Antetokounmpo, Middleton lead Bucks to 18th straight win

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo displayed his remarkable skills early and often as the Milwaukee Bucks continued their quest to break a franchise record that has stood for nearly half a century.

The reigning MVP sank a three-pointer for his first points of the game, then followed with a spinning layup, a wide-open dunk and a step-through slam for nine quick points to give Milwaukee an early lead.

And when the Cleveland Cavaliers made it close in the second quarter, Antetokounmpo streaked down the court, received a feed from Donte DiVincenzo and threw down a one-handed dunk as the Bucks began to pull away.

Antetokounmpo and the Bucks went on to beat Cleveland 125-108 yesterday, their 18th consecutive win.

“You can try to game plan for Giannis and you can try to game plan for a team like that, but they’re very long, they can shoot the ball and they can play inside out,” Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said.

“They are on a major winning streak right now and they’re playing some of the best, if not the best, basketball in the NBA.”

Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo drives past Cleveland Cavaliers’ Larry Nance Jr. PHOTO: AP

The Bucks have won 22 of their last 23 and improved to 24-3, one-half game ahead of the idle Los Angeles Lakers for the best record in the league. The Bucks have not lost since November 8 at Utah.

The streak is the second longest in franchise history. The Bucks won 20 consecutive games in the 1970-71 season on the way to winning their lone NBA championship.

“When we run and our pace is really fast, everyone gets easy ones, and everyone gets open shots,” Antetokounmpo said. “It just makes the game fun. And when the game is fun, I think everyone defends, also.”

Kevin Porter Jr had 15 points and Jordan Clarkson scored 13 for the Cavaliers, who grabbed a brief lead in the second quarter on a jumper by Clarkson but were then outscored 34-14 to close the period.

The Bucks’ lead grew to as many as 28 points in the third quarter, and they cruised the rest of the way for their 13th straight win at home.

“They’re explosive in offensive transition,” Cleveland coach John Beilein said. “We have to do a better job there collectively. That lead can explode on you in a minute.”

Cleveland, which had ended an eight-game losing streak with an overtime win over San Antonio on Thursday night, committed 18 turnovers that the Bucks converted into 21 points.

“Our turnovers are killing us right now,” Beilein said.

Love had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Cleveland.

Antetokounmpo, who missed his first game of the season last Wednesday night against New Orleans, played just 24 minutes, while Middleton, who had 26 points last Friday night, played 23.