Bud’s Bucks bet­ter

Bu­den­holzer wins in re­turn to At­lanta

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - PAGE 2 BITS - BY GE­ORGE HENRY

AT­LANTA — Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo had just one re­bound in the first half, when the Mil­wau­kee Bucks lost the bat­tle of the boards by 16.

They took charge of Sun­day af­ter­noon’s game against the At­lanta Hawks in the sec­ond half, with Khris Mid­dle­ton and An­te­tok­oun­mpo ex­ert­ing their will in the paint.

“We played a lit­tle bit harder, moved the ball and we did a bet­ter job of re­bound­ing,” An­te­tok­oun­mpo said. “Run­ning and get­ting to our spots, knock­ing down shots. That’s it.”

An­te­tok­oun­mpo scored 33 points, Eric Bled­soe added 24 with 10 as­sists and the Bucks beat the Hawks 133-114 in coach Mike Bu­den­holzer’s re­turn to At­lanta.

Mid­dle­ton fin­ished with 17 points and 11 re­bounds to help the Bucks im­prove to 30-12, the sec­ond-best record in the NBA. Com­ing off a loss at Wash­ing­ton that An­te­tok­oun­mpo missed with in­juries, Mil­wau­kee is 12-0 after a de­feat this sea­son and re­mained the league’s only team not to drop con­sec­u­tive games in 2018-19.

Bu­den­holzer, mak­ing his first ap­pear­ance at State Farm Arena since leav­ing the Hawks after last sea­son, wished his for­mer team well as it re­builds with young­sters John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Omari Spell­man and Trae Young.

“It’s good to come back and see some fa­mil­iar faces where you worked for five years,” Bu­den­holzer said. “I think to check that box and for the team to play well and ex­e­cute is good. We’ll move on.”

The Bucks are soar­ing, thanks mostly to the 6-foot-11, 242-pound An­te­tok­oun­mpo, who scored 14 points on free throws and had two daz­zling as­sists early in the fourth. He first smoth­ered Young to steal the ball and feed Ge­orge Hill for a 3-pointer that made it 10490, then added a no-look drop pass on D.J. Wil­son’s layup for a 16-point lead.

An­te­tok­oun­mpo, who showed no ill ef­fects after sit­ting out Fri­day with right quadri­ceps sore­ness and a left hip con­tu­sion, later hit a cou­ple of jumpers to make it a 15-point ad­van­tage.

Mil­wau­kee has won 12 of 15 games dat­ing to Dec. 14. The Bucks be­gan the day outscor­ing op­po­nents by an NBA-lead­ing 9.1 points per game.

Young fin­ished with 26 points and DeAn­dre’ Bem­bry added 18 for At­lanta, which fell to 13-30 and has dropped six of its past eight. The Hawks’ 24 turnovers led to 34 points for Mil­wau­kee.

“It’s a re­cur­ring prob­lem, but I’d like to think guys are just try­ing to make plays,” Huerter said. “We were be­ing a lit­tle care­less with the ball on some pos­ses­sions.”

Hawks for­ward Tau­rean Prince, the team’s third-lead­ing scorer this sea­son, re­turned after miss­ing the past 18 games with a left an­kle sprain. Prince had seven points and five re­bounds in 11 min­utes, with his time re­stricted to help his re­cov­ery.

Guard Kent Baze­more, the team’s sec­ond-lead­ing scorer, has missed eight straight games with a right an­kle in­jury.

Coach Bud’s thoughts

When asked be­fore the game about leav­ing the Hawks, Bu­den­holzer said “change and mov­ing is part of life.”

Call­ing it “a heck of a five years,” he wasn’t look­ing back with an­i­mos­ity after a 24-58 fin­ish for At­lanta last sea­son.

He was named the league’s coach of the year in his sec­ond sea­son, lead­ing At­lanta to 60 wins and its first ap­pear­ance in the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals. When prin­ci­pal owner Tony Ressler bought the team and Danny Ferry was ousted as gen­eral man­ager, Bu­den­holzer added pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions to his ti­tle, but the Hawks made three bad moves that set the or­ga­ni­za­tion back and pre­cip­i­tated the re­build.

Al Hor­ford and Paul Mill­sap, two model team lead­ers, left as free agents after the Hawks de­cided not to trade them. In be­tween those gaffes, the team signed mer­cu­rial cen­ter Dwight Howard to a three-year, $70.5 mil­lion con­tract and dealt him away after one ill-fit­ting sea­son.

Bu­den­holzer said he loves his job with the Bucks and wishes the Hawks well.

“A re­build — it’s a tough job to be the owner in a re­build, to be a GM, to be a coach. These are tough jobs, and so I don’t know who the right coach is,” he said. “And I think they feel great about where they are and that’s im­por­tant for them. They have their di­rec­tion they know where they’re go­ing.

“I’m ob­vi­ously very happy with our team, our front of­fice and our ros­ter. I’m very ex­cited about where I am.”

AP PHOTO/CUR­TIS COMPTON

For­mer At­lanta Hawks coach Mike Bu­den­holzer, right, waves to play­ers and fans as he re­turns as the Mil­wau­kee Bucks coach to State Farm Arena on Sun­day in At­lanta.

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