By Agence France-Presse
The Milwaukee Bucks, who have the NBA’s best record, continued their drive to clinch home-court advantage in the playoffs with a 126-106 win over the struggling Detroit Pistons on Thursday.
Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 33 points and 16 rebounds as the visiting Bucks disposed of their Central Division rivals for the 11th straight time.
Khris Middleton tallied 28 points and eight rebounds for the Bucks, who have won 15 of their last 17 games.
“That was a really impressive first half and I thought we did a lot of good things in the second half, too,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Our energy had been good the last two days, but that doesn’t always equate to good play. There were a lot of positives for the first game after the (all-star) break.”
They have beaten Detroit three times this season after sweeping the Pistons in the opening round of last year’s playoffs.
Eric Bledsoe had 19 points and six assists, and Brook Lopez delivered 18 points in the win in front of a crowd of 20,300 at Little Caesars Arena.
The Bucks will conclude the season series against Detroit on March 23 at Milwaukee.
Christian Wood led Detroit with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Bruce Brown had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Derrick Rose and Langston Galloway scored 12 points apiece for the Pistons, who lost their fifth straight game.
The Bucks led 70-41 at halftime as Antetokounmpo powered the offense with 19 points, 12 rebounds and three assists.
Antetokounmpo had 10 points and eight rebounds during the first eight minutes, and the Bucks led 32-18 at the end of the first quarter.
Antetokounmpo was back in action against the Pistons after missing the last two Bucks’ games because of the birth of his first child.
The way this season plays out could have long-term implications on the team. He’ll be eligible for a contract extension this summer and could enter free agency following the 2020-21 season.
But Antetokounmpo addressed his future during the recent all-star break, saying that he plans to remain in Milwaukee as long as the team is winning.
The hapless Pistons, who are 29 games behind the Bucks in the standings, were without Blake Griffin, who is out for the season after having knee surgery.
Detroit is in a rebuilding mode after trading away center Andre Drummond earlier this month and buying out guard Reggie Jackson.
The Pistons appear to have packed it in for this season and are doing a lot of experimenting with their rotations as they seem to set their sights on getting a high draft pick.
“With a young team, it takes getting smacked upside the head a few times to wake them up a little bit,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “Tonight showed everyone how far we still have to go when it comes to building our roster and developing our young players.”
Elsewhere, all-star Trae Young exploded for a career high 50 points as the Atlanta Hawks closed the game with a 10-0 run to defeat the Miami Heat 129-124.
Young’s brilliant performance came in his first game back after making his NBA all-star debut in Chicago.
Young made 18 of 19 free throws and eight of 15 three-pointers to establish the personal best score.
Bam Adebayo, who won the skills competition at the all-star game, had 28 points and a season-high 19 rebounds for Miami, who lost their fifth game in the last six.
Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter each scored 17 points for Atlanta.
Young made two free throws late in the game to help seal the win after teammate Cam Reddish stole the ball from Goran Dragic to put Atlanta up 126-124.