Bucks MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo out against Suns

Mar 8, 2020, 2:17 PM
Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives against Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton(22) during t...
Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives against Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton(22) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

The Phoenix Suns won’t have to face the MVP favorite on Sunday. Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was ruled out with a left knee injury.

Antetokounmpo injured his knee against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. He has a minor joint capsule sprain on the knee, the Bucks tweeted.

Phoenix won’t be at full health either. Deandre Ayton (ankle sprain) and Cam Johnson (illness) will both miss their second consecutive games.

With a record of 53-10, Milwaukee has the best record in the league. Antetokounmpo is the biggest reason, but the depth on the Bucks will make this a difficult challenge for the Suns.

The Bucks are 5-1 this season without the reigning MVP.

“You can’t look at any game and say ‘OK, how’d that team beat them when Giannis didn’t play?'” Suns head coach Monty Williams said Sunday afternoon.

Guard Khris Middleton made his second straight All-Star Game and is posting high numbers at incredible efficiency. He is averaging 20.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists and essentially produced a 50/40/90 season, shooting 49.9% from the field, 42.2% from 3 and 90.8% from the free throw line.

In six games without Antetokounmpo this season, Middleton is averaging more than 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game.

“He’s one of the few guys that still takes midrange shots, and he makes them. I think his efficiency and his pace has been consistent,” Williams said. “I haven’t studied him enough to say, I just know he’s good. I hope that he’s stuck in traffic.”

The Bucks have the fifth-best offensive rating in the league, and its No. 1 defensive rating is four points better than the No. 2 Toronto Raptors — the same difference between Toronto and the No. 12 Chicago Bulls.

“They force you to shoot a lot of 2s,” Williams said, adding that when the Suns and Bucks played on Feb. 2, Phoenix took far too many 2s away from the rim. “That’s a recipe for frustration. We have to be able to get out and get to the rim, get some open 3s and they make it difficult on you.”

Guard Eric Bledsoe is having a very productive season. Center Brook Lopez has been one of the better defenders in the league this season and is averaging a career-best 2.5 blocks per game.

Role players including Donte DiVincenzo, Wesley Matthews, George Hill, Pat Connaughton and Robin Lopez are strong contributors that make the Bucks arguably the best team in the league and a dangerous matchup even without Antetokounmpo.

“Our mindset is we gotta play high-level basketball for 48 minutes and low-mistake basketball,” Williams said. “That team will make you pay.”

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