Excelling defensively, Bucks out to cool off Hornets

Coming off two key road victories, the Milwaukee Bucks face the visiting Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night in the first of a home-and-home set.

The Bucks, who are third in the Eastern Conference, took down the 76ers 119-98 on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way with 30 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. Damian Lillard added 24 points and nine assists while Malik Beasley scored 20.

“We put such an emphasis on defense it was taking away from our offense. I think their conditioning is starting to catch up,” Bucks coach Doc Rivers said. “Defensively the last three, four games we’ve been terrific.”

Beasley said after the game that as the team continues to acclimate to its new head coach, communication is key.

“It all comes down to communicating,” he said. “Today was one of the first times we all were communicating; before we were getting mixed up making sure we stay with our own guy or switch.”

Charlotte picked up their fifth win in six games, defeating the Trail Blazers 93-80 on Sunday in Portland.

Nick Richards led the Hornets with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Miles Bridges added 18 points and 10 boards and rookie Brandon Miller scored 17.

“Our defense was good. We were active with our hands, it started early,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “Right now, everybody is trying. If they try hard and have a feel for the game, we can be OK. We have very good basketball IQ.”

With Terry Rozier traded and LaMelo Ball not qualifying due to missed games, Bridges leads Charlotte with 21.5 points per game. Richards is also first with 8.1 boards and Ish Smith leads with 3.4 assists per game.

Antetokounmpo leads Milwaukee with 30.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per contest. Lillard averages 6.8 assists and Brook Lopez is blocking 2.7 shots per game.

On the injury front, Milwaukee is still without Khris Middleton, who will miss his eighth straight game Tuesday with a left ankle injury. Rivers said before Sunday’s game that Middleton is “getting closer.”

Ball will miss his 15th game in a row with a right ankle injury. Mark Williams (back) and Davis Bertans (knee) sat out Sunday, and their status for Tuesday has yet to be announced.

These teams have faced off twice this season, with Milwaukee winning 130-99 at Charlotte on Nov. 17 (in-season tournament group play) and 120-84 at home on Feb. 9. Milwaukee has held teams to fewer than 100 points just four times this season, including in each of these games.

In the most recent matchup, Lillard led the way with 26 points along with 21 from Beasley. Antetokoumpo scored 15 and grabbed 14 rebounds.

This home-and-home set will complete the season series. It’s been a back-and-forth series, with Milwaukee leading 67-60. The Bucks took the series 2-1 a season ago after splitting 2-2 in 2021-22.