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    Celtics, Raptors may soon realize buck stops in Milwaukee in East

    Nov 7, 2018
    PHOTO: AP
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    MILWAUKEE - Sixteen months after his two-day trip to the Philippines, Giannis Antetokounmpo still harbors fond memories of the visit.

    "Amazing," he said of Manila, the food, and the people.

    "They go crazy for NBA basketball," added Antetokounmpo who spoke to SPIN.ph after submitting a triple-double in his return after missing a game due to the league's concussion protocol.

    But there was a unique four-wheeled contraption that found a permanent spot in the 23-year old All-Star's memory vault. He described it as "the thing that drives and there's people in the back. Almost like a taxi."

    After one lousy guess, I blurted out jeepney and he smiled in approval.

    Our beloved jeepney - a steel box of speed and recklessness that blazes through our urban streets - is a lot like the Bucks, who are currently terrorizing NBA courts with their brand of fast play that leaves little regard for pedestrians and obstacles.

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    Sacramento is a recent victim. Brutally run over on Sunday afternoon, 144-109, in front of 17,341 witnesses inside the spanking new Fiserv Forum, a $524 million arena nestled near the heart of downtown Milwaukee and just steps away from the 30-year old Bradley Center.

    It's not clear if the concussed Kings saw the license plate of the roaring locomotive that struck them. But they all knew the driver.

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    The Greek Freak.

    Antetokounmpo tallied 26 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. And he did so efficiently, knocking down eight of 11 field goals, including 1-for-2 from 3-land, plus a 9-of-12 effort from the free-throw line. All that in a 30-minute capsule.

    With his per game averages of 26.1 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists, it's no wonder the 8-1 Bucks are in second place in the Eastern Conference, one game behind the 10-1 Toronto Raptors and 2.5 games up on the Boston Celtics.

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    Starting tomorrow, the Bucks will embark on a four-game road trip where they will face the Blazers in Portland, the Warriors in Oakland, the Clippers in L.A., and the surprisingly good Denver Nuggets who have stormed to a prolific 9-1 start.

    It's a stern test, one that Milwaukee should pass with flying colors and finish this away swing no worse than 2-2.

    After finishing last season with a 44-38 slate and a seventh seed in the playoffs, the Bucks are currently on pace to win 55 games with a decent shot at the No. 1 seed.

    WHAT CHANGED? AND WHY HAVE THEY BECOME SO INSANELY GOOD?

    For starters, the Bucks have tightly embraced the modern NBA's 3-point revolution.

    Last season, the Bucks were 25th in the league in made 3-pointers per game (8.8) and 27th in 3-point attempts (24.7) This season, the Bucks are No. 1 in both categories, hurling an astounding 41 threes a contest and swishing 15.6 per, which amounts to 46.8 points of their 121.9 points per game average.

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    The 3-point land is often a fool's paradise, 22 feet away from the basket at the baselines and 23.9 feet away when shot at the top of the arc. Through nine games thus far though, it's been anything but fool's gold for the Bucks. They've sank 140 of 369 tries, a very healthy 37.9 percent clip.

    Last season, Milwaukee was 19th in the league in defensive rating at 110.1. They are currently second at 100.6 and have held opponents to 106.1 points per while allowing them to shoot just 40.4 percent from the field, which is No. 1 in the league.

    For a defense to be mighty, it needs talent, personnel, and the willingness to execute. Milwaukee has all those ingredients and 49-year old coach Mike Budenholzer, a branch off the Gregg Popovich coaching tree, is doing a spectacular job melding all the ingredients together.

    ARMY OF 10. The Bucks aren't just a one-man demolition job. They are a productive 10-man rotation.

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    Khris Middleton is averaging 19.2 points and 5.1 boards per while Eric Bledsoe norms 13.6 points and 5.3 dimes per. The other two starters - Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon - combine for 24.1 points a contest.

    Ersan Ilyasova, Donte Divincenzo, Tony Snell, Pat Connaughton and John Henson power the bench with a combined output of 38.3 points a contest. As a unit, the Bucks outrebound their foes, 54.4 to 44.7 a game, and produce more assists, 26.4 to 22.6.

    The Celtics are heavily favored to win the East, with competition coming from the fading Sixers and the rising Raptors.

    But with the way The Greek Freak and his crew are playing, it could well be that when everything is said and done, the buck stops in Milwaukee.

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    PHOTO: AP
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