NBA: After scrappy ending in Sacramento, Bucks set to battle Suns
Center Brook Lopez is enjoying a strong year for the Milwaukee Bucks, who conclude their three-game Western Conference trip with a matchup against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.
The question is whether Lopez will be available after the 15-year veteran was ejected in the final seconds of Milwaukee’s Monday game at Sacramento following a tussle with Kings forward Trey Lyles.
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Lopez had 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks as the Bucks beat the Kings 133-124.
With 15.4 seconds to go, Lyles fouled Giannis Antetokounmpo and gave the Milwaukee star a small push. Lopez then got in the face of Lyles, who pushed Lopez in the face, leading to a scrum that required multiple players and referees to separate them.
Lopez said, according to Sideline Sources, “I thought what that guy did to Giannis was cheap. He didn’t need to do any of that stuff. He stepped up to Giannis a little bit as he walked off and I didn’t like that. I had my guy’s back like I would have any of my teammates.”
One of the top candidates for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Lopez is averaging 21.6 points and 6.6 rebounds in seven games this month. He leads the NBA with 169 total blocks.
“Brook Lopez is incredible,” Bucks general manager Jon Horst told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He contests more shots than anybody. His blocks are league-leading. He does it without fouling. He scores the basketball more. He’s a great communicator. He’s a selfless star. I think it all matters.”
Antetokounmpo returned to the lineup on Monday after missing three games due to right hand soreness, and he finished with 46 points and 12 rebounds.
“Obviously he had a great bounce tonight,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He was aggressive and really attacked. When he has a few days off and can take care of his body and get his lifts in, we reap the benefits.”
Milwaukee forward Khris Middleton added a season-high 31 points and nine assists in the win over the Kings. Middleton, who has missed 43 games due to injuries this season, will likely be rested on Tuesday as the Bucks look to exercise caution in the second game of a back-to-back set.
The Bucks have won 10 of their last 11 road games, and are looking to complete a season sweep of Phoenix after prevailing 104-101 on Feb. 26 in Milwaukee.
Phoenix has lost two straight following a four-game winning streak. Devin Booker scored 32 points and Deandre Ayton had 27 points and 12 rebounds on Monday in the Suns’ 123-112 loss to the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco.
Suns forward Kevin Durant sat out his third straight game because of a sprained left ankle. He will be re-evaluated in 2 1/2 weeks, and the Suns are optimistic Durant will be near full strength at that time.
“If the playoffs started today, he’d be out there,” Suns general manager James Jones said. “He’d be struggling a little bit.”
With Durant sidelined, the Suns have been dependent on Booker and Ayton for the bulk of their scoring. Coach Monty Williams is looking for players such as Josh Okogie, Torrey Craig and Terrence Ross to help fill the void left by Durant’s absence. Okogie scored 11 points against the Warriors.
“We don’t want to throw guys out there just to throw them out there and mess around with the game, but I think these are opportunities for guys for sure to get extended minutes … and at the end of the day, we want to win games and be productive,” Williams said.
“When stuff like this comes up, the professionalism that guys have to have in situations like this is paramount. Being ready, staying ready mentally and physically is a skill in this league and we’re counting on that with guys we have who have been waiting for a chance to play.”
Depth will be a key factor again on Tuesday as the Suns play their third game in four nights.
Phoenix is 22-11 at home compared to 15-20 on the road.
–Field Level Media
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