Streaking Bucks host pesky Hornets
The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the brightest stars in the NBA universe in Giannis Antetokounmpo, own the best winning percentage in the league and have one of the highest scoring averages.
But can they solve the Charlotte Hornets?
The Bucks and Hornets will meet Friday night in Milwaukee, almost two months after the teams last played -- a 110-107 home victory for Charlotte on Nov. 26. The teams also opened the season against each other, with the Bucks eking out a 113-112 victory, also in Charlotte.
Milwaukee (34-12) enters with a five-game winning streak, with each victory coming against a team that is now sub-.500. Charlotte (23-24) will be trying to reach that level, moving within one game of the mark with a 118-107 victory at Memphis on Wednesday night.
The Hornets have won four of their past five games. They sit in the seventh playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings, which is a factor in keeping star guard Kemba Walker off the trading block.
"We haven't talked about standings, playoffs, record," Charlotte coach James Borrego on Wednesday night. "Right now, we're focused on getting better, really. I think we've done that over the last couple of weeks. That's the focus -- going into Milwaukee and becoming a better team."
The Dallas Mavericks were one of the teams recently inquiring about Walker, according to The Athletic, but Charlotte owner Michael Jordan reportedly plans to stand pat and try to re-sign Walker as a free agent in the offseason.
Walker, in the final year of a four-year contract, is having the best season of his eight-year career. The 28-year-old is averaging 25.0 points and 5.7 assists.
He scored 41 in the season-opening loss to the Bucks.
Walker will run into a Milwaukee team that -- in addition to its 117.6 points per game -- led the league in defensive rating (103.8), opponents' points in the paint (40.0 per game) and opponents' fast-break points (9.7) through Wednesday's games.
"I think we've just continued to improve as a team defensively," said center Brook Lopez. "Our guards do such a great job of fighting through pick-and-rolls. They're so tough when it comes to that, that it allows me to sit back a lot. ...
"We have a lot of firepower offensively. It comes from a lot of different places; different guys every night. But we definitely make our money on the defensive end. That's where we do our job. I think that's really what identifies this team."
Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.5 points, 12.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists. In two games against the Hornets, he is averaging 22.5 points, 15.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists.
Forward Khris Middleton (17.3) is next among five Milwaukee players scoring at least 12 points per game.
Walker doesn't have as much help, but center Bismack Biyombo just missed his third consecutive double-double Wednesday night with nine points and a team-high 10 rebounds, while veteran point guard Tony Parker came off the bench to score 17 points in 17 minutes against the Grizzlies.
Parker and Walker played together at times, which is something to watch moving forward, Borrego said.
"It's a different look for teams," he said.
The Bucks and Hornets will wrap up their season series on March 9 in Milwaukee.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 24, 2019