The Milwaukee Bucks overcame the absence of two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and six other players to emerge victorious in their most recent outing.
Winners of 13 of their past 16 games, the Bucks likely will cobble together another shorthanded lineup on Friday night when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans.
Playing without Antetokounmpo (health and safety protocols) and Khris Middleton (hyperextended left knee) among others, Milwaukee relied on a spirited effort from Jrue Holiday in its 114-99 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.
Holiday collected 26 points and a season-high 14 assists for the Bucks, who also played without centers DeMarcus Cousins (personal) and Brook Lopez (back surgery), forward Semi Ojeleye (calf), and guards Wes Matthews and Donte DiVincenzo (health and safety protocols). DiVincenzo had yet to play this season as he continued his rehabilitation from ankle surgery, however, he was in line to return to the court against the Pacers.
“Just a lot of decision making, making a lot of plays, just a lot of trying to get in the paint,” Holiday said. “It was a lot, but it was fun.”
Whether Middleton gets in on the fun on Friday night remains to be seen, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
“I think we consider everything very fortunate,” Budenholzer said of the status of Middleton, who sustained his injury during Milwaukee’s 117-103 loss to the Boston Celtics on Monday.
“This should be very minimal and short. We’ll see how he feels (Thursday) and going into the game Friday. I think we’ll be hopeful.”
It’s a little less clear for Antetokounmpo. Players who test positive for COVID-19 are eligible to return following two negative PCR tests within 24 hours, or they can return after a minimum of 10 days from the first positive test or onset of symptoms.
“We’ll follow all the guidelines that the league has laid out and hope that he’s just healthy and taking care of himself,” Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo, who said during the team’s media day prior to the season that he was vaccinated.
Antetokounmpo averages team-leading totals in points (27.0) and rebounds (11.6) to go along with 5.8 assists per game.
The Pelicans have answered a disastrous 3-16 start to the season by winning six of their past 11 games.
Devonte’ Graham sank an improbable 61-foot shot at the buzzer to send New Orleans to a 113-110 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
“That’s definitely my best game-winner I’ve had,” said Graham, who also sank a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining in the Pelicans’ 98-97 victory over the Utah Jazz on Nov. 26.
“I mean, every one is memorable, but a full-court shot like that, it’s got to be ranked No. 1.”
Graham made 5-of-10 shots from 3-point range to finish with 15 points against the Thunder.
Brandon Ingram erupted for a team-high 34 points on Wednesday. He is averaging 27.9 points over his past eight games to boost his team-leading season average to 23.4.