NEW YORK (AFP) – Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from a right ankle sprain to score 28 points and grab 11 rebounds Monday, powering the Milwaukee Bucks to a 131-121 NBA victory at Brooklyn.
The Greek star, who sat out a game due to the setback, lifted an injury-hit Milwaukee squad within one game of clinching the best regular-season record in the league and a home-court edge throughout the NBA playoffs.
“I thought it would be a really good team but to be honest with you I didn’t think we would be the best team in the NBA,” Antetokounmpo said.
Eric Bledsoe added 29 points and reserve George Hill had 22 off the bench for the Bucks, who lead the Eastern Conference at 58-20 and can clinch the best NBA mark with a win Thursday at Philadelphia.
“We know how important that is but we are just trying to get better,” said Antetokounmpo. “We could have played better tonight.”
Antetokounmpo sparked the Bucks as they pulled away late, hitting a 3-pointer and later rebounding his own 3-point miss and driving in for a slam dunk to help seal the Nets’ fate.
“When a team plays zone the whole game it’s hard,” he said. “But we started moving the ball well and knocking down some shots.”
Sitting out a loss against Atlanta forced him to take some time early to regain a smooth flow with teammates.
‘’Just trying to get back into the rhythm,’’ he said. ‘’I was trying to wait for the game to come to me. My teammates did a good job finding me.
Danny Green powered Toronto with 29 points and the Raptors stayed in the hunt for the overall top spot with a 121-109 home victory over Orlando, improving to 55-23 with four games remaining.
And the Raptors clinched no worse than second in the East when Philadelphia lost 122-102 at Dallas, the 76ers falling to 49-28.
Justin Jackson led the Mavericks with 24 points while Tunisian reserve center Salah Mejri added 16 points and 14 rebounds for Dallas.
The Sixers, playing without Joel Embiid, got 26 points from J.J. Redick, 25 from Tobias Harris and 17 from Australian guard Ben Simmons in the loss.
All five teams battling for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference lost Monday, moving Detroit (39-38), Brooklyn (39-39) and Miami (38-39) nearer the post-season with Orlando (39-40) and Charlotte still chasing and hoping.