The Milwaukee Bucks are in position to sweep their regular-season series with the Orlando Magic.
Orlando hosts Milwaukee on Thursday for the fourth and final meeting between the Eastern Conference foes. The Bucks enjoyed sizable leads in each of the first three games with the Magic, punctuated by Tuesday’s 127-110 victory during which they were ahead by as many as 29 points.
The Bucks have not only strung together four straight victories to move 10 games above .500 for the first time this season, but they’ve also won 15 of 20 after an 8-8 start. And they’re getting healthier at a time when many teams are struggling to maintain rosters.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, six rebounds and six assists during the first of a two-game set in Orlando. He scored 11 fourth-quarter points to help Milwaukee fend off a Magic rally, while Khris Middleton finished with 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting and Jrue Holiday had a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists.
Bobby Portis scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half as Milwaukee built a 72-45 advantage. Portis made all five of his 3-point attempts and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds for good measure.
“We’ve had good stretches of basketball,” Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer said postgame Tuesday. “So, I think when we’ve been healthy and we’ve had everybody, just like everybody else, that’s probably when you’re at your best. Health’s a big part of it.”
Veteran center Brook Lopez (back surgery) was the only player to make Milwaukee’s injury list on Tuesday, while the situation remains complicated for Orlando. The Magic still had four players — Mo Bamba, Chuma Okeke, Terrence Ross and Mychal Mulder — in the league health and safety protocols prior to tipoff against the Bucks.
That number increased by one when the Magic announced after the loss that guard Hassani Gravett had entered the protocols as well. Gravett, who signed a second 10-day contract on Dec. 27, played almost 19 minutes in a starting role on Tuesday.
Former Michigan Wolverine Franz Wagner and former Michigan State Spartan Gary Harris continue to be among the key players for Orlando, which has lost 10 straight games to Milwaukee.
With Michigan men’s basketball coach (and former Magic player) Juwan Howard and the Wolverines in attendance, Wagner scored a career-high 38 points on Tuesday to boost his chances of being named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December. Wagner went 12-for-20 from the field, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range, and converted all 10 of his free throws.
The eighth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft has scored in double figures in 17 straight games, tying him for the second-longest streak by a Magic rookie. Tuesday’s performance also allowed Wagner to join Shaquille O’Neal and Dennis Scott as the only Magic rookies to score 38 or more points in a game.
Harris is averaging 18.2 points over the last six games, including a season-high 22 against New Orleans on Dec. 23. The 6-foot-4 guard has reached three NBA milestones already this season: 5,000 career points, 600 career 3-point field goals and 500 career steals.
“It’s been tough, especially with having so many guys down,” Harris said after Orlando’s shootaround on Tuesday. “It’s been a real fluid situation for us, not necessarily knowing what’s going to happen each and every day. But just come into work and, like I said, control what you can control, trying to stay safe, stay healthy and try to win some games.”
–Field Level Media