Bucks open road trip against slumping Trail Blazers

Jan 30, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks look to open a four-game Western swing with a victory when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night.

The excursion will continue with two games in Los Angeles against the Clippers and Lakers before it finishes against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. The meeting against the Suns will be the first since Milwaukee defeated Phoenix in six games in last season’s NBA Finals.

While the anticipation builds over the showdown with the NBA-best Suns, Milwaukee first will look to take care of business against three teams that are .500 or worse. That begins with Portland, which has lost four straight games and six of its past seven.

The Bucks have won five of their past seven games, but one of the setbacks was a 136-100 trouncing by the visiting Denver Nuggets on Sunday. The 36-point margin of defeat was the team’s second worst of the season behind a 42-point loss (137-95) to the host Miami Heat on Oct. 21.

Milwaukee bounced back with a 112-98 home win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, but star Giannis Antetokounmpo still was bothered by the Denver destruction.

“That wasn’t us as a team,” Antetokounmpo said of the contest against the Nuggets. “I don’t remember the last time I lost by 36 in Milwaukee. Obviously that was kind of embarrassing, but at the end of the night, those nights are going to happen. But we were able to come out (Tuesday), play hard and play together, try to set the tone.”

Antetokounmpo recorded 33 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists against Washington for his fourth triple-double of the season.

The two-time MVP said other teams are gunning to beat the defending champion Bucks.

“We have to realize that in order for us to be great, we’ve got to play hard. We cannot expect that people are just going to hand us the game when we go out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “People are coming for us. People are hunting us right now. They get excited when they see, ‘Milwaukee Bucks, world champs.’ We’ve got to play every single night hard and build that habit.”

The Trail Blazers are desperate for a victory after falling 96-93 at home to Oklahoma City on Friday night. It was Portland’s second loss to the Thunder in five days. The Trail Blazers have dropped four games in a row and six of the past seven.

It has been a rough season for the Trail Blazers as their standout backcourt of Damian Lillard (last played on Dec. 31, out for at least three more weeks with an abdominal injury) and CJ McCollum (missed 18 games due to a collapsed lung) have been sidelined for substantial periods of time.

A possible reloading began Friday when Portland traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, rookie Keon Johnson and a 2025 second-round draft pick.

“You have to try to create and build some kind of identity,” first-year Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said of the trade. “We’re working on that this year, how we want to play, ways that we want to play. I think all really good teams are tough and really competitive. Those are some of the things and ways that we want to build our culture here.”

McCollum and Anfernee Simons scored 19 points apiece on Friday against the Thunder. The Trail Blazers shot just 39.6 percent from the field and were 6 of 33 (18.2 percent) from behind the arc.

“It was tough for the ball to go in the basket tonight,” Billups said. “We just couldn’t make a shot. It was one of those nights.”

Portland has lost five straight games against the Bucks and nine of the past 10 meetings.

–Field Level Media

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