Antetokounmpo dominates as Bucks beat Hornets, Sabonis silences Jazz

Khris Middleton said he was “certainly worried” and substitute head coach Darvin Ham lamented another loss as the Milwaukee Bucks stumbled once again to the Charlotte Hornets.

The Bucks followed a six-game winning streak with four losses in five games, the latest being a 103-99 loss to the Hornets at the Spectrum Center.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and eight assists, while Middleton had 27 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists, but the Bucks delivered an incomplete performance.

The Hornets improved to 22-19, while the slippery Bucks are now 26-17 for the season, following their championship campaign in 2021 with something less convincing.

It was a second loss to the Hornets in three days for the Bucks, who, like so many other teams, are feeling the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Jrue Holiday has joined the ranks of Bucks stars sidelined and isolated due to NBA health and safety protocols, and inevitably his absence was felt. Holiday is averaging 18.4 per game this season and leads the team in assists (6.7)

Interim head coach Darvin Ham, leading the Bucks with Mike Budenholzer in health and safety protocols, couldn’t get the team out of a winning game, as the Hornets’ James Borrego extended their three-way winning streak.

“Hats off to Charlotte,” Ham said. “JB has a great young squad, they’re one hell of an offensive team. And we just didn’t play enough games tonight.

“We’re just trying to go to the game and as staff, put our brains together and put together the best package we can. It’s not going to be perfect, the circumstances are what they are.

“I think we are still able to win a game and we failed.”

From 99-99 with less than half a minute to go, LaMelo Ball sank the decisive shot and Miles Bridges secured with two late free throws.

The Bucks turned to Middleton and Antetokounmpo in these later stages, which Ham said was reasonable play.

“In the home stretch you want the ball to be in the hands of your two best players and that was definitely on purpose,” Ham said.

“Time and time again… they’ve won a championship playing that way. There’s no better option in my opinion.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Bucks, who face the Western Conference-leading Golden State Warriors on Thursday, but this time with the home advantage.

Middleton, who played a fourth straight game over 20 points, wants this slide to stop as soon as possible.

He said: “I think you’re really worried – you never want to lose four out of five, you never want to lose two in a row.”

Quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Middleton said, “We understand the circumstances. We are not using this as an excuse. Everyone is going through this.

“So we still have to find a way to… compete and give ourselves a chance to win, which we’ve had the last two nights we just couldn’t pull it off.”

Ada J. Kenney