Khris Middleton is back, and so are the Bucks’ real-life NBA championship predictions

DETROIT — It’s been 280 days since the Milwaukee Bucks said they were complete, 280 days from the day Chris Middleton injured his wrist in their first-round series against Chicago, 280 days from the day their chances of a re-championship slipped. sink.

But Middleton’s emergence after the on-and-off season so far has been a sight to see – and a return to realistic championship expectations for the Bucks.

He came off the bench to play 15 minutes Monday in their 150-130 win over the Detroit Pistons in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. The Pistons are still without cornerstone Kid Cunningham and he may still be weary from his trip to Paris last week, but that rout will likely come no matter the circumstances.

The Bucks played with gusto and Bob was a sharp contrast to the malaise he wore for a few stints this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo came back from a five-game absence and didn’t seem to be off the hook at all, scoring 20 in the first quarter and finishing with 29 and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes.

The numbers are immaterial, in a way, but the sense of optimism was palpable in the locker room afterwards.

“The band is back together,” said Antetokounmo. “It’s good to see him out there, run up and down, socialize with him, play with him. It’s been a long time. He’s been doing rehab and fighting the battle himself.”

If Bucks were a band, Antetokounmpo would of course be the lead singer. David Ruffin, Ronald Isley, Michael Jackson – take your pick. Middleton is not a background voice; He might not be someone you might notice at first glance that way.

But he makes everything better, like a great bass player. You may not know James Jamerson of The Funk Brothers, but you know the guitar riffs and bass lines when you hear them – allowing room for the superstar to be the star.

“I try to take pride in my work, which makes everyone’s job easier. Take a lot of pressure off Giannis and Grio [Holiday]Everyone,” Middleton told Yahoo Sports. “My exit gives these other guys a chance to grow, which will make us better in the long run.”

Milwaukee has been 5th in 3-point percentage points the past two seasons, but this year, the Bucks are 18th. Middleton shot 39% in that span — think they missed him that much?

The Bucks have been rather impressive as a whole, especially with Holiday taking over as the second leading scorer and Bobby Portis arguably the sixth best scorer in the league. But there aren’t many guys like Middleton – and certainly not one on the current Bucks roster.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton played just his eighth game of the season in Monday’s victory over the Detroit Pistons. His return puts the Bucks in de facto contention for the title. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

It’s like he’s sitting on a 12-foot string of Antetokounmpo, keeping his sights and defense honest when Antetokounmpo barrels or swivels down the fairway for one of those long-armed finishes—and ready to go if the defense bites.

Middleton was 3 of 7 from the field with six turnovers, many of them in a sporadic game, but his timing was expected to be incorrect. Wrist surgery that cost him the first 20 games of the season and knee pain that has kept him out since mid-December was not a recipe for a great showing.

Let’s be clear. Every competitor in the East has experienced some level of great conflict. The Boston coach has been in a scandal right before training camp, Brooklyn makes a deal with drama every year, and Philadelphia always flirts with it one way or another.

Middleton’s absence was a cross for Milwaukee to bear. Losing five of six from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1, then three out of five before Monday, didn’t cause a league-wide caution, but nothing Milwaukee does will move the needle until the playoffs—the advantage of flying constantly under the radar.

“This is where things get interesting over the course of the season for each team,” Middleton told Yahoo Sports. “This is where you do the playoff push before the All-Star break, find out who you are. So I’m definitely excited to be back this time. This is where everyone steps up their game, fights for the seed and tries to play their best basketball in the game.” the recipient “.

League sources tell Yahoo Sports that the Bucks have a big role for Phoenix swingman Jae Crowder, but you get the sense that their bid is their bid, and they’d be willing to make a move into a secondary position if Crowder was moved elsewhere — perhaps in the mold of a tough, versatile fullback who can Shooting strikes.

Any addition will strengthen a well-stocked roster, but even without personnel moves, they’ll have enough to win east.

“The healthier we are, the better chance we have of playing our best basketball late in the season,” Antitekounmpo said. “Guys are not available, it makes our jobs harder. I’m trying to focus on our team. I’m not sure what’s going on in the league. [But] The healthier we are, the greater our chances of being great.”

Easy to say now and impossible to prove, but with Middleton healthy last spring, it was hard to see anyone beat the Bucks in a seven-game series. Not even Dynasty Warriors. We don’t talk about it much because Middleton’s game is so understated and because Antetokounmpo is, rightly so, a lot of oxygen guzzler.

But Middleton put up a 40-point game in the 2021 Finals to help the Bucks come back from a 2-0 deficit — which we don’t talk about much because the deciding play in that game was arguably the greatest defensive cat-and-mouse game of all time, by Antetokounmpo.

“You never know. I never know. Every self-assured player would say, ‘We had a chance,’ but it didn’t happen,” Middleton told Yahoo Sports about last season’s brief playoff run. “At the time, it was frustrating, but not now [frustrated]. It’s extra motivation, and we need to do that. I wouldn’t say we should have won Boston, we should have won the NBA championship. That’s a team from hell right there. I will lose respect for those guys from the other side.”

He also understands its importance. He has a player option worth $40.4 million for next season, but he could turn that down and sign a deal that would keep him in Milwaukee through his mid-30s. A strong finish and a playoff run could only enhance his condition.

“Of course you want to be healthy and in top shape and play the best basketball you can,” Middleton told Yahoo Sports. “This stuff takes care of itself in the off-season. Only one thing to worry about — that’s the game.”

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