Bud’s Bucks better
Budenholzer wins in return to Atlanta
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.”
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.