Bucks smother Hornets with improved defense, coach provides Khris Middleton update

Charlotte Hornets v Milwaukee Bucks
Charlotte Hornets v Milwaukee Bucks / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

The Milwaukee Bucks have come out of the NBA All-Star break with a newfound sense of purpose, having reeled off two impressive victories prior to Tuesday night's game.

They aimed to keep that streak rolling against a visiting Charlotte Hornets team that has flown under the radar as a much-improved squad post-trade deadline. Milwaukee could not take this team lightly, and thankfully, they did not. After trailing by five points early, the Bucks punched back, took the lead and never gave it up from that point on.

Milwaukee went up by as many as 49 points (!!!) in this one, just flat-out dominating Charlotte on both sides of the basketball. When the final horn rang, the Bucks walked off the court with a 123-85 win, holding their opponents to under 100 points for the fourth time in seven games.

Bucks smother Hornets with improved defense, coach provides Khris Middleton update

If you hold a team to 85 points in today's NBA, you are doing something right. Indeed, the Bucks were clicking on that side of things in this matchup, holding Charlotte to 37 percent shooting, including just 27.5 percent from three. For over eight minutes in the first half, the Hornets failed to put a single point on the board as they struggled with what the Bucks were displaying defensively.

At the half, the Hornets had just 26 points. That is not a typo. Per the Bucks, 26 points are the fewest a team has allowed in a half this season, which is incredibly impressive. Despite a rather rocky start, the Bucks have been a better team defensively since Doc Rivers took over as coach, and this game is one of the best examples.

As highlighted by the box score, this was a genuine team effort by the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard led the way with 24 and 23 points, respectively, with each of them playing under 25 minutes. Zeroing in on Lillard, he was a +41 in this one, showcasing his impact as he continues to find his footing more and more as of late.

Speaking of finding footing, Bobby Portis has been in a marvelous groove lately and kept that trend alive by finishing with 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists off of the bench. Pat Connaughton helped spark the bench unit alongside Portis by pouring in nine points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals. Milwaukee needs these two veterans, and they've answered the call lately.

Elsewhere in the second unit, Danilo Gallinari scored his first points as a Buck, tallying eight of them as he offered a glimpse of what he can provide. AJ Green matched him in the scoring department by sinking two triples and a shot inside the arc; his potential continues to shine through the cracks for the Milwaukee Bucks despite his very limited playing time.

Jae Crowder, continuing to fill in as a starter for Khris Middleton, broke out of his recent offensive slump by tallying 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 2-of-3 from deep. He also put together a solid line of seven rebounds and two assists with some quality defense. Whether it is as a starter or reserve, Crowder's importance to the Bucks will continue to be a major factor down the stretch.

On the other side of the ball, Miles Bridges led the way with 17 points, but he was an astounding -48 in the matchup. Brandon Miller had 14 points, but it took him 14 shots to get there as the Bucks sent solid defense his way every trip down the floor.

After the game, Doc Rivers told reporters that he does not expect Khris Middleton, who has been out recovering from an ankle injury, to return for Milwaukee's upcoming back-to-back. Rivers added that Middleton is close to making his return, so the team is being careful with him, which is reasonable.

Ultimately, it was a great win for the Bucks, and help will be on the way sometime soon in the form of Khris Middleton. Only time will tell just how soon.

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