Bucks begin their title defence after abbreviated off-season

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks sure didn’t get much time to celebrate their first NBA championship in a half-century.

Just three months after Giannis Antetokoumpo’s 50-point performance secured a title-clinching victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Bucks will be raising their championship banner and beginning a new season on October 19.

The off-season was particularly brief for Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, who left for Tokyo shortly after the championship parade and won gold medals with the United States (US) Olympic team.

“It was crazy,” Holiday said.

They got just a little time to come home and rest before beginning the process of trying to repeat. They realise the necessity of maintaining the same tenacity that helped carry them to the franchise’s first championship since 1971.

The Bucks open the season against the Brooklyn Nets, who would have eliminated them in the second round of the 2021 playoffs if Kevin Durant’s foot hadn’t crept across the three-point arc while making a shot in Game 7.

Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo in action during a game. PHOTO: AFP

“It’s a challenge,” Middleton said. “I think we have to find a way to stay hungry, not be satisfied by what we accomplished last year, to find a way to do it again.”

Throughout their championship run, the Bucks were driven by their past post-season failures. The Bucks no longer have that as incentive but say they’ll remain as motivated as ever.

“Teams are going to be coming for us,” Antetokounmpo said. “But we have to have that hunter mentality ourselves.”

Milwaukee returned most of the key players from last season, though PJ Tucker left for the Miami Heat and Bryn Forbes rejoined the San Antonio Spurs. They added Grayson Allen, Semi Ojeleye and George Hill to their bench.

That depth could be tested.

The Bucks may need to monitor their top players early in the season because they had so little rest during this abbreviated off-season. Antetokounmpo, who hyperextended his left knee in the Eastern Conference finals, said he feels good but will be careful with his knee early in the season. The Bucks also must make sure they don’t overwork Holiday and Middleton after their busy off-season.

“They’re usually pretty good at being able to read guys and their bodies,” Holiday said. “Not only that, they’re good at maintenance and maintaining.”

Milwaukee hopes preaching caution early leads to another memorable finish.

“It was a storybook ending for us, right?” guard Pat Connaughton said. “But stories have sequels. Stories have trilogies. At the end of the day, it’s about continuing the next story, continuing the next book.”

DiVINCENZO’S COMEBACK

The Bucks are banking on return from Donte DiVincenzo, who tore a left ankle ligament in a first-round playoff series with Miami and missed the rest of the postseason. DiVincenzo started 66 games and averaged 10.4 points last season.