League-leading Bucks battle slumping Magic
Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo is the leading All-Star vote-getter in the Eastern Conference, which gives him a legitimate platform to lobby for others to make the team.
He is making a case for his teammate, forward Khris Middleton.
Middleton will have two more chances to make a statement of his own before voting closes on Monday night, starting with the Bucks' road game against the Orlando Magic on Saturday. Milwaukee hosts the Dallas Mavericks on Monday afternoon.
"I think people have to appreciate him even more if you know what he's doing for this team," Antetokounmpo said of Middleton, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Khris should be an All-Star this year, definitely. Write that on Twitter with caps."
Middleton is part of a large wave of offensive weapons for the Bucks, who are second in the NBA to the Golden State Warriors in scoring at 117.6 per game.
While ceding the spotlight to Antetokounmpo, Middleton is averaging 17.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range (103 of 270). He can decline a $13 million player option after this season and make more on a new contract.
"He's a winner," said Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 26.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and six assists per game. "He's not selfish. He could be selfish and say, 'I'm Khris Middleton, I want the ball. This is my year, I'm going to make this my year.' But he didn't do that. He's playing the right way, he's playing for the team, he's playing to win."
The Bucks have won three consecutive games, most recently beating the Memphis Grizzlies 111-101 on Wednesday. Orlando is playing on a back-to-back after squandering a 21-point, second-quarter lead Friday night in a 117-115 home loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
The Magic, who lost forward Aaron Gordon to lower back tightness in the fourth quarter, gave up the lead with 54.9 seconds left on a four-point play by Spencer Dinwiddie. Evan Fournier missed a floater in the lane in the final seconds that would have tied the game.
"He made a good play," Magic coach Steve Clifford said of Fournier. "He got a good shot, and the ball just didn't go down."
Gordon, who led Orlando with 23 points, told reporters after the game that his availability for the Saturday game was uncertain.
"We'll know more (Saturday)," Clifford said.
Gordon is averaging 20.6 points in his past five games and 15.8 for the season.
The Magic are 3-6 this season on the second night of a back-to-back -- and they will be facing a two-day rest disadvantage against Milwaukee. They have just two wins in their past eight games.
The good news for Orlando was the Friday return of rookie center Mo Bamba, who had missed four games because of a sore left foot. He had nine points, four rebounds and a blocked shot in 15 minutes. Bamba hit 4 of 6 shots from the field.
Orlando center Nikola Vucevic had 16 points and 17 rebounds against the Nets. Vucevic, who went over 5,000 career rebounds, leads the Magic in scoring (20.1 points per game) and rebounding (12 per game).
The Magic are 2 1/2 games back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference while the Bucks possess the league's best record.
The Bucks won the teams' first meeting this season, a 113-91 home victory on Oct. 27. Milwaukee shot 50 percent (41 of 82) from the floor in that game while Orlando made just 32.7 percent (33 of 101) of its field-goal attempts.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 19, 2019