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."

Khris Middleton suffered a hyperextended left knee in Monday's 117-103 loss to the Boston Celtics which the Milwaukee Bucks are praying is not a serious injury.

Middleton landed awkwardly upon contact with team-mate Rodney Hood attempting to rebound late in the third quarter, before limping off the court moments later after trying to play on.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said they would wait until Tuesday to make a determination on the severity of the injury to the 2020-21 NBA champion.

"I think we're terming it a left knee hyper-extension," Budenholzer said at the post-game news conference.

"We'll know more tomorrow but I think there's some hope it's not serious, but you've got to wait and give it time."

Middleton had four points with eight rebounds and three assists on the night, succumbing to injury after 24 minutes on court.

The 30-year-old small forward is averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game this season. Middleton averaged 20.4 points in the Bucks' title-winning season.

The defeat to the Celtics leaves the reigning champions with an 18-11 record and third spot in the Eastern Conference.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 41 points on Friday and had a triple-double on Sunday but managed only 20 points with eight rebounds and three assists.

"I think we've got to space around him a little bit better," Budenholzer said. "Move him a little bit more. It was a tough night for us, sometimes that happens."

Budenholzer also refused to blame the Bucks' recent heavy schedule with three games in four days.

"Credit to Boston, they played well tonight," he said. "I think we weren’t at our best. Whatever the reasons are, we've got to be better."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer remains hopeful the calf issue that kept Giannis Antetokounmpo out of Thursday's 97-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors is only a "short-term" issue.

Antetokounmpo was a surprise late withdrawal for the Bucks due to right calf soreness and the reigning NBA champions tasted defeat in his absence.

Milwaukee's eight-game winning streak was snapped by the Raptors, who were fuelled by Fred VanVleet's 29 points.

Following the warm-ups, the Bucks opted to bench NBA Finals MVP Antetokounmpo, with Pat Connaughton starting in his place.

"Hopefully it's something very short term," Budenholzer told reporters after the defeat. "A day or two and hopefully he'll be ready to go.

"We'll just see how the next 24-48 hours go."

Budenholzer added: "I think it's important but we're hopeful it's short term."

Antetokounmpo had scored 40 points with 12 rebounds and nine assists in Wednesday's 127-125 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

Greek superstar Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points – only behind Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry entering Thursday's play, 11.8 rebounds and a career-high 6.0 assists per game this season.

Khris Middleton is poised to return when NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks face the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday after missing eight games following a positive COVID-19 test.

Middleton has not played for the Bucks since the October 31 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs due to coronavirus.

The Bucks have a 3-5 record in Middleton's absence, but the two-time All-Star has returned to practice and expects to play midweek.

"I've been working out the last couple of days here while guys were on the road," Middleton – a champion with Milwaukee last season – told reporters after Tuesday's practice.

"In practice, I felt good. But everybody knows game shape is a totally different ballgame. I can't wait to see how I feel tomorrow."

Milwaukee have opened their championship defence 6-8 and will hope Middleton's return can help lift them ahead of five straight home games.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said: "I think it's underrated what he does for us defensively, underrated what he does for us on the boards, his communication, his leadership.

"Everybody's going to talk about the scoring and the shooting and all those things. I don't want to undervalue or underestimate those, but I think he really is a complete player and he's a great leader."

Middleton averaged 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists across the Bucks' title-winning 2020-21 season.

He has started the new season averaging 20.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was awestruck as the Milwaukee Bucks became the first NBA champions to visit the White House in five years.

An annual tradition of the NBA champions making their way to the official residence of the United States president in Washington was put on hold during Donald Trump's term – the Cleveland Cavaliers were the last titleholder to visit the White House when Barack Obama hosted in 2016.

That hiatus ended on Monday when superstar Antetokounmpo and the Bucks – who claimed their first championship since 1971 last season – took centre stage alongside president Joe Biden.

"This is awesome," Antetokounmpo said. ... "A kid from Sepolia, Athens, Greece — grew up from two Nigerian parents who were struggling every day to provide for us. ... It's an unbelievable opportunity to be able to be in the White House meeting the president of the United States.

"I could not be as honoured and happy that something like this — that I've accomplished something like this in my life."

Antetokounmpo added: "For everybody out there, this is a great example that with hard work, with sacrifices — if you dedicate yourself to waking up every single day and try to get better in anything you do, in anything you love and believe in your dreams — you can accomplish great things in life. 

"Man, as I said. I've done that my whole life. And I'm in the White House." 

Biden hailed the Bucks for their efforts to promote coronavirus vaccinations and for speaking out following the 2020 police shooting of Jacob Blake.

The NBA postponed games in 2020 after the Bucks announced they would not participate in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series, Milwaukee seeking to shed light on racial injustices.

"You took a stand for justice and peace in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and you've gotten people engaged," Biden said.

While he does not like losing, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo remains calm amid the NBA champions' run of five defeats in six games in a rough start to the team's title defence.

The Bucks claimed their first championship since 1971 last season, but that drought-ending triumph seems so long ago after Sunday's 101-94 loss at the Washington Wizards.

Antetokounmpo posted 29 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and three steals, however, the slumping Bucks still fell to 4-6 for the season.

Former MVP Antetokounmpo vented his frustration after Milwaukee's latest loss in the absence of Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo but highlighted the need to perform at the right time of the season.

"I'm not gonna lie, I don't like losing," Antetokounmpo said. "I don't remember the last time we were 4-6, you know? Or we lost four out of five at home?

"It obviously doesn't feel good but at the end of the day it's about building good habits. As long as we're building good habits, I'm seeing guys taking shots they're supposed to take, guys diving on the floor, rebounding the ball, making the right play, that's what we need to care about.

"Because at the end of the day the playoffs are 72 games away, and we have 72 games to get better, keep building good habits and hopefully we're in a good place mentally, physically, everybody healthy at the right time and play good basketball. That's when you want to play your best basketball."

Milwaukee had won eight consecutive games against Washington, most recently winning 135-134 on May 5 – the Wizards' longest active losing streak against any opponent with the next highest being five games prior to Bradley Beal helping snap that skid.

Antetokounmpo played a season-high 39 minutes for the Bucks as he surpassed Sidney Moncrief for second place on Milwaukee's all-time assists list with three in the first half to reach 2,691.

"Giannis was in that mindset that he wanted to play a lot," said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. "It's on me to keep him in a good place. I love his spirit tonight."

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer hailed Giannis Antetokounmpo for his role in ending the "cold" reigning champions' three-game skid with Tuesday's win over the Detroit Pistons.

Antetokounmpo finished with 28 points, nine assists, nine rebounds and four blocks in a commanding all-round performance which improved the Bucks to 4-4.

The Bucks were again missing Jrue holiday (ankle), Donte Divincenzo (ankle), Brook Lopez (back) and Khris Middleton (COVID-19) but got the win Budenholzer said they needed.

"We needed this. I thought he [Giannis] set the tone defensively," Budenholzer said during the post-game news conference.

"He blocked a lot of shots. It felt like he was everywhere defensively. We wanted to come out and give a good defensive mindset and I thought he did that. He obviously played well, shot well, got in a good rhythm."

Budenholzer said the side "went a little cold for a few games" with their shooting during their three-game losing run.

The Bucks improved in that area, shooting at 50 per cent from the field and 45.9 per cent from three-point range.

Pat Connaughton led the way from beyond the arc with four-from-five three-pointers among his 16 points, while Jordan Nwora added 16 points off the bench.

"We needed this tonight. We needed a good game," Budenholzer said.

"I talked about setting the tone defensively and good things happen offensively when you do that."

NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks confirmed two-time All-Star Khris Middleton has tested positive for coronavirus.

Middleton had missed Sunday's 107-95 loss to the Utah Jazz with "illness" and was again absent from the Bucks team to play the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer, who had said after the Jazz defeat that the illness was not COVID-related, confirmed prior to the Pistons clash Middleton had since entered the NBA's health and safety protocols.

"We thought he just had a head cold or some type of non-COVID illness," Budenholzer told reporters. "And then, [he] didn't feel good again the next day. Got tested and has come back positive."

The Bucks, who have lost three consecutive games to slip to a 3-4 record, are already missing Jrue Holiday (ankle), Donte Divincenzo (ankle) and Brook Lopez (back).

Under the NBA's health and safety protocols, Middleton must sit out for 10 days minimum, meaning he may miss more than seven games stretching until next Friday's battle against the Boston Celtics.

"It's a challenge to figure out who's available, to get the best groupings out there and how we can get through a game and not really wear down the guys that are healthy," Budenholzer said.

Middleton becomes the third NBA player to test positive to COVID-19 this week, following Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love.

The Tokyo Olympics gold medallist averaged 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists across the Bucks' title-winning 2020-21 season.

Milwaukee have failed to lead at any point in three different games this season, including their loss on Sunday per Stats Perform. Last season, the Bucks held a lead in all 72 of their games.

The Bucks have won 10 straight games against Detroit – tied for Milwaukee's longest active win streak against any opponent (also the Sacramento Kings). It is also the longest win streak by either team in the series history.

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer is hopeful of getting key players Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton back soon after the NBA champions slumped to their third successive defeat.

The Bucks went down 107-95 to the Utah Jazz on Sunday, with two-time All-Star Middleton absent due to illness, which Budenholzer clarified after the game was not COVID-related.

The loss condemned Milwaukee to yet another loss, leaving the Bucks 3-4 in their title defence as they struggle without All-Star Holiday (ankle), Brook Lopez (back) and Rodney Hood (hand).

Milwaukee – who had averaged 91.5 points on Halloween since the 2000-01 season, second lowest in the NBA heading into the matchup – were again forced to come from behind against the Jazz, trailing by 17 points at the final change, with a late rally not enough.

"The group kept fighting tonight," Budenholzer said in a news conference. "The fight was good. We couldn't quite get there but the guys were working."

Giannis Antetokounmpo top-scored with 25 points, along with seven rebounds and six assists, but he lacked support with Holiday, Lopez and Middleton out.

Holiday has not played since injuring his ankle in the Bucks' opening night win against Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets.

"Jrue, I think we'll see how he feels in the morning," Budenholzer said. "He actually got some basketball work in today and I think he's trending in a good direction."

On Lopez, he added: "There's not a new update and there never really has been a timeline. But he's doing good stuff in the weight room, doing good stuff to get better and he'll continue that."

Budenholzer also clarified the status of shooting guard Hood, who previously had a foot injury before undergoing scans on his hand.

"The X-rays the other day were inconclusive," Budenholzer said. "On examination we decided he couldn't play. We'll get another X-ray and look at it tomorrow and hope for the best."

The Bucks return to action on Tuesday against the lowly Detroit Pistons who are 1-5.

Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer begrudgingly applauded the San Antonio Spurs' effectiveness as they "made it hard" on Giannis Antetokounmpo in a surprise 102-93 win.

NBA champions the Bucks have now suffered consecutive defeats, with the loss to the Spurs coming on the back of a 113-108 reverse to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Spurs (2-4) trumped the Bucks (3-3) on the road in Milwaukee partly thanks to point guard Dejounte Murray, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the final period.

Murray entered the contest having put up 44 points, 22 rebounds and 23 assists over his previous two games – the only Spurs player in the past 30 seasons to have had at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists over a two-game span, according to Stats Perform.

Antetokounmpo top-scored for the Bucks, posting a double-double of 28 points and 13 rebounds, yet he and Khris Middleton accounted for 11 of their 19 turnovers, which converted to 21 points for the Spurs.

While Budenholzer was keen to emphasise the need for collective effectiveness, he expects better from two of his most-dependable stars.

"It's just a tough night," Budenholzer told reporters. "I think we turned it over too much. Both those guys [Antetokounmpo and Middleton] included. We probably didn't shoot it well enough.

 

"And credit to San Antonio. They found a way to get a win and they made it hard on Khris, they made it hard on Giannis, they contested our shooters. I think Giannis and Khris can both be better, but we've got to be better around them, too.

"It wasn't a pretty game. I think defensively, probably, that should be enough to hold them to 102 [points] and 41 [per cent shooting].

"The corner three that [Keldon] Johnson made, they found a way to make some timely baskets. We needed that timely stop.

"We probably needed one or two more stops in a timely moment and they made a couple of timely baskets and they were able to get the win."

But while Budenholzer seemed frustrated with his own team, Antetokounmpo preferred to simply acknowledge the great sharp-shooting on display from the Spurs, accepting that sometimes the other team is just better.

"They made some shots," he added. "They made some shots late. One from the corner, one from the wing on top of me.

"They made some big shots. You've just got to tip your hat. They played well."

Mike Budenholzer accepted the Milwaukee Bucks "got our butts kicked" by the Miami Heat but insisted the NBA champions are just getting started.

Even accounting for the absence of Jrue Holiday (right heel), Brook Lopez (back) and Bobby Portis (left hamstring), the Bucks were wildly out of sorts in a 137-95 rout, which marked the Heat's season opener.

A 19-0 stretch early in the first had Miami 22-3 ahead. By the end of the first quarter, it was 40-17 and by half-time Milwaukee trailed 72-43.

Bucks coach Budenholzer made no excuses when addressing reporters after the game.

"We'll get some of the guys back and every team is going to deal with this at different points, most likely," he said. 

"It's a long journey and we're just getting started.

"We got our butts kicked. That happens in the NBA."

Tyler Herro had 27 points from the bench, which matched a record for any Heat player as a reserve playing 25 minutes or less.

The Heat's 137 points was a franchise benchmark for opening night, which was previously 128 against the Detroit Pistons in 1999, while it was their biggest margin of victory for a first game of a season, falling just short of the overall record of 43 points set against the Los Angeles Clippers in 1994.

It meant a measure of revenge given the Bucks routed the Heat 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs last season.

"Last year, we felt like we got embarrassed," Herro said.

"I mean, 137's a lot. Hopefully, we can see that a lot this season."

Mike Budenholzer has signed a new multi-year contract extension to remain head coach of 2021 NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks announced the deal on Tuesday, with ESPN reporting Budenholzer has committed to a new three-year extension.

The 52-year-old joined the Bucks in 2018 from the Atlanta Hawks and guided the franchise to their first NBA title in 50 years in his third season in charge.

"Bud is a great coach and a fantastic partner to work with every day as we build a team that consistently competes for championships," Bucks general manager Jon Horst said.

"We’re extremely grateful for the leadership Bud provides and we look forward to building on the success we’ve had over the last three years and congratulate Bud on this well-deserved extension."

Under Budenholzer's guidance, the Bucks have topped the NBA in scoring in each of the past three seasons, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee averaged a league-high 120.1 points per game, which is also a franchise-best, in the 2020-21 season.

"The appreciation I have for being a part of the Bucks organization is hard to express," Budenholzer said.

"The players make the success happen on and off the court. We have the best players and to them I am grateful. They’ve grown and we’ve grown together during the last three seasons.

"We’ve had success along the way, finishing with an NBA Championship this season!

"We all can’t wait to get back to work and face the great challenge of competing again for an NBA Championship... Let’s keep getting better and building great teams and doing great work on and off the court."

Budenholzer won the NBA Coach of the Year in his first season at Bucks in 2018-19, before being one of three finalists for the award in 2019-20. He also won the award in 2015 at the Hawks.

An emotional Mike Budenholzer struggled to sum up Giannis Antetokounmpo's incredible impact for the Milwaukee Bucks as the NBA Finals MVP looked on.

Antetokounmpo scored 50 points for the Bucks in Game 6 on Tuesday, inspiring a 105-98 win against the Phoenix Suns that clinched the team's first title in 50 years.

Coach Budenholzer was close to tears as he described his post-game celebrations with the team and was not entirely comfortable discussing Antetokounmpo's performance as the 'Greek Freak' himself waited for his own media duties.

But Budeholzer was keen to highlight the two-time MVP's display from the foul line, so often criticised in recent seasons.

A 50-point showing was the best of Antetokounmpo's playoff career – and the joint-best in the clinching game of a Finals series – and was boosted by a remarkable 17 made free throws from just 19 attempts.

Only three times in Antetokounmpo's career – regular season or playoffs – has he previously made more shots from the foul line.

This was his best return in a playoff game, ahead of the 16 made from 22 attempts against the Boston Celtics in 2019.

Antetokounmpo's 89.5 per cent free-throw shooting in Game 6 was way up on his playoff career average of 61.3, but Budenholzer insisted he had no doubts the 26-year-old would deliver.

"It's hard to find more words to describe what Giannis does," the coach said as Antetokounmpo waited in the room.

"But the way he made his free throws, the way he did everything, stepped up, the poise, the confidence, the leadership... he has been working on it.

"We say we want Giannis to get to the free throw line. We believe. We talked about it this past summer.

"To win a championship, you've got to make free throws and you've got to make shots. He's made shots throughout the playoffs. He's made free throws throughout the playoffs.

"[Five] blocked shots, however many points. He's off the charts. He's the MVP of the NBA Finals."

Antetokounmpo made seven of seven from the line and six of 10 from the field in the third quarter as he put up 20 points.

Having also scored 20 in the third quarter of Game 2, Antetokounmpo became the first player in the past 50 seasons to have multiple 20-point quarters in a Finals series.

"Mostly in halftime, we were talking about defense. We had 47 points against us and we think we can be better," Budenholzer said.

"But I think he embraces us being great defensively – Giannis does, the whole team [does].

"When we get stops and get out and run and get Giannis in space, get our team in space, I think he's special.

"He was able to put his stamp on the game in the third quarter and flip the score. And then some big plays in the fourth quarter – big plays, big blocks. It's hard to keep finding words for Giannis."

Every Milwaukee Bucks player knows what is at stake Tuesday in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. 

Leading the series 3-2, a win at home would give the Bucks their second NBA championship and first since 1971, the franchise's third season of existence. 

Beyond potentially ending that half-century wait for their fans, none of the Bucks' players has ever won a title. 

The key to completing such a monumental achievement for player, team and community alike?

Do whatever you can to stay calm and focussed, says Giannis Antetokounmpo, who acknowledged that is far easier said than done. 

"It's hard. It's hard, man, it's hard," the Bucks' star told reporters Monday. "Because you work so hard to be in that moment, which is tomorrow. It's hard not to get ahead of yourself. But this is the time that you got to be the most disciplined.

"That's what I'm going to try to do. I'm going to try to be as disciplined as possible. Don't get too excited. Don't get too pumped up for the game. None of that. I can't play the game right now. ...

"Right now, there's nothing I can do about that. So I don't even try to think about that. But it's very hard not to. Sometimes you sleep and you're dreaming about the game.

"But this is the time that we have to be disciplined individually. ... We cannot worry about having plans of celebrating. None of that, until it's done. And that is the mindset I'm going to have until tomorrow."

It helps that Antetokounmpo takes the same approach into every game, trying to break it down mentally into one possession and then the next so he is not overwhelmed by the bigger picture. 

At this stage, he has enough confidence in himself and his team-mates to believe in their ability to come through at the moment it matters most. 

"You have to be in the present," he said. "Once that present comes, you'll know what it takes to be you successful. But right now, you don't know what it's going to take.

"It might be a defensive stop. It might be Jrue [Holiday] coming and saving the day again. It might be Khris [Middleton] getting points. It might be me blocking a shot. You don't know what it's going to take.

"But I know that we have to be in the present. You have to enjoy it. We have to compete. For now, that's the three things I know.

"Once the game starts, every possession is going to be different and we're going to figure out what it takes to win the game."

That mindset stretches beyond the Greek star. Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer said that type of attitude across the board has been critical to the Bucks' success so far. 

"It's the maturity of the group, the intelligence of it. I think it comes through," he said. "They understand that we have to keep our focus. We have to be prepared. We have to do the things that go into winning, the competitiveness of those moments, those opportunities to compete. That's all that matters.

"Whether you're down, you're up, I think you go back to your competitive spirit. You draw on that. That's how this team is built, so they got to continue to do that."

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