Khris Middleton marks Bucks return with 17 points: 'Good to be back'

MILWAUKEE -- Bucks forward Khris Middleton scored 17 points and collected seven assists in his season debut on Friday night, a 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Middleton's first game action since the first round of the NBA playoffs last April.

Middleton played 27 minutes and knocked down 6 of 11 shots (3 of 4 on 3-pointers) giving the Bucks offense an extra spark after missing their first 20 games of the season.

"He makes the game look so easy," Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said. "The way he plays, it's kind of like nobody is out there, just him. It's like a drill. It's definitely good to see him back out there, wish we could've got the win for him. But he makes the game look effortless."

Middleton made his debut as the Bucks were playing their first game of a back-to-back on Friday night before heading to Charlotte for a matchup with the Hornets on Saturday. However, Middleton is not expected to play for a second consecutive game on Saturday, according to coach Mike Budenholzer, as the team attempts to manage his workload after being sidelined for such an extended stretch.

"It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing, playing," Middleton said. "Just a range of emotions. Been through a lot these last couple months -- happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me, it felt pretty good."

With Middleton back in the rotation, the Bucks scored 129 points, their highest scoring total in regulation of the season. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 40 points and Holiday added 28, but the Bucks usually stingy defense could not contain the Lakers' stars. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook combined for 87 points, and the Bucks surrendered a season-high 133 points.

However, Middleton's first game action in nearly eight months left the Bucks feeling encouraged.

"We know it's going to take time," Holiday said. "But he did his thing today, he had a good game."

Middleton sprained the MCL in his left knee during the first round of the 2021-22 playoffs against the Chicago Bulls that kept him sidelined for the Bucks' final 10 playoff games. In July, Middleton underwent surgery to repair a lingering issue in his wrist that bothered him during the second half of last season.

It has left the Bucks without one of their best perimeter scorers for an extended stretch, and their offense has suffered without Middleton, a two-time All-Star who has averaged at least 20 points in four of the past five seasons. Milwaukee entered Friday's game ranked 17th in the NBA in offensive efficiency.

"To have Khris Middleton back is huge for us," Budenholzer said. "Pretty impressive how seamlessly he got back into the game, both ends of the court. We talk a lot about how Khris, he's just a basketball player. He's a smart player. Just understands the game. Not overly reliant on athleticism or things like that, so for him to come back and be able to catch a good rhythm - he's got to keep working, he's got to keep working, but a big step for us tonight to get Khris Middleton back."