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Around the Globe: Giannis, Bucks in familiar spot

The Bucks are starting to hit their stride with Giannis Antetokounmpo at the forefront.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has scored 30+ points in each of his last eight games and has the Bucks sitting near the top of the East.

At the quarter mark of the season, half of the league still seems to be in a figuring-it-out phase. Both conferences are clogged with teams teetering around .500 and engaging in a daily game of musical chairs in the standings. 

The Boston Celtics have received the most shine out of the few contenders that have managed to separate themselves from the pack, and rightfully so. They’re led by an emerging Kia MVP frontrunner in Jayson Tatum, own the league’s top-rated offense, and continue to stack up wins left and right — most recently a 27-point thrashing of the Suns in Phoenix. 

With all of that said, the Celtics still haven’t been able to distance themselves from a familiar foe in Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo has the Bucks quietly sitting just two games back from the top seed, boasting a stellar 18-6 overall record — good for second-best in the league. 

This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Milwaukee has arguably been the East’s most consistent powerhouse for years now. In 2018-19, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their first 50+ win season in 18 years en route to claiming his first of back-to-back Kia MVP trophies. And it’s not too far-fetched to think they probably would be sitting on four straight 50-win seasons had the 2020-21 campaign not been shortened to 72 games. 

It’s hard to argue against the Celtics currently having bragging rights in the East following their impressive Finals run and blistering hot start to the season. But so far, Antetokounmpo and company look like the top threat to unseat the reigning Eastern Conference champs and retake their crown.

*All stats through Thurs., Dec. 8 

Edition standout

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Greece)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 35.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 5.7 apg

Film Room: Can this version of Giannis Antetokounmpo be stopped?

Antetokounmpo racked up his eighth-straight 30+ point game in Wednesday’s 126-113 win over the Sacramento Kings — the first Bucks player to achieve such a feat since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back in 1972. Wednesday’s win was Milwaukee’s third straight and sixth victory in its last seven games. If the Bucks hope to keep up their winning ways, they’ll have to earn it as eight of their next 10 games are on the road, including a playoff rematch in Boston on Christmas day.

Other notables

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Serbia)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 23.8 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 8.5 apg

Nikola Jokic Drops 33 points & 10 rebounds vs. Trail Blazers

The reigning back-to-back MVP needs one more triple-double to become just the sixth player in NBA history to record 80. The exclusive list includes Russell Wesbrook (194), Oscar Robertson (181), Magic Johnson (138), Jason Kidd (107) and LeBron James (105). Jokic already has three triple-doubles on the season and has had twice as many near misses — he’s come up one rebound or assist short of a triple-double on six different occasions. Jokic has been sitting on 79 career triple-doubles since Nov. 3 but it’s only a matter of time until The Joker reaches the elusive milestone.

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (Slovenia)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 30.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 10.0 apg

Best of Luka Doncic from the 2022-23 NBA season so far

Dallas’ Dec. 1 overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons was arguably its lowest point of the season so far. It concluded a 1-5 stretch, including four straight losses at one point. Since then, the Mavericks have won three straight, including a 130-111 rout of the Suns and a 116-115 nail-biter in Denver. Dallas’ lack of ball-handlers forces Doncic to have to dictate most of the offense and carry a heavy load on that end, but the league’s leading scorer has proven he’s up for the challenge night in and night out. The question in the long run, though, is whether or not this playing style is sustainable enough to make it out of a treacherous Western Conference come postseason.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Canada)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 31.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.3 apg

Film Room: Why 'The Shai Way' of 2-point mastery is elevating Thunder

Like the other teams hovering around .500, the Thunder have struggled with consistency. The only consistent thing about them is the pattern of their game log — every time they rattle off a few wins, a few losses follow. Inconsistency should be expected of the league’s youngest team but fortunately for Oklahoma City fans, Gilgeous-Alexander has been the exact opposite of that. The 24-year-old ranks third in the league in scoring (31.1 points per game) and recently had a stretch of seven straight 30+ point games. 

A few more: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors; Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder.

Rookie spotlight  

Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers (Canada)

Stats over last 2 weeks: 15.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 35.2 fg%

Bennedict Mathurin | Kia NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month

There’s a rookie revolution going on in Indiana right now. Mathurin remains one of the favorites to walk away with Kia Rookie of the Year honors, but if 31st overall pick Andrew Nembhard continues his awe-inspiring emergence, Mathurin could find himself trying to fend off his own teammate to claim the award. Want to know how special this duo is? They’re the first pair of rookies in Pacers franchise history to have 30+ point games in the same season.

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