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Depleted Suns can’t keep up with Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) shoots against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Offseason moves helped the Phoenix Suns put together a competent roster this season, but the injury bug has the Suns turning back the clock.

Missing six rotation players against the Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix’s lineups looked more like the hodgepodge of names rostered over the last couple seasons than the team this year.

The Bucks trounced Phoenix 129-108 to improve to an NBA-best 42-7. Phoenix fell to 20-29.

Point guards Ricky Rubio and Ty Jerome were out, as was forward Cam Johnson, power forward Dario Saric and bigs Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky.

The Suns had Tariq Owens, Chieck Diallo, Jevon Carter and Tyler Johnson on the floor together early in the second quarter. Owens is a two-way player who was on the Northern Arizona Suns days ago. Diallo averages less than 10 minutes per game. Carter and Johnson’s minutes fluctuate depending on rotation, sometimes getting DNPs and others getting 15-plus minutes.

Second-year point guard Elie Okobo started in place of Rubio, who was out with an ankle injury.

Okobo, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton starting with guard Tyler Johnson and an assortment of fringe players off the bench? That sounds like 2019.

But unlike last season, the Suns couldn’t beat the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez all had double-digit points by halftime and combined for 72 in the game.

The Suns started energetic and kept up with the Bucks. Antetokounmpo made just one of his first five shots with practically every Suns starter guarding him at some point.

He made six of his next 10 shots, but even when it wasn’t falling, Antetokounmpo was getting to the charity stripe. He finished the game with 16 free throws and reached a double-double early in the second half.

Antetokounmpo had 30 points, 19 rebounds – six offensive – and nine assists in the game.

Oubre grabbed six rebounds in the first quarter alone and finished with a double-double, but he made just five of 20 field goals.

Ayton had 20 points and 14 rebounds, a much better showing than Friday when he didn’t have any rebounds through three quarters, but he made just 10 of 27 shots.

The Suns as a team struggled to finish at the rim, particularly around Brook Lopez, who finished with nine blocks.

Phoenix kept it close in the first quarter but fell behind by double-digits in the second. In the third, the Suns evened it out and cut the deficit back to nine off turnovers and offensive rebounds.

Right as it seemed Phoenix could make a run, though, Milwaukee rattled off 11 straight points in under two minutes to extend the lead to 20.

The Bucks shot 49.5% from the field and 39.5% from 3-point range while the Suns shot 39% from the field and 26.1% from behind the arc. Phoenix was outrebounded 61-50 and had just 20 assists while the Bucks had 30.

Booker finished the game with 32 points on just 15 shots and made 12 of 13 free throws. He had seven rebounds and six assists. But, like in seasons past, he needs better play around him to win.

Oubre and Ayton struggled to make shots. Rookies Owens, Jalen Lecque and Jared Harper all got time, with the majority of Lecque’s and Harper’s coming in garbage time.

And as much as anything, the Bucks have the best record in the league for a reason. They’re better than the Suns even when Phoenix isn’t missing its starting point guard, backup point guard, sharpshooting rookie and three bigs.

Phoenix will play Monday against the Brooklyn Nets and try to take advantage of a different team’s injury misfortune. Point guard Kyrie Irving will be out with a knee injury.


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