Los Angeles: Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 31 points and had nine rebounds to power the Milwaukee Bucks to a 112-109 victory over Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks in a battle between the two early front-runners for NBA Most Valuable Player honours.
Two-time MVP winner Antetokounmpo hit 14-of-21 shots from the floor and Khris Middleton finished with 25 points for the host Bucks, who have won seven of their last eight games.
Doncic shot 12-of-24 from the floor for a team-high 28 points after coming off a 34-point performance in a win over Charlotte two nights earlier.
“We showed him bodies. He wasn’t able to step back. We made him pass the ball,” Antetokounmpo said of Doncic.
After Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez missed a free throw with one second left, Doncic launched a desperation two-handed three-point attempt at the buzzer but it hit the backboard and bounced harmlessly away to give Milwaukee the win.
“We just stayed with it,” said Middleton. “They did a good job rebounding off the glass and made some tough shots but we just stayed with it.”
Middleton drained a pair of clutch three-pointers late in the fourth quarter. He also had eight rebounds and six assists.
The former second-round draft pick was traded to the Bucks in 2013 from Detroit.
“Each year is about getting better and finding ways to make my teammates better. That is what they do for me,” said Middleton, who recently donated $100,000 to the employees at Fiserv Forum who lost their jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jrue Holiday had 16 points and Lopez added 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Bucks, who overcame Antetokounmpo’s one-for-10 shooting from the free throw line.
Doncic also had 13 assists and Tim Hardaway added 22 points for the Mavericks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped.
“We played bad,” said Doncic. “But we had a chance to go up and we hung in there.”
Antetokounmpo against Doncic wasn’t the only marquee matchup on a night when the league had to postpone three games because of a series of coronavirus outbreaks.
Four time NBA champion LeBron James took on former first overall draft pick Zion Williamson and after the slow start the host Lakers rolled to a 112-95 win over the Pelicans.
James had 21 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, Anthony Davis finished with 17 points and a half dozen Lakers finished in double figure scoring.
Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each with 16 points, Germany’s Dennis Schroder with 12 and Kyle Kuzma with 11 as the first place Los Angeles won their fifth game in a row.
“We are playing good basketball right now and we want to continue that,” said James. “We are implementing five new guys into our rotation that weren’t part of our team last year.”
Williamson, who returned after a one-game absence due to health protocols, had 21 points and 12 rebounds and Brandon Ingram scored 20 points for the Pelicans, who lost their fifth straight.
Also, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 33 points and Mike Muscala hit a pair of three-pointers in overtime to lift the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 127-125 win over the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls led by as many as 22 points in the first half before the Thunder rallied to tie it up in the final seconds.
Muscala’s three-pointers and Chicago’s poor overtime shooting allowed Oklahoma City to win for the first time in six home games this season.
Elsewhere, Kawhi Leonard delivered 27 points and six assists as the Los Angeles Clippers cruised to a 138-100 win over the Sacramento Kings.