Central Notes: Antetokounmpo, Bickerstaff, Pistons, York

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo staged a “frontal assault” on the Cavaliers Wednesday night, overpowering a strong interior defense for 45 points and 14 rebounds, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. But Milwaukee lost the Central Division showdown, and Vardon suggests it might not be in the team’s best interests for Antetokounmpo to play that physical style.

The Bucks are missing Khris Middleton, who is sidelined with a sore right knee, which limits their options on offense. Vardon notes that Middleton was also absent during last season’s playoffs when Antetokounmpo adopted a similar approach in a seven-game loss to the Celtics.

“Even when Khris is out there, that’s what I do, I try to get as many easy ones as I can,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s part of my game, I try to score a lot in the paint, but obviously when Khris is playing the game is a lot easier for everybody. We know he’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot, he’s going to make a lot of decisions, he’s going to make shots. He’s one of the guys that down the stretch when we need a shot, he’s going to get the ball most likely. But even if he is not out there, my game doesn’t really change.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Wednesday’s victory was important for a young Cavaliers team that’s trying to prove it belongs with the other contenders in the East, according to Kelsey Russo of The Athletic. Unlike the previous two meetings with Milwaukee, Cleveland led almost the entire way and was able to hold off several Bucks’ rallies. “Tonight, I think, was a great step for us,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We showed a lot of poise. We kept our composure. But the thing that was most impressive to me is we continue to do it together. There was no splintering. There was not one guy trying to do it on his own.”
  • The Pistons believe they’re better than their league-worst 8-26 record, per James L. Edwards III of The Athletic. Coach Dwane Casey said pride is necessary to avoid the mistakes that have been leading to losses, such as turnovers, defensive lapses and poor showings coming out of halftime.
  • Gabe York, who plays for the Pacers‘ G League affiliate in Fort Wayne, caught another bad break this week in his quest to earn an NBA roster spot, notes Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files. An illness forced York, who has been named G League Player of the Week twice this season, to miss the Mad Ants’ game at the G League Showcase in Las Vegas. York contracted COVID-19 last season when he was set to sign a 10-day contract with the Magic.
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