the cause behind the Lakers finishing with a 33-49 record which saw them finish 11th in the Western Conference, even missing the Play-In Tournament.

Asked about fitting Westbrook with LeBron James and Anthony Davis during his introduction as the Lakers coach, Ham took the opportunity to defend the embattled point guard.

"Don't get it messed up," he said. "Russ is one of the best players our league has ever seen, and there's still a ton left in that tank. I don't know why people tend to try to write him off.

"I'm going to approach him like I do every player I've ever encountered. We're going to talk about our running habits, with the ball, without the ball. And again, the team, the rhythm of the team and trying to establish a rhythm with LeBron, Russ, AD.

"And again, share the load defensively and offensively. Defensively is where you're going to see us make our biggest leaps and bounds. We have to commit to the defensive side of the ball or we don't have a chance to do anything. Our offence won't even matter if we don't get stops."

After an eight-year playing career in the NBA, Ham got his first coaching job in the league working as an assistant at the Lakers, as a part of Mike Brown's staff in 2012-13.

After that season, the 48-year-old spent the following years on Mike Budenholzer's staff with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, winning the NBA title in 2021.

"The fact that I got my start as a coach here, this place will always be special for me," Ham said. "It's like a homecoming for me, in all seriousness."

"As sad as it is for me to be leaving coach Bud, sometimes you got to walk that walk on your own. We went from colleagues, to friends, to brothers while all the while making history."

The Los Angeles Lakers have hired Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham as their new head coach after he was brought in for a formal interview for the position on Thursday.

Ham, who will become a head coach in the NBA for the first time, was chosen ahead of former NBA head coaches Terry Stotts – who spent nine season in charge of the Portland Trail Blazers – and Kenny Atkinson, who oversaw the rebuild of the Brooklyn Nets before the arrival of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Before becoming a coach, Ham played 417 games across eight seasons in his NBA career, and earned his first assistant role in the league with the Lakers back in 2011.

After two seasons with the Lakers, Ham moved on to the Atlanta Hawks, where alongside head coach Mike Budenholzer he helped them become the top seed in the Eastern Conference in 2014-15, despite their top-scorer being Paul Millsap at 16.7 points per game.

When Budenholzer was fired in 2017 and took the head role with the Bucks, Ham followed, and was a key member in the staff that won the 2021 NBA Championship.

Long-considered a head-coach-in-waiting, Ham was viewed as a front-runner for the vacancies with the Washington Wizards and the Sacramento Kings before ultimately being passed on, leaving him as the man tasked with mounting another championship run while LeBron James remains near the top of his game.

James tweeted his excitement about the hiring, saying: "So damn EXCITED!!!!!!!! Congrats and welcome coach DHam!!"

Ham will also be only the third African American coach to enter an NBA season as head coach of the Lakers, after Mike Brown did so in 2011-12 – getting fired after five games – and Byron Scott in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Jaylen Brown said he and his Boston Celtics team-mates wanted to play "like our season was on the line" after a 109-86 win in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semi-final against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Brown only shot four-of-13 for 12 points in the Celtics' Game 1 defeat, but followed up by scoring 30 points, with six assists and five rebounds as Boston levelled the series at 1-1 at TD Garden.

The 25-year-old also sank a playoff career-high six shots from beyond the arc and stated after the victory just how much the Celtics had wanted to square things up.

"We knew we had to come out and play like our season was on the line and we did that," Brown said.

"It's the playoffs. Survival of the fittest. Every game counts."

As well as Brown's performance, Jayson Tatum also stepped it up as he shot 29 points, with eight assists and three rebounds.

Boston coach Ime Udoka pointed to what his team had learned in their Game 1 defeat, namely not to get "outmuscled", and just as they were dominated for large periods on Sunday, they followed up with a physical performance of their own on Tuesday.

"We adjusted well," Udoka said. "We learned some things from Game 1 and felt like we knew we didn't react accordingly to the way that we're playing.

"Two big teams but we haven't been outmuscled like that all year. I think our guys took pride in that, took that to heart and we knew we would come out with the right effort tonight."

 

His opposite number, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, acknowledged the game-plan from the Celtics had worked, particularly on star player Giannis Antetokounmpo, who still finished with 28 points, with nine rebounds and seven assists.

"The guys on him, they're solid, good, good defenders and then quite a bit of help," Budenholzer said. "That's where he's just got to see and feel it. Do we kick it and get more threes? Or he's got to finish against one-on-one defense. So, I think it's a little bit of both.

"But Giannis, he always figures things out."

Mike Budenholzer says the Milwaukee Bucks showed their strength in depth by reaching the Eastern Conference playoff semi-finals without Khris Middleton.

The defending champions beat the injury-hit Chicago Bulls 116-100 in Game 5 at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday to advance from the first round of the postseason.

Middleton sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the fourth quarter of Game 2, but the Bucks proved they could cope without the All-Star.

Budenholzer confirmed Middleton will miss the start of the playoff semi-final series against the Boston Celtics.

But the Milwaukee head coach is confident other players can continue to step up in his absence.

"We've been talking about the depth of the roster, the quality of the roster, a lot this season," Budenholzer said.

"Other guys have gotten opportunities and played well. Our defense has tightened up, and we've leaned hard on that these three games. We've got depth. We've got a good group.

"We miss Khris; I don't think anybody underestimates how important and how effective he is for us. While we don't have him, we've got to be our best all up and down the roster."

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo played a big hand as the Bucks ended the Bulls' season, putting up 33 points and nine rebounds in Game 5.

The two-time MVP said being "desperate" to get the job done in the absence of Middleton was vital.

"After Game 2, the team knew what the deal was," Antetokounmpo said. "We knew what we had to do, we had to be desperate.

"We had to go out there and compete at a high level. Pay attention to detail as much as possible. Help one another defensively. We've got to do it as a team. It's not a one-man show or two-man show.

"Now we're going to a different series, playing a different team, a very, very good team, and hopefully we can do it again."

The Chicago Bulls supporters booing Grayson Allen no longer bothers the Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard, who propelled his side to a 3-1 playoff series lead on Sunday.

Allen fell out of favour with the Chicago faithful after his flagrant foul on guard Alex Caruso during a game in January resulted in a two-month absence for the Bulls star.

The 26-year-old, formerly of Duke, has since been greeted with boos at any opportunity as the Bucks hit the road for the playoffs in Chicago, but that has been music to Allen's ears.

He set a career-high in the playoffs in Game 3 when he scored 22 in a 111-81 triumph at the United Center, before surpassing that the following game with 27 points, including six three-pointers, in a 119-95 victory.

Allen is 18 of 24 from the field and 11 for 14 on three-pointers over the past two games, but it is the playful jeers from his own Bucks bench that has made the hostile atmosphere easier for him.

"They have so much fun doing it," he told reporters of his team-mate's decision to boo him in practice, the team hotel or film sessions.

"I think it's honestly hilarious. They've kind of turned it into a fun thing. It makes hearing it out there during the game a lot easier too because they think it's so funny.

"It's not naturally comfortable for me. I am to the point now, anytime I go out and play basketball, I just remind myself to go out and have fun with this.

"My personality is naturally uncomfortable with the attention, the booing, the heckling. It's not something I feed off of. I'm not going out searching for it."

Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo is also enjoying his team-mate thriving under the pressure and playfully suggested the Bucks fans may have to try a new way of motivating Allen.

"He's played amazing, maybe we got to boo him even more," Antetokounmpo said. "Maybe Milwaukee fans, we got to boo him ... nah, we're not going to do that."

Meanwhile, guard Jrue Holiday added: "When we booed him during the game, and he really started hooping, I think we just stuck with it."

Allen also became the first Bucks player to score 25 points and knock down six 3s in a playoff game and first Milwaukee player with at least 25 points off the bench since Tim Thomas in 2003, according to ESPN.

And Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was delighted to see Allen step up in the absence of Khris Middleton, who will miss the rest of this first-round series after sustaining an injury to his left knee.

"He's kind of quiet, but confident," Budenholzer said of Allen. "I think this is a confident group, a group that sees a player that can help them and appreciates his competitiveness.

"He's just quiet, no bull****, and comes to play. I think our guys gravitate towards that type of mentality. It's certainly been a good fit."

It was not just his Milwaukee colleagues showering Allen with praise either, Bulls guard Zach LaVine was also quick to credit his opponent.

"You got to give [Allen] credit," LaVine said. "He's hitting shots. Obviously, we know what happened [with the Caruso injury]. At the end of the day, it's basketball too. We understand it. But it's not like we're going out there saying, 'That guy can't beat us.'

"The Milwaukee Bucks can't beat us and he's part of their team. Them as a whole is beating us right now. You can't just account for him. It's everybody."

Chicago have lost six straight home playoff games since beating Cleveland in Game 3 of the 2015 Eastern Conference semi-finals, losing that series in six. The Bulls will look to make amends in Game 5 on the road on Wednesday as they aim to keep the playoff series alive.

There will be plenty to play for when the Boston Celtics arrive at Fiserv Forum to take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Heading into the game, the Celtics (50-30) occupy the Eastern Conference two seed, while the Bucks (49-30) are a half-game back in third, holding the tie-breaker over the Philadelphia 76ers (49-30) in fourth.

Since the All-Star break, no team has a better winning percentage than the Celtics (16-4), while Milwaukee are fifth over that period (13-6); but while the reigning champion Bucks find their feet, Boston have gone to a new level.

For the season, the Celtics are number one in defensive efficiency, as new head coach Ime Udoka's switching system has maximised the physical gifts of defensive stalwarts Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III.

At this point, Boston's defense is a given, but post-All-Star break, they have also had the number one offense in the league, and are putting a gap on the rest of the field. Over that time period, the closest team to Boston's 122.2 points per 100 possessions have been the Minnesota Timberwolves, 2.7 points per 100 possessions behind at 119.5.

For context, that 2.7-point gap is greater than the 2.6-point margin between the Timberwolves and the 11th-placed 76ers (116.9) for the same period, and Boston's 12.9 net-rating since All-Star weekend is a number generally reserved for some of the greatest regular season teams in league history.

However, the team right behind the Timberwolves on the list, in third place, are the Bucks, and it is no hot streak as they boast the fifth-best offensive efficiency over the whole year.

These teams are both serious contenders to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals – but they go about it in very different ways.

Primarily, that has a lot to do with the Celtics' switching defensive system.

The Celtics 'switch' screens – meaning instead of fighting over or under the screening player to recover back to your assignment, the player guarding the screener takes on the assignment of guarding the ball-handler, while the ball-handler's defender takes responsibility for the screener and his next movements.

The Bucks, on the other hand, play 'drop coverage', which means their on-ball defender tries to force the ball-handler on a predictable path around the screen, while the screener's defender peels off into a help position, with the aim of forcing the ball-handler to pull up for a mid-range shot with their defender contesting from behind.

Both systems are formed on sound logic. In switching schemes, the idea is to eliminate as much dribble penetration as possible by keeping the ball-handler in front on the perimeter, while trusting the smaller guard to be able to deny the screener an easy catch in the paint.

Drop coverage, on the other hand, forces teams to consistently attempt mid-range jump shots, which are statistically the least valuable shot in the game.

In theory, Boston's switching defense should perform well against Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the Bucks' two-time MVP thrives at attacking the rim, while Milwaukee should be able to bait Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown into mid-range jump shots that can go cold for extended stretches.

But the numbers show it may not be that simple.

Boston allow the second-fewest amount of points in the paint per game, and while Antetokounmpo lives at the rim, the Bucks actually come in last in the league with their percentage of points scored in the paint.

While that may indicate that the Celtics' defense is playing right into how the Bucks like to play, Boston also allow the second-lowest three-point percentage in the league.

It poses an interesting question about Boston – is their defense truly so good that teams can not score inside the key or from long range, or is their defense the top-ranked in the league because their opponents just keep missing threes?

Opposing three-point percentage can be a messy stat due to general shooting luck, and Boston allow opponents to get up a league-average amount of attempts, so if they are due for some regression to the mean, it means they are due to be on the wrong end of some hot shooting nights.

Boston's defense also allows the lowest amount of opposition assists per game, but Milwaukee are third-last in assist percentage, so how much are the Bucks actually trying to do the things the Celtics are built to stop?

Milwaukee play at the fifth-highest pace in the league, while Boston play at the fifth-lowest – all signs point to the fact that something has to give, and whoever can play the game at their tempo may just hold the keys.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Boston Celtics – Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart is not the best scorer on the Celtics, or the best ball-handler, but he excels in the areas that have made this Boston team great during the second half of this season.

He is the bookmakers' favourite to win Defensive Player of the Year due to his ability to switch off of point guards and bang bodies down low against the bigs, unlocking the true upside of a switching system as post players regularly fail to take advantage of their significant height advantage.

The Bucks are a big team, so for the Celtics defense to rise to the occasion once again against a true contender, Smart will need to hang with Jrue Holiday on the perimeter, as well as keep Antetokounmpo out of the lane.

 

Milwaukee Bucks – Brook Lopez

Antetokounmpo is Milwaukee's best and most valuable player. However, the centrepiece of the Bucks' drop coverage is Brook Lopez.

Lopez will be the biggest player, with the longest arms, for either team, and Milwaukee's entire defensive scheme will revolve around forcing players to take and make shots over his outstretched arms.

He also has the size, and the underrated post game, to make life miserable for whichever undersized guard gets caught in screening actions and needs to switch onto the seven-footer.

Smart will be able to hold up if he establishes good early position, but if the Bucks can get Derrick White or Payton Pritchard involved in the switch, it could be a long night inside for Boston's defense.

 

KEY BATTLES – Who can get the most 'easy' points?

In a game that will likely resemble a playoff atmosphere, the winning team may simply be the side who make life easiest on themselves.

Fast-break points and free throws limit the amount of possessions a team needs to grind their way through a set half-court defense, and provide the easiest avenues to uncontested points.

Milwaukee rank as the eighth-best team at getting to the free-throw line, and fourth-best at denying their opposition free throws, while Boston are 21st at getting to the line.

As mentioned, Boston like to play at a methodical pace, ranking 20th in fast-break points, while Milwaukee have the fifth-best transition defense in the league.

 

HEAD-TO-HEAD

These two sides have met three times this season – all before the All-Star break.

Boston won the first two home fixtures – including an overtime win where Dennis Schroeder scored a game-high 38 points, before being traded to the Houston Rockets – while Milwaukee won the last meeting, and the only one at Fiserv Forum, 117-113.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says his game-winning block was all about trusting his instincts as the Milwaukee Bucks claimed an important 118-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP made a crucial block to deny Joel Embiid a lay-up to tie the game up with under two seconds left on the clock after James Harden's three-point attempt rimmed out.

Antetokounmpo had already scored 40 points with 14 rebounds and six assists, with his third block proving a decisive intervention.

"Just let my instincts play," Antetokounmpo told reporters. "The ball went to Embiid and I just tried to jump as high as I can and try to make a play.

"I knew it was going to be a quick one. I felt it. When you get in that position and you're down one, with the clock running, you get it and go quick. I tried to time it.

"It worked out, sometimes it doesn’t work out. This time it worked out in our favour."

The play was reviewed after it was initially seen as a goal tend which was cleared, forcing a jump ball which allowed the clock to wind down.

Embiid said: "I thought it was close. I probably should’ve gone up harder. In that situation I didn’t know how much time was left.

"I was just trying to get the ball off quickly. I thought it was close. I didn’t know if it was a goal tend or not."

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said it was "just a special block", while 76ers counterpart Doc Rivers labelled it "spectacular".

The result means the Bucks move into second spot in the Eastern Conference with a 47-28 record, behind the Miami Heat (48-28), with the Boston Celtics (47-29) in third and the 76ers (46-29) in fourth.

The 76ers have suffered successive losses to last season's NBA Finalists, the Bucks and the Phoenix Suns, in a wake-up call to their title credentials.

"We've got to do a better job," Embiid said. "Against Phoenix we were right there. Tonight we had a lead, just like against Phoenix.

"It's a game of runs. Every team is going to make their runs. We just need to stay calm and know what we need to do. Last game showed why those two teams went to the finals."

Giannis Antetokounmpo missed his second game in the Milwaukee Bucks' past three as they won 114-102 over the Washington Wizards but head coach Mike Budenholzer insists there is nothing to worry about.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP missed the game with a sore right knee, leaving Jrue Holiday to star with 24 points and 10 assists as the Bucks improved to 46-27.

Antetokounmpo also missed Saturday's 138-119 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves with knee soreness.

"I don't think it's anything long-term or anything significant, but we'll see whether he travels tomorrow and make decisions on the game Saturday as we kind of see how he feels and learn more," Mike Budenholzer told reporters before Thursday's game.

Khris Middleton has missed Milwaukee's past two games with a sore left wrist but Budenholzer was bullish he would be available to face the in-form Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.

"I fully expect him to travel with us to Memphis," Budenholzer said. "I think I'd go as far as to say we're hopeful he'll play against Memphis.

"We'll see how he does in the next day or two, but as of now, I'd expect him to be on the flight and we're hopeful that he'll play."

Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer hailed Giannis Antetokounmpo's "special" achievement of scoring 50 points on 17-of-21 shooting in Tuesday's win over the Indiana Pacers.

Antetokounmpo's 21 attempts were the fourth-fewest in a 50-point game in NBA history as the two-time MVP registered 50 points in the regular season for the first time since November 2019.

The 27-year-old also took 14 rebounds and provided four assists in the 128-119 victory – the Suns' sixth in a row – to become the third player in NBA history to have 50 points, 10 rebounds and shoot 80 per cent from the field.

After producing another standout display for the NBA leaders, Budenholzer lavished yet more praise on Antetokounmpo.

"The efficiency... that's Giannis," he said. "He's special. It's hard to fathom scoring 50 on 21."

Bucks forward Jordan Nwora echoed those sentiments, adding: "It's special seeing it in person.

"What's really crazy about it is that he makes it look so easy. I think I looked at him when he scored his 50th point, crowd cheering, and it's like, 'Man, he's barely sweating.' 

"He's still full of energy in the locker room after he does it. It's just part of being one of the greatest ever to play."

 

Antetokounmpo now has 1,411 points for the season, while his average of 29.4 across 48 games is the best record of any player, followed by the Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid (29.3).

That 29.4 average is also marginally behind Antetokounmpo's career-best of 29.5 from 2019-20, putting him in strong contention to claim a third MVP award in four years.

Twenty-six of Antetokounmpo's 50 points against the Pacers arrived from inside the paint, but the Greek forward was more impressed by his return of 14-of-18 from the free-throw line.

"I get upset when I miss free throws," he said. "I work too hard. I love when I make my free throws. It gives me rhythm, it makes me feel good. 

"I can miss every three, I can miss a layup, but when I make my free throws it's like my dopamine hit because I work extremely hard to make them.

"It just makes the game easier, it makes me able to drive the ball all the time. I'm excited to go to the free throw line, and I don't second-guess myself anymore."

Antetokounmpo fell two points short of setting a new career-high tally of 52, but team honours remain his top priority.

"Obviously it's a nice feeling to have 50, you always remember it, but I care about winning," he said. "I want to win games. Fifties, 40s, 30s all those things, accolades are going to come.

"But they only come with winning. If your main focus, your number one thing is winning, you do whatever it takes to finish the game. Sometimes it's, shoot more. Sometimes you've got to defend more. 

"Everything else comes, but if you're thinking about let me get 50, let me get mine, it doesn't work that way. You've always got to focus on winning."

Reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and new Brooklyn Nets acquisition Ben Simmons will both not play on Monday.

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer confirmed that Antetokounmpo will miss Monday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers with a sore ankle.

The Greek forward had been listed as probable before being downgraded to doubtful, ahead of back-to-back games with a Tuesday date with the Indiana Pacers too.

"He's not ready to go tonight," Budenholzer told reporters pre-game. "It's not anything more than that. We'll see how he feels tomorrow. I think it's very short term."

Simmons, who joined the Nets from the Philadelphia 76ers in a blockbuster trade late last week, attended shootaround prior to their game with the Sacramento Kings.

However, the three-time All-Star was ruled out as he "returns to competition reconditioning".

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo thinks the Cleveland Cavaliers deserve more respect after their impressive defeat of the reigning champions.

The Cavs moved to 30-19 for the season, with eight wins from their past nine games, thanks to a dominant 115-99 home victory over the Bucks.

Cleveland have already comfortably surpassed their win total from last season, when they claimed just 22 victories and were in the draft lottery for the third year running, and only one side in the Eastern Conference has won more than their 30 games in 2021-22.

After falling behind in the first quarter, they dominated the middle phase of Thursday's game, beginning the second half with a three-pointer triple in 48 seconds before marching into a 93-72 lead.

Giannis tallied 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists on his return from a knee problem but his efforts were not enough.

Last year's Finals MVP said there is little doubt the Cavs are now contenders not just for the playoffs, but for the title.

"This is not the Cleveland we knew over the past few years," said Giannis, who brought chicken wings to his post-game media conference.

"They have a good team, and we have to respect them more. They're a playoff team and are fighting for the title themselves."

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of arguably their best win of the season: "It's who we are. We take on all challenges.

"We don't run from anybody. We don't back down. We give everybody our best shot."

Counterpart Mike Budenholzer had few complaints about the result, adding of the Cavs: "They played lights out tonight.

"I don't know what the right analogy is, but they played really well. They beat us pretty good.

"Live ball turnovers is when transition defense is the toughest, and we made a lot of them."

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo thinks the Cleveland Cavaliers deserve more respect after their impressive defeat of the reigning champions.

The Cavs moved to 30-19 for the season, with eight wins from their past nine games, thanks to a dominant 115-99 home victory over the Bucks.

Cleveland have already comfortably surpassed their win total from last season, when they claimed just 22 victories and were in the draft lottery for the third year running, and only one side in the Eastern Conference has won more than their 30 games in 2021-22.

After falling behind in the first quarter, they dominated the middle phase of Thursday's game, beginning the second half with a three-pointer triple in 48 seconds before marching into a 93-72 lead.

Giannis tallied 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists on his return from a knee problem but his efforts were not enough.

Last year's Finals MVP said there is little doubt the Cavs are now contenders not just for the playoffs, but for the title.

"This is not the Cleveland we knew over the past few years," said Giannis, who brought chicken wings to his post-game media conference.

"They have a good team, and we have to respect them more. They're a playoff team and are fighting for the title themselves."

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of arguably their best win of the season: "It's who we are. We take on all challenges.

"We don't run from anybody. We don't back down. We give everybody our best shot."

Counterpart Mike Budenholzer had few complaints about the result, adding of the Cavs: "They played lights out tonight.

"I don't know what the right analogy is, but they played really well. They beat us pretty good.

"Live ball turnovers is when transition defense is the toughest, and we made a lot of them."

Khris Middleton wants the Milwaukee Bucks to "own it and learn from it" after another painful defeat again highlighted their struggles without Jrue Holiday.

Going down 121-114 to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday meant the Bucks have lost four of their last five games.

Middleton's 34 points, and 27 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, could not propel Milwaukee to victory as they conceded 38 points in the fourth quarter.

The team's ball handling in Holiday's six-game absence has often not been clever, and the sooner the starting point guard returns, the better for the Bucks.

The Bucks have a 4-9 record when Holiday has been absent from the team this season, and his latest absence has been them slide to 27-19 for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

Sidelined by ankle soreness and COVID-19 protocols, Holiday also missed the win over the Brooklyn Nets that preceded the slide. Before that, he was showing exemplary form, averaging 23.9 points and 7.9 assists in his most recent 10 games, way above his season averages which now stand at 18.4 points and 6.7 assists.

"I've been playing with Giannis for years, so I know his spots where he wants the ball, how to get it to him, but Jrue adds another layer of that, where he's able to attack and get other guys going, including Giannis," Middleton said.

"I don't think it's on me to get Giannis going. I feel like Giannis gets himself going for the most part. Every now and then, I feel like I'm able to get him an easy one, but same thing with Jrue.

"We're just missing an extra playmaker, extra scorer, extra defender, an extra player out there."

Antetokounmpo had eight-of-20 shooting from the field in Monday's setback, and managed just six rebounds. Only once this season has he had fewer rebounds.

The Greek superstar leads the team with averages of 28.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and a field-goal percentage of 53.5 per cent, but there are nights when he cannot make a match-winning difference.

Middleton said the Hawks game "was a tough one to drop", and now the Bucks must regroup for a tussle with the 31-15 Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

"We need to find a way to be smarter, be better," Middleton said. "Just gotta own it, learn from it, try to be better."

Coach Mike Budenholzer struck a similar tone, saying the reigning NBA champions have "a lot of areas where we need to be significantly better", adding: "We need more from everybody."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer praised Khris Middleton after returning from injury with 23 points and six assists in Wednesday's 126-106 win over the Houston Rockets.

Middleton had missed the Bucks' past three games after a knee hyperextension but helped the reigning champions snap a two-game skid.

The Bucks had been missing Middleton along with reigning NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo over their past three games, with the Greek star entering the league's health and safety protocols last week.

"I thought [Middleton] had a good bounce in practice yesterday," Budenholzer told reporters. "I think he's excited to be back and playing and healthy.

"I thought he gives us some confidence. I thought he had a good pop tonight."

The Bucks had beaten the Indiana Pacers 114-99 without the pair before losses to the New Orleans Pelicans and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Jrue Holiday played a key role alongside Middleton in ending their run of defeats with 24 points, 10 assists and four rebounds.

Eight of Middleton's 23 points came from the stripe, as he showed intent to get into the paint in Antetokounmpo's absence.

"I think he felt good and he thought that's where he could be most effective," Budenholzer said. "We need some guys to get to the paint. I thought he did that.

"The free throws are indicative of that. It's not his norm but we need a little bit of that. It's good for him to get to the line and get those easy ones."

The Bucks will need to front up again on Thursday with a back-to-back against the Dallas Mavericks with Budenholzer stating he expects Middleton to play after only being used for 28 minutes against the Rockets.

"We're expecting him to be able to play," the Bucks head coach said. "We'll see how he responds tonight. We probably had a bit more in the bank tonight if we needed it."

Milwaukee Bucks star Khris Middleton missed Wednesday's win over the Indiana Pacers, however the reigning NBA champions are hopeful his knee injury is a short-term problem after positive MRI results.

Middleton had warmed up prior to the 114-99 victory, but did not take his place in the side missing seven players, including superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo – who entered COVID-19 protocols on Tuesday.

Bucks small forward Middleton had hyperextended his left knee in Monday's 117-103 loss to the Boston Celtics and was forced out of the contest.

Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer confirmed Middleton had undergone an MRI which offered reason for encouragement.

"I think we consider everything very fortunate," Budenholzer told reporters. "This should be very minimal and short. We'll see how he feels [Thursday] and going into the game Friday, I think we'll be hopeful."

Antetokounmpo joined Wes Matthews and Donte DiVincenzo in being unavailable due to entering league protocols.

To clear protocols, a player must be out for a minimum of 10 days or return two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart.

"We'll follow all the guidelines that the league has laid out," Budenholzer said. "Hope he's just healthy and taking care of himself."

Page 1 of 3
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.