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Wizards got their first glimpse of Giannis and the new-look Bucks, and it wasn't pretty

Wizards got their first glimpse of Giannis and the new-look Bucks, and it wasn't pretty

Giannis Antetokounmpo, since he has transformed from a lanky, jumper-less project to an NBA All-Star, has never been easy to stop. At 6-foot-11, he can run and dribble like a guard. And now with muscles, he can bull-rush defenders, always holding an athletic advantage in some combination of ways.

Dealing with Antetokounmpo alone was already a perilous task, and that was before the Milwaukee Bucks surrounded him with an array of lethal outside shooters. Now he has more space than ever, leaving hapless defenders with no ideal options.

Teammates can’t help off their own assignments, or else he will pass and create open shots. The league hasn't quite figured it out, and the Wizards can be added to the mix after Saturday's 131-115 loss to Milwaukee.

“They’ve got shotmakers and with him, he draws so much attention,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “But he can see over, when you double-team him he sees over it. When you play him 1-on-1, he battles you down and gets to the free throw line. It’s hard to stop.”

The Bucks poured in 17 threes on 39 shots, good for 43.6 percent. Eight Bucks players made at least one triple. Khris Middleton had four, while Brook Lopez and George Hill each made three.

Antetokounmpo didn't make any threes, yet he dropped 37 points to go along with 10 rebounds, two assists and a steal. He did it all in less than 33 minutes.

Where Antetokounmpo made most of his money was at the free throw line. Wizards defenders did their best to obstruct the rim as they ran step-for-step with him through the lane. Antetokounmpo initiated contact, and their best strategy was often to wrap him up to prevent easy buckets.

Antetokounmpo got to the line 17 times and never missed. He went a perfect 17-for-17, falling one free throw short of the record for a player against the Wizards/Bullets franchise. Only Rick Barry has gone perfect with more attempts. He went 18-for-18 in 1975.

Antetokounmpo’s brute strength and relentless path to the rim left the Wizards out of answers. Brooks tried to go small to combat the three-point shooting. He played center Thomas Bryant only five minutes in the second half, instead opting for Jeff Green at the five.

But the Bucks did a remarkable job of staying within coach Mike Budenholzer’s structure. They were patient zipping the ball back and forth across the perimeter, often making the extra pass to find an open three. Getting those open looks and making them consistently held the Wizards from building any real sense of momentum.

“Every time we had a run, they countered it with a big shot,” Brooks said. “They’re a good team. They have the best record for a reason.”

The Bucks boast the best record in the NBA at 38-18. They are only six wins away from matching their total from the entire 2017-18 season. They are on pace to improve from 44 wins in 2017-18 to 61 this year.

Budenholzer deserves a lot of credit for that leap, along with the addition of Lopez who has transformed into one of the best shooting big men in the NBA. Collectively, they have improved from one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league to one of the best. They are third in three-pointers made per game this season.

That single area of the game seems to be the key to unlocking what now appears to be a juggernaut and legitimate title contender. They have opened the floor up for Antetokounmpo, one of the most uniquely gifted slashers the league has ever seen.

The Wizards beat this Bucks team in Washington just weeks ago on Jan. 11. But Milwaukee didn't have Antetokounmpo for that game.

With Antetokounmpo in store, the Bucks pounded the Wizards and led by as much as 32. Washington saw just how difficult it would be to face Milwaukee in the playoffs, if they can indeed crack the top eight by the end of the season. If they can play themselves into a postseason berth, they may very well have to face the Bucks in the first round.

Wizards guard Bradley Beal wondered if the pummeling the Bucks delivered on Saturday night was with the bigger picture in mind.

“The playoffs aren't here yet, but that was definitely a message that they were sending,” Beal said.

Whether it had extra intention or not, a message was sent. The Wizards now realize firsthand just how formidable the improved Bucks are this season. 

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Wizards lost to Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo by 16, but the game wasn't that close

Wizards lost to Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo by 16, but the game wasn't that close

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 131-115 on Saturday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. So, it turns out the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo are a lot better than the Bucks without Antetokounmpo.

Last month, the Wizards beat Milwaukee at Capital One Arena when Antetokounmpo didn’t play due to a hip issue. This time, he did play and he was nothing short of dominant.

Antetokounmpo bullied his way to the rim for 37 points and 10 rebounds. The Wizards tried to foul him and make him earn his points at the line. All he did was knock down all 17 of his 17 free throw attempts.

Only one player has ever gone perfect from the line with more attempts against a Wizards or Bullets team. That was Rick Barry back in 1975, who went 18-for-18. The NBA record is 23-for-23, held by Dominique Wilkins.

The Bucks were missing Eric Bledsoe against the Wizards and it didn’t matter. They cruised to a win and led by as many as 32 points.

The Wizards have now lost three of their last four. They will have to see the Bucks again on Wednesday in Milwaukee.
 
2. The game plan the Wizards employed in years past against the Bucks with Antetokounmpo on the floor is basically impossible nowadays. They used to pack the paint and create a wall to the rim, overloading on Antetokounmpo’s ability to attack off the dribble​.​
 
But now, under Coach Mike Budenholzer and with a revamped supporting cast, that is a dangerous strategy. They went from being one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA to one of the very best, currently ranking third in threes made per game. They can spread the floor with shooters and make teams pay for collapsing on the Greek Freak.

The Wizards found that out the hard way, as the Bucks dropped in 17 threes, including 10 in the first half alone. They shot 43.6 percent from the perimeter.  

3. While the Bucks hit their threes, the Wizards went ice cold from long range. Milwaukee has a host of physical perimeter defenders and they did an excellent job of taking away the Wizards’ bread-and-butter shots.

The step​-​back three wasn’t there for Bradley Beal. Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter Jr. were kept from the corners. Comfortable catch-and-shoot looks were limited for Tomas Satoransky and Chasson Randle.

The result was a hideous shooting line from three. The Wizards went just 10-for-33 (30.3%) from outside and that proved a bad combination with Milwaukee’s lethal three-point barrage.

4. With the way Satoransky’s on-court confidence has been growing in recent weeks, he was bound to catch someone with a vicious dunk. That person happened to be Brook Lopez.

Lopez tried to contest Satoransky at the rim in the opening minutes and must have underestimated the Wizards guard. The stars had already aligned. He got off his left leg, the bounciest one, and leveled Lopez with a jaw-dropping slam.

The crowd let out a collective ‘oh!’ and his teammates went wild. Sam Dekker ran onto the court. Thomas Bryant gave Satoransky a leaping chest bump, then kept jumping until he calmed down.

Satoransky was on the losing end, but context isn’t important on social media and the play immediately went viral.



5. Porter came back in this one after leaving the Wizards’ win on Wednesday with a left toe sprain. He also missed practice on Friday and was considered a gametime decision before giving it a go.

Porter played well with 18 points with seven rebounds on 7-for-14 shooting. He wasn’t limited from a minutes perspective, as he logged 34 and that was all before the white flag was waved.

What became more apparent in this game, though, is how thin the Wizards bench is when Porter is back in the starting lineup. It was the second straight game he’s started and this time head coach Scott Brooks went away from Jordan McRae (until late in the second half) and Ian Mahinmi.
 
With Troy Brown Jr. still firmly outside of the rotation, they were left with eight guys, the size of a playoff rotation. Sure, they had two days off before this game, but Porter off the bench at least gives them the perception of having more depth.

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Wizards players celebrated Satoransky's triple-double like it was their own

Wizards players celebrated Satoransky's triple-double like it was their own

Tomas Satoransky has a habit of deferring to his teammates, and it follows him both on and off the court. In games, he's meticulous about setting others up, always intent on moving the ball before seeking his own shot. In media interviews, he takes a similar approach, often directing praise towards others whenever he's given the chance.

So, it makes perfect sense how the postgame celebration on Friday night in the Wizards locker room at Capital One Arena, an impromptu party for his first career triple-double, was what one of his teammates described to NBC Sports Washington as "awkward." That's because Satoransky was hyper-aware of what was coming his way, preventing the element of surprise.

He saw teammates with water bottles as he entered the room, and he had just left an on-court mob following his postgame walk-off interview. He knew what they were up to, how he was not only destined to get soaked but also set to be the center of attention, a place he doesn't always prefer to be.

After a few anxious moments of his teammates waiting, they let loose, dumping water and jumping up and down in a mosh pit of NBA-sized men, rejoicing like kids.

In a season full of frustration and disappointment, things are turning up for the Washington Wizards, and Satoranksy's moment following their 113-106 win over the Bucks was emblematic of what feels like the dawn of a fresh start.

"I think it was Ian [Mahinmi]," Satoransky said, grinning as he looked across the room. "I think it was his idea. That was a Euro-on-Euro crime."

Satoransky had just led the Wizards to their fifth win in their last seven games. He had what was probably the best game of his career, a well-rounded performance of 18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals. He shot 7-for-10 from the field and 2-for-3 from three and finished plus-8 in the box score.

Satoransky did all of this against a Bucks defensive front that features a group of guards that resembles a linebacking corps. They have physical players like Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, all of which spent time guarding Satoransky.

They gave him some trouble at times, as he committed six turnovers. But for the most part, Satoransky had his way with the Bucks from the opening tip.

In the first quarter alone, Satoransky had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists in nine minutes. After that hot start, the possibility entered his mind and those of his teammates.

By the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, it became a realistic goal when Satoransky reached nine assists. It was then that teammate Bradley Beal took initiative.

Beal said he called a series of plays for Satoransky to pass him the ball for a score, but Satoransky pushed back, not wanting to commit any more turnovers and put the win in jeopardy. With 1:43 left, Beal cut baseline and Satoransky found him with a perfect alley-oop lob.

There it was, his first career triple-double.

Then, they broke out the bottles.

"It was great energy," Beal said. "My whole damn locker was wet."

"His first triple-double was cool to see, all the guys enjoyed it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "That's what teams do. You have to celebrate your team's success. It was fun to see after the game, their celebration."

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