With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, we explore a championship charge from the Milwaukee Bucks, development from the non-Point God Phoenix Suns, a little bright spot in Madison Square Garden and a question about the popular "too little" taunt.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, multitasking -- and uh oh, here come the Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks are 11-2 in their last 13, and one loss came without their two-time MVP.
And, yes, as I've been saying for months, the MVP is a three-person race between Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic. I mean, Antetokounmpo is averaging almost 30-12-6 on 55% shooting. The number that should have rivals trembling is Antetokounmpo's 72% (and rising) mark at the line.
If he can carry that into the playoffs -- something he has mostly failed at before -- there is no answer anymore. He's getting 30. The only question becomes whether he's getting 40, and how many open 3s his teammates make.
Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton look like themselves. Jevon Carter adds a new pressing peskiness on defense, and will push for playoff minutes if he continues to make 3s. Milwaukee is plus-10 per 100 possessions with their big three on the floor, and maybe more important, plus-7.2 when Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton play without Antetokounmpo. In high-leverage games, the Bucks can play every minute with at least two of those three. Milwaukee has been my pick to come out of the East since the Brooklyn situation went haywire in training camp. (They have stiff competition; Boston is getting scary.)
The combination of Antetokounmpo, Lopez, and playoff focus should stiffen a defense that has been unusually scattershot -- caught between identities, suffering some championship hangover.
Antetokounmpo remains a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Perhaps his defining highlight was his retreating block of a Deandre Ayton alley-oop late in Game 4 of last season's Finals -- a play on which he did two hard things at once: containing Devin Booker with the ball while keeping contact with Ayton.
That's not his only rare form of multitasking. Antetokounmpo is a master at going vertical without conceding rebounding position:
That is a delicate balance. Antetokounmpo's length and hops help; he doesn't have to leap with all his might, and his second jump is rapid-fire. But this also requires discipline, anticipation, and timing. Opponents have hit just 52% at the rim with Antetokounmpo nearby -- ninth among rotation players who challenge at least three such shots.
It feels like Antetokounmpo is everywhere because he almost is everywhere.
2. The nastiest, weirdest tag-team north of the border
Now entering the game, at a combined height of 13-feet, 5-inches ...