Brook Lopez

Central Notes: Middleton, Lopez, Stewart, Bagley, Bey

Khris Middleton won’t be ready to play by opening night as he recovers from wrist surgery. Joe Ingles is still rehabbing from a major knee injury.

So who will step up in their place? Eric Nehm of The Athletic examines potential lineup combinations the Bucks may use in their absence. Pat Connaughton will likely start until Middleton returns, though Jordan Nwora and MarJon Beauchamp will have opportunities to establish themselves as rotation pieces. Wesley Matthews and Grayson Allen will fight for minutes at shooting guard.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Middleton has a $40.4MM option on his contract for the 2023/24 season, while center Brook Lopez will be an unrestricted free agent unless he signs an extension. However, there hasn’t been any buzz about it at Bucks camp, Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. In fact, Lopez claims that “I wasn’t exactly aware this was a contract year” until the subject was brought up.
  • Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley may be more suited to playing center but they’ll both see action at times at power forward this season, Keith Langlois of writes. That will allow Nerlens Noel and rookie Jalen Duren to get some minutes off the bench. “It’s tough,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “What’s going to have to manifest itself is – it’s not natural right now – for Isaiah to kind of slide to the four just to open some spots for everybody.”
  • While most of the attention regarding the Pistons is focused on their young backcourt of Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, third-year forward Saddiq Bey has served notice that he could be an offensive force this season, according to James Edwards III of The Athletic. “He’s putting the ball on the floor a lot better, finding guys a lot better,” reserve guard Cory Joseph said. “We know how he can score and the attention he’s going to get. He’s making the game better for himself and everyone around him right now. He’s playing really well.”

Central Notes: Hayes, Ball, Bucks, G League Trade

Killian Hayes has to make progress as a scorer to show the Pistons he should be part of their long-term plans, writes James L. Edwards III of The Athletic. After injuries limited him to 26 games as a rookie, Hayes bounced back to play in 66 last season, showing the defensive and passing skills that made him the No. 7 overall pick in 2020.

However, his scoring development remained stagnant as he averaged 6.9 PPG in 25 minutes per night while shooting 38.3% from the field and 26.3% from three-point range. Edwards believes Hayes needs to become more aggressive in getting to the basket, noting that he made 74% of his attempts at the rim last season, but that only accounted for 16% of his shots.

Edwards poses questions involving other Pistons players, asking whether Isaiah Stewart has become a legitimate three-point shooter, whether Saddiq Bey can balance his performance from his first two seasons and whether Saben Lee can find a way to stand out on a roster loaded with guards.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Lonzo Ball tops a list of Bulls players with the most to prove compiled by Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. Ball may be held out through the start of the regular season because of pain in his surgically repaired left knee. The Bulls insist the knee is structurally sound, but his availability will play a massive role in where the team finishes in the Eastern Conference. Mayberry adds that the team also needs a bounce-back performance from center Nikola Vucevic, who’s heading into a contract year.
  • Unlike most of their competitors in the East, the Bucks didn’t make major changes this offseason and can rely on continuity as they make a run at another NBA title, per Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype. Milwaukee still has the defensive foundation to contend for a championship, Gozlan adds, and Giannis Antetokounmpo remains one of the best players in the world. One financial concern that Gozlan points out is that the Bucks appear destined for the repeater tax next season, while Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez will both become unrestricted free agents in July if they don’t receive extensions.
  • In a press release, the Cleveland Charge – The Cavaliers‘ G League affiliate – announced the trade of Norvel Pelle and the Charge’s second-round pick to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (the Pacers‘ affiliate) in exchange for Nate Hinton.

Bucks Notes: Hill, Matthews, Horst, Antetokounmpo, Ibaka

George Hill returned to action in Game 3 of the Bucks’ series against the Celtics and had no setbacks. The veteran guard is not listed on the injury report for Monday’s game, Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets. Hill, who hadn’t seen action since April 8 due to an abdominal strain, played 11 scoreless minutes with one assist in Game 3.

We have more on the defending champions:

  • Wesley Matthews‘ excellent defense and the Bucks’ scheme frustrated Jayson Tatum in Game 3. Tatum now has to figure out how to get to his sweet spots more frequently, Jared Weiss of The Athletic writes. Weiss takes an in-depth on the Bucks’ plan against Tatum and how he might counter in Game 4.
  • Boston fumed about a no-call in the closing seconds of Game 3. Surprisingly, Bucks GM Jon Horst also felt the officiating wasn’t up to par, as he told Eric Nehm of The Athletic“I couldn’t do their job. You couldn’t do their job,” Horst said. “Officiating is hard, just like playing is hard and coaching is hard, and I think we all have a standard of trying to get better and improve. And at the end of the day, that’s what stood out to me. We have to improve. That wasn’t a quality playoff basketball game, and I think officiating played a role in that.”
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo takes all kinds of punishment and doles it out, too. His teammates marvel at his mental toughness with defenses constantly collapsing on him, Steve Aschburner of writes. “He’s so good at being mentally strong,” center Brook Lopez said. “He obviously has lots of guys throwing themselves at him when he’s trying to get into his moves and make plays for himself and everyone else. He does a great job of sticking with it, staying in the game, and just keeping his mojo … It can be frustrating at times. He does a great job of just kind of letting it go like water off a duck’s back.”
  • Serge Ibaka was a late scratch from Monday’s game due to a non-COVID illness, Lily Zhao of FOX6 tweets. Ibaka has made two cameo appearances in the series.

Central Notes: G. Hill, Lopez, Pacers, Cunningham

Bucks guard George Hill will remain sidelined for Game 2 of the team’s first-round series vs. Chicago on Wednesday due to an abdominal strain, tweets Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The injury, which Hill suffered on April 8, also kept him on the sidelines for Game 1 on Sunday.

As Owczarski relays, Bobby Portis (right calf bruise) and Jordan Nwora (back soreness) also showed up on the Bucks’ injury report for Game 2, but both are listed as probable and look like good bets to be active.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Bucks center Brook Lopez was limited to just 13 appearances during the regular season due to a back injury, but he’s healthy at the right time and looks like he has fresh legs, writes Steve Megargee of The Associated Press. The resurgence of Lopez, who scored 18 points in a season-high 32 minutes in Game 1 on Sunday, makes the Bucks more dangerous on both ends of the court and gives them a size advantage vs. Chicago, according to Megargee.
  • In his preview of the Pacers‘ offseason, ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) observes that the team must decide if it wants to continue rebuilding in 2022/23 or pivot back to competing for the playoffs. That decision will affect whether Indiana decides to retain or shop veterans like Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield, Marks writes.
  • The three players selected immediately after Cade Cunningham in the 2021 draft look like future stars, but Cunningham’s second-half performance on the court and the leadership qualities he displayed off of the court show that the Pistons made the right call with the No. 1 pick, says Rod Beard of The Detroit News (subscriber link).

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Dosunmu, Ball, Vucevic

Zach LaVine may have dealt with left knee issues during the season but that won’t affect his bargaining power in the offseason, according to Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic.  Multiple league executives believe it’s a foregone conclusion the Bulls swingman will sign a max contract as an unrestricted free agent this summer, Mayberry writes. LaVine could be the top available player on the market, depending on how things shake out with other potential free agents. He averaged 24.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 4.5 APG during the regular season.

We have more on the Bulls:

  • Rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu will be a key performer during the postseason with Lonzo Ball sidelined by a knee injury. He’s ready for the challenge, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “I know I play hard. I have a lot of faith. I believe in my ability,” Dosunmu said. “I understand when (the intensity) rises, I’ll be able to rise also.”
  • The team will miss Ball in a number of ways during the playoffs, Johnson writes in a separate story. Johnson notes that, without Ball, the Bulls aren’t creating as many turnovers, their pace of play has slowed and their 3-point shooting has fallen off. The former No. 2 overall pick was ruled out for the playoffs last week after he suffered a setback during his rehab.
  • Nikola Vucevic dominated Brook Lopez two seasons ago in the playoffs, though the Bucks eliminated the Magic. The Bulls will need Vucevic to be stellar once again against his counterpart to have any chance of upsetting Milwaukee in the first round, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. “He’s really important to our team and he’s been important all year long,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I think for him, even when you speak to him, I do feel like that with some of him being in rhythm offensively, I really like the shots he’s gotten.” Vucevic averaged 28 PPG, 11 RPG and 4 APG during that series with Orlando, which lasted five games.

Injury Notes: Randle, Bucks, Pistons, Jazz, Simmons

Knicks forward Julius Randle, still dealing with a quad injury, has been ruled out for Saturday’s game against Cleveland, according to Fred Katz of The Athletic, who tweets that the team is considering Randle day-to-day. For the time being, there are no plans to shut down Randle for the rest of the season, Katz adds. He missed three games with the same injury last week.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • The Bucks will be without several key players on Friday vs. the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back set. According to the team (via Twitter), Giannis Antetokounmpo (right knee soreness), Jrue Holiday (left ankle sprain), Khris Middleton (left wrist soreness), and Brook Lopez (return to competition reconditioning) are among the players who will be inactive.
  • Cory Joseph (left lumbar spine strain), Marvin Bagley III (left hip strain), and Kelly Olynyk (rest) won’t play for the Pistons on Friday against Oklahoma City, tweets James Edwards III of The Athletic. The two teams are neck-and-neck in the lottery standings, so neither front office will be particularly motivated to win the game.
  • The Jazz got some reinforcements on Thursday when Bojan Bogdanovic returned from a nine-game absence and Danuel House played after missing eight consecutive games, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. Both forwards had positive plus-minus ratings in a win over the Lakers that snapped Utah’s five-game losing streak.
  • Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium (video link) provided another minor update on Ben Simmons, reporting that the Nets guard has resumed “light” on-court workouts and still hopes to return in time for the playoffs. Charania’s colleague at The Athletic, Joe Vardon, reported earlier today that Simmons is unlikely to be ready for the start of the playoffs.

Bucks Notes: Lopez, Antetokounmpo, Connaughton, Evans

Bucks center Brook Lopez is feeling even better now than he did before the back issue that kept him off the floor for nearly five months, writes Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Lopez, who underwent surgery in early December, admitted that he may have gained some weight during his time off, but said he feels comfortable moving around the court. He adds that doctors were never able to determine the original source of the injury.

“I don’t know how it happened, where it came from, and so they said this could have been something — the way the disc is — it could have been something more internally that they couldn’t really see,” he said. “Then it kind of worked its way out and then tore. When it finally happened then they could see it on the scans or whatever. It could have been something that was like, a year or two even old, who knows, and it finally took effect. Which is why it was tough in the time to make the decision to do the surgery but it was what was best for me.”

The Bucks have missed Lopez in several areas, but the most glaring has been on defense, as they rank 14th in the league in defensive rating after being ninth last season and first the two prior years. Much of that is attributable to the absence of Lopez, who covers a lot of ground with his 7’6″ wingspan.

“I think when you have Brook out there it just makes the game easier for everybody, especially for me,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “He’s like, he’s so, he’s so big. He can literally contest the shot and still get back and rebound the ball. He can help us rebound. He’s just such a threat offensively. He can knock down shots. He can go for the offensive rebound. You can feed him in the post. He makes our job; he makes me, Bobby (Portis‘) job easier.”

There’s more on the Bucks:

  • Antetokounmpo is sitting out today’s game with Minnesota because of soreness in his right knee, Owczarski adds in a separate story“We are kind of always kind of managing his knees and his health,” coach Mike Budenholzer said of Antetokounmpo, who is missing his 12th game of the season. “I think he did get banged maybe in (Wednesday’s) game and the one before, both, so I think it’s just part of the NBA season and schedule. We hope it’s short term. We’ll see how he responds the next day or two.”
  • Pat Connaughton is expected to return on Saturday, tweets Eric Nehm of The Athletic. It will be the first time he has played since breaking a bone in his right hand February 10.
  • Tyreke Evans posted 16 points, four assists, three rebounds and a steal in his debut with the G League Wisconsin Herd on Friday night (Twitter link from the team). Evans worked out for the Bucks recently in hopes of making an NBA comeback.

Central Notes: Lopez, Connaughton, Williams, Bickerstaff

Bucks center Brook Lopez was out of action so long that he even missed arguing with the referees, writes Eric Nehm of The Athletic. After playing on opening night, Lopez sat out nearly five months because of back issues. He had surgery on December 2 to repair a bulging disc and went through a long rehab process that kept him off the court until this Monday.

Lopez was restricted to 15 minutes during his first game back, but he mostly played the way he did when he helped bring a title to Milwaukee last season. He mishandled the ball occasionally because of a lack of timing, but he made all the defensive plays that he usually does, according to Nehm.

“I’ve been through injuries a few times and so it’s always just made me appreciate basketball, love it even more,” Lopez said. “I try never to take my time on the court for granted, whether it’s practice, shootaround or a game. And so that’s why I just try to be out there, whenever I’m out there, playing with energy, being enthusiastic, and above all, having fun, having a good time. And with the group we have, that’s easy. But yeah, I’m just so happy and blessed to be back out there. There’s not much else I want in the world than that.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Bucks guard Pat Connaughton is close to a return after having hand surgery last month, tweets Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Coach Mike Budenholzer indicated that Connaughton needs to go through one more practice before playing again.
  • The Bulls have cleared Patrick Williams for full contact as he works to return from wrist surgery, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Williams didn’t travel with the Bulls on their current three-game road trip, and he may practice or play for the team’s G League affiliate during that time. “A lot’s gonna now depend on how it goes once he does that (practices), and what does medical feel and he feel like (is) an ample amount of time for him to get comfortable actually going into a game,” coach Billy Donovan said.
  • J.B. Bickerstaff deserves Coach of the Year consideration for holding together a Cavaliers team that has been wrecked by injuries, argues Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Cleveland is still in contention for a top six spot in the East despite losing Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio early in the season and Jarrett Allen more recently. Vardon also says former Cavs coach Tyronn Lue should be recognized for the job he has done with the Clippers.

Brook Lopez To Return On Monday

Bucks center Brook Lopez will return to action on Monday after missing more than four months due to a back injury, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Lopez, who underwent back surgery on December 2, last played on opening night. He’ll make his return as Milwaukee gears up to defend its first title since 1971.

The Bucks have 14 games left on their schedule and have gone 42-26 despite missing Lopez, good for the second-best record in the East. Lopez played an integral part of the team’s run last season, averaging 12.3 points, five rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 70 starts.

Lopez’s return also fortifies the club’s bench. Assuming he reclaims his starting role, big man Bobby Portis will likely play off the bench, allowing Milwaukee to have a 15.5 PPG scorer for insurance.

As Wojnarowski notes, the Bucks have fallen outside of the league’s top 10 teams in defensive efficiency. Lopez’s absence is a major reason for this, as Milwaukee is known to play a drop coverage and utilize his rim-protecting skills.

The Bucks visit the Jazz on Monday, the Kings on Wednesday and the Timberwolves on Saturday. After that, the team returns to Milwaukee for a two-game homestand.

Central Notes: Caruso, LaVine, Lopez, Hill, Garza

Alex Caruso will be back on the court tonight, the Bulls announced (via Twitter), and his return should help solve the team’s defensive issues, writes Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago. Caruso has been sidelined for seven weeks with a fractured wrist, and he and Lonzo Ball have played a combined eight games since Christmas Day. Over that span, Chicago has dropped from ninth to 21st in team defense.

The difference is especially noticeable in regard to creating turnovers, as Caruso and Ball would both rank among the top 10 in the league in steals per game if they had played enough minutes. Schafer notes that the Bulls are last in the NBA in creating turnovers and 29th in steals in their 37 games since Christmas.

“There was certain things with those guys (Caruso and Ball) we did a little bit of, whether it be trapping pick-and-rolls, switching, or those guys’ ability to read something and fight through a screen or shoot the gap or anticipate something,” coach Billy Donovan said. “We gave those guys the freedom, I don’t want to say just to freelance, but like, be aggressive. Use your instincts. Get out in passing lanes. Use your activity.”

Caruso will be restricted to about 24-30 minutes per game, Schaefer tweets, but Donovan said that’s related more to his lengthy absence than concerns about the wrist.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Zach LaVine is being held out of tonight’s game, even though the Bulls haven’t played since Wednesday, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link). The team has been taking precautions with LaVine’s sore left knee, but it’s unusual for him to be rested after a two-day break. “It’s not necessarily regressing,” Donovan said. “It’s just something he has to manage and deal with.”
  • Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer offered encouraging news on Brook Lopez, who had back surgery and has played just one game this season, tweets Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Lopez feels good after a week of 5-on-5 practices and is expected to be ready soon. Teammate George Hill, who is suffering from neck soreness, is also making progress (Twitter link from Eric Nehm of The Athletic). “He’s close. He had a good day yesterday,” Budenholzer said. “I think he’s come through it well. So, I would say they’re both doing really well and they’re both close.”
  • If the Pistons select a center in the draft, they may consider not bringing back rookie Luka Garza for another year, Rod Beard of The Detroit News states in a mailbag column. Detroit holds a team option on Garza for next season.