If you haven’t checked the standings for a while, you’ll be quick to notice something familiar about the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Milwaukee Bucks are once again rising toward the top.
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Winners in 10 of their last 11 games, the Bucks have found form and the reasoning seems pretty clear cut.
With a 112-104 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Fiserv Forum on Monday night the Bucks are now 11-0 when Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are in the lineup.
Middleton (eight games missed), Holiday (six games) and Antetokounmpo (three games) have been hampered by various ailments throughout the first quarter of the season, in addition to starting center Brook Lopez who only managed to appear in the opening night festivities due to a back injury that forced him into surgery last week.
As they did through the 2021 championship run, the Bucks three stars take turns taking over the game. Against Cleveland, it was Antetokounmpo who exploded for 15 points in the fourth quarter on his 27th birthday. All up, the trio each topped 20 points in the win, combining for 68 overall.
Entering the game against the Cavs, the unit of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday ranked 14th among 3-man Milwaukee units for minutes played, highlighting how little they have had the opportunity to share the floor.
For comparison, last season the group ranked sixth in the same catagory.
The Bucks big three getting it done (via NBA.com)
Without Lopez in the lineup, the Bucks have turned to Bobby Portis as the starting five, with DeMarcus Cousins a recent addition to the big man rotation.
Despite the loss of their defensive anchor, the Bucks have began to restore normalcy on both ends of the floor over the last ten games.
Sitting in the bottom third for offensive and defensive efficiency in the opening weeks of the season, the last 10 games sees the Bucks in the top five on both ends of the floor.
It should be no shock that Antetokounmpo is the main driver of the Bucks dominance, with his on/off numbers simply insane.
The MVP case for Antetokounmpo?
Of course, a contributing factor to those absurd advanced numbers has been the absence of Middleton and Holiday forcing Mike Budenholzer into playing deep rotation and two-way players extended minutes to start the season, but it nonetheless could be a solid argument for why Antetokounmpo is leading the chasing pack for MVP honors behind Stephen Curry.
As it currently stands, the Bucks are 1.0 game back of Kevin Durant and the Nets for the No. 1 seed in the East, with a December schedule that certainly looks favorable on paper.
Of the 12 games left in the calendar year, the Bucks will play an injury hit Miami next, with other matchups against Houston twice, Orlando twice, Boston twice, New York, Indiana, New Orleans, Cleveland and Dallas. Out of that bunch, Miami are the only team greater than two games over .500.
In a season where injuries and health and safety protocols are playing a major part in the regular season story, banking wins feels more important than ever.
For now at least, the Bucks big three haven’t wasted a single opportunity.
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